Was Former Feinstein Staffer Involved With Fusion GPS During 2016 Elections?

Dan Jones, founder of the Penn Quarter Group, received $50 million in funding from wealthy donors, including George Soros

October 1, 2018 Updated: October 1, 2018   

News Analysis

In a March 8, 2018, op-ed for The Daily Caller titled “The Ever-Changing ‘Russia Narrative’ Is False Public Manipulation,” Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska noted how “the disintegration of evidence-based journalism permits a surprisingly small number of individuals to destroy bilateral or multilateral relations.”

Deripaska then described an unusual meeting that took place on March 16, 2017, between his lawyer and a former intelligence staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) named Dan Jones:

“Daniel Jones—himself a team member of Fusion GPS, self-described former FBI agent and, as we now know from the media, an ex-Feinstein staffer—met with my lawyer, Adam Waldman, and described Fusion as a ‘shadow media organization helping the government,’ funded by a ‘group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.’”

At the time, Deripaska’s op-ed was largely ignored, or at least not viewed with great sincerity. Political commentary from Russian oligarchs isn’t in the greatest demand, domestically.

But just one week later, the House final report on Russia was made public. On page 112 of the report, there is a reference to “post-election anti-Trump research by Steele and/or Fusion GPS” along with a footnote. Contained in the footnote on page 113, is the following:

“In late March 2017, Jones met with FBI regarding PQG [Penn Quarter Group], which he described as ‘exposing foreign influence in Western elections.’ [redacted—likely Jones] told FBI that PQG was being funded by 7 to 10 wealthy donors located primarily in New York and California, who provided approximately $50 million. [redacted—likely Jones] further stated that PQG had secured the services of Steele, his associate [redacted—likely Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson], and Fusion GPS to continue exposing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”

This footnote, and its potential significance, was first highlighted in an April 27 article by The Federalist.

Jones, who had previously worked as a senior intelligence staffer for Feinstein, founded PQG in the spring of 2016.

In his interview with the FBI, Jones made mention of “7 to 10 wealthy donors located primarily in New York and California, who provided approximately $50 million” in funding to PQG. But unlike Deripaska, Jones makes no known reference to financial involvement from George Soros.

However, a recent article in The Washington Post revealed that at least some of the money received by Jones’ PQG did come from Soros through an intermediary. Michael Vachon, a spokesman for Soros, disclosed to Washington Post reporter David Ignatius that Soros had made a grant to the Democracy Integrity Project which, in turn, used Fusion GPS as a contractor.

Jones isn’t referred to by name in the article—he is described only as “an associate of Fusion.” Nor is the underlying identity of Democracy Integrity Project disclosed in the Washington Post article.

Jones has identified himself in a text to Deripaska’s lawyer, Waldman, as being affiliated with the group:

“Dan Jones here from the Democracy Integrity Project. Chris wanted us to connect.”

In other words, Deripaska was correct in his assertion made in his March 2018 op-ed.

It’s been reported that Jones and Penn Quarter may have begun funding Steele and Fusion GPS sometime in early 2017. But efforts by Jones may well have begun earlier.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) first identified Jones and Penn Quarter in a Jan. 25, 2018, letter sent to a number of individuals. More recently, Jones was referred to a joint congressional task force for an open-setting interview in a July 5, 2018, letter sent by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. Fusion GPS founder Simpson, along with several other Fusion GPS affiliates, has been referred as well.

Grassley’s letter covers a number of questions. It also sets forth the scope of the Judiciary Committee’s review, noting it “includes whether any applications that may have been made for permission for such surveillance fully and accurately disclosed…the source of Fusion GPS’s and Mr. Steele’s funding.”

Grassley’s letter closes with a final request, asking for “all communications to, from, copying, or relating to” a large grouping of people covering the period from March 2016 to January 2017. The names, which include Fusion GPS principals and affiliates, along with a number of DOJ, FBI, and State Department officials, also includes Jones.

Grassley lists Jones in a footnote as the “former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer for Senator Feinstein, current President of the Penn Quarter Group.”

On the Penn Quarter website, Jones is described as follows:

He has spent more than a decade leading, managing, and participating in complex investigations for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, including leading deployments and fact-finding missions to more than a dozen foreign countries. As a staff member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Daniel led, managed, and served as the chief author of several prominent investigations, including the largest investigative review in U.S. Senate history, “The Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” (aka, the “Senate Torture Report”).

Jones joined the Senate Intelligence staff in January 2007 from the FBI, where he served as an intelligence analyst. While on the Senate Intelligence Committee staff, Jones worked directly for Feinstein. Upon his decision to leave the committee staff in December 2015, Jones was personally eulogized by Feinstein with Obama in attendance.

Not everyone viewed Jones in the same favorable light as did Feinstein. Republican consultant and former Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo would later invoke the name of Jones during a damning statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee in March 2018:

“How many of you know Daniel Jones, former Senate Intelligence staffer for Senator Dianne Feinstein? Great guy, right? Most of you worked with him. One of you probably just talked to him this morning.

Of course, very few of us in flyover country knew Daniel until recently. Now, we know that he quit his job with your Senate committee not long ago to raise $50 million from 10 rich Democrats to finance more work on the Fusion GPS Russian dossier.”

Jones and Penn Quarter have been reported to have begun their work with Fusion GPS and Christopher Steele in early 2017. But Grassley’s letter, dated Jan. 25, 2017, is requesting information from March 2016 to January 2017. This suggests that Grassley has information on Jones’s and Penn Quarter’s activities before the group reportedly began any work with Fusion GPS and Steele.

Fusion GPS was reportedly paid just over $1 million for their efforts at producing and pushing the Steele Dossier in 2016. Steele was reportedly paid $160,000 for his role in the creation of the Dossier.

From released bank records, we know that Fusion GPS was paid $1.02 million in a series of seven payments from Perkins Coie beginning on May 24, 2016, with the final payment made on Dec. 28, 2016. These payments closely track with the sequence of memos prepared by Steele, who was paid from these amounts.

A total of $1 million to pay for the entire production and dissemination of the Dossier seems a somewhat inadequate number. This amount supposedly covered the work of Simpson, his partner, their staff, contractor Nellie Ohr, and Steele. Add to this any number of related expenses, including 11 documented payments made to three journalists.

The cumulative $1 million number also strikes as inadequate relative to the risks being taken professionally. This was a high-risk game being played by all.

We know from text messages to Senate Intelligence Committee member Mark Warner that Deripaska’s lawyer, Waldman, was in touch with both Steele and Jones in March 2017. We also know that Steele had been in direct contact with Jones. What we don’t yet know is when that contact—or any funding of Penn Quarter—began.

Subpoena of Simpson

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) recently announced his intention to subpoena Simpson on Sept. 28, 2018, saying in a tweet, “As part of our joint investigation into decisions made by DOJ in 2016, today I subpoenaed Glenn Simpson to appear for a deposition.” And Goodlatte didn’t stop there:

“We’ve also invited James Comey, Loretta Lynch, Sally Yates, Stuart Evans, Richard Scott, Sally Moyer, and Mike Kortan as witnesses. Will subpoena them if necessary.”

Perhaps Goodlatte should also consider speaking with Jones. It might prove enlightening to determine exactly when Penn Quarter began any work with Fusion GPS, Steele, or other individuals involved in the dossier, along with the creation of the Trump-Russia narrative. An accounting of their spending efforts might prove useful as well.

A total of $50 million in funding obtained for the purpose of “exposing foreign influence in Western elections” seems a significant number when contrasted with the $1 million reportedly used to fund the entirety of the Steele dossier operation.

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