In the huge morass of entities perpetually lurking around, in, and about the US political system, like Kissinger (the consultants, campaign operatives, think-tanks, lobbyists, direct-mail fundraisers, etc) , there is one that until today I didn’t recognize as an “industry.” By that I mean an entity that political campaigns hire to perform a specific task. There’s been no secret that campaigns of a certain size perform this task. It’s practically political incompetence not to do so. But it usually seemed to have been done by campaign or political party staff. Outsourcing the function/task sheds a new light on this aspect of political campaigns and outsourcing it appears to be an open secret among those in the know.
Here’s what tipped me off (and it looks as if I wasn’t the only one that went whoa*):
Bernstein told CNN: ‘It came from a former British MI6 agent who was hired from a political opposition research firm in Washington who was doing work about Donald Trump for both republican and democratic candidates opposed to Trump.
political opposition research firm
I personally like to search for the initial source of rumors, allegations, claims, etc., but it’s often impossible to nail down. Often ends up falling into a pit of “who knows,” finger pointing “he did, no he did,” or somebody somewhere with a grudge. There was a lot of that in the ’08 presidential election. The one that lingered the longest was Obama’s birth.
As this first surfaced during the primary, it was easy enough to assume that the Clinton campaign had been sniffing around this. (And to be clear, it’s well within the rights of a campaign to engage in opposition research on an opponent.) Whoever and whatever was done at that time didn’t come up with anything any campaign could use. Still the question along with innuendos made it’s way into public discourse. It fell flat for a number of reasons and only much later was picked up as a rallying cry by rightwing, paranoid weirdos. One of the last ones in 2011 being Trump. Reprised one more time in the 2016 election with Clinton attacking Trump for trading on this garbage and Trump attacking Clinton for having started this garbage in the first place. Then researches into who really started it which ended up being more assumptions or allegations than definitive evidence.
For good reason. Oppo researchers (OP) must operate like gunslingers for hire because the market is small. Which OP first stumbled on looking into Obama’s birth? What candidate campaign or political party hired that OP? Did the OP later sell the info to another candidate, party, OP, or another entity? Who first and how many whos later threw this chum out for the sharks to feed on? It’s a bit like Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” sans Hercule Poiret.
The cool aspect of this is that candidates and political parties can keep their hands clean when the OPs hit dry wells that can nevertheless be packaged and disseminated as rumors. No shortage of mouthpieces that for some consideration are willing to spread rumors. (ie. Larry Johnson and “his” “whitey tape.”) Plausible deniability is so grand (that’s snark because sleazy is sleazy).
So, who is this OP in Washington and who is/are the Republican candidates that hired this OP to dig up dirt on Trump? When did this OP begin working for Democratic candidates and who are those candidates? Who is this British MI6 agent? How long was he/she engaged and how was she/he paid? (Isn’t an British MI6 agent a foreign national? Does that not fall under the category of foriegn interference? (I’m assuming that in 1968 Anna Chennault was a US citizen.))
Did any GOP candidates make use of the dossier(s)? Was the same dossier prepared for and given to the unidentified Republican and Democratic candidates at the same time? Several contracting the same OP for the same job? Or was it sold sequentially? For example (and this fictional), first Jeb?, then Rubio, on to Cruz, and finally to some Democrat. Difficult to postulate that the Clinton campaign would have been one of the earliest to get working on Trump opposition research considering that they liked the idea of Trump as the GOP nominee.
If this “bombshell” is so extraordinary, why wouldn’t the Clinton campaign have found a way to use it? Instead of dicking around with a former Miss Universe that Trump had fat-shamed?
While I very much dislike seeing anyone take down with false accusations, and that’s my primary interest in this matter, I’m not shedding any tears for Mr. Trump. He chose to live by this sword and if he dies by it, that too freaking bad.
*Other than the notation all of the above was written without having seen or read Borger’s article in The Guardian. Shame on national political journalists who knew of the existences of such OP firms all along for not directing readers/viewers attention to them when sketchy and un-sourced rumors appeared and then didn’t go away.
Now off to read Border’s article (will add an update if there’s anything of note in it).
UPDATE: Murkier than even I allowed for:
The firms often do not know who exactly is hiring them; the request could come from a law firm acting on behalf of a client from one of the parties.
In this case, the request for opposition research on Donald Trump came from one of his Republican opponents in the primary campaign. The research firm then hired one of its sub-contractors who it used regularly on all things Russian: a retired western European former counter-intelligence official, with a long history of dealing with the shadow world of Moscow’s spooks and siloviki (securocrats).
By the time the contractor had started his research, however, the Republican primary was over. The original client had dropped out, but the firm that had hired him had found a new, Democratic client. This was not necessarily the Hillary Clinton campaign or the Democratic National Committee. Opposition research is frequently financed by wealthy individuals who have donated all they can and are looking for other ways to help.
The caution to readers not to look over there at team Clinton is a nice touch. How about David Brock’s superpac cottage industry on behalf of Clinton, can we look there? Or at one of her many billionaire buddies? Or any number of team Clinton attorneys that could act as a go-between? Nobody knows and that’s the way it’s supposed to operate.
UPDATE #2: The opposition research firm hired to investigate Trump and ties to Russia has been identified a as Fusion GPS and that entity apparently hired fmr (?) MI6 Steele. Steele and/or Fusion GPS apparently then “shopped” and/or shared his report to other individuals and entities. The claim is that the “dodgy dossier” began being passed around last summer, but that may be a dodgy claim as well.
UPDATE #3: My case for why Paul Singer is the wealthy GOP donor that initially hired Fusion GPS for the get dirt on Trump project. And also why he likely had nothing to do with the ‘dirty dossier.’