WASHINGTON – Twenty-three years ago, I arrived at the Wall Street Journal’s Washington bureau as a congressional reporter at about the same time as a scruffy and perpetually untucked fellow named Glenn Simpson.
I’ve been friends with “Shaggy,” as I dubbed him, ever since. Over the years, I’ve watched him make mischief: exposing the Clintons’ campaign finance abuses, including the “Chinagate” scandal of 1996; scoring a key scoop in the Clinton travel office scandal; bedeviling Clinton financier Terry McAuliffe; and forcing the resignation of James Johnson, a top Obama adviser in 2008, over the Countrywide scandal.
Now Simpson is accused of being a left-wing hit man for Hillary Clinton.
Right. And I’m the editorial director of Breitbart News.
President Donald Trump has been leading the charge to portray Simpson and Fusion GPS, the opposition-research firm Simpson started in 2009 when he left the Journal, as puppets of the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, “colluding” with Russia to find dirt on Trump. Trump has been tweeting about pay received by Fusion from Clinton and other Democrats, and the “COMPLETE FRAUD” of a dossier produced by a Fusion contractor, which Trump alleges sparked the FBI’s investigation of him.
I get it. Trump’s best defense in the Russia probe (perhaps his only defense other than repeating “there’s no collusion” ad infinitum) is to go on offense, saying Clinton and the Democrats were the ones who colluded with Russia, using a double bank shot involving Simpson, Fusion and their contractor, former British spy Christopher Steele.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board attacked Simpson and Fusion last week as “political hit men” who produce “dirt for hire,” and accused them of smears and “obfuscation.” Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel postulated that Fusion has “alarming ties to Russia and potentially facilitated a disinformation campaign during a presidential election.”
This is the same Journal editorial page that repeatedly praised Simpson’s work when he was bringing down Democrats. It hailed “enterprising reporters such as the Journal’s own Glenn Simpson” for exposing the hypocrisy of the Clinton fundraising operation.
Also attempting to paint Simpson as a leftist contract killer is Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and his Judiciary Committee staff. The newly released transcript of the staff interview with Simpson is full of suggestions that Simpson was politically motivated. Grassley has suggested that Fusion’s work is “dirty,” not “reliable” and “Russian propaganda.”
But surely Grassley knows that Simpson spent years probing Clinton money scandals as a journalist and at Fusion, looking into whether they took official actions in exchange for contributions and whether the Clintons (and the Obama administration) abused EB-5 visas, which essentially allow wealthy foreigners (and potential contributors) to buy U.S. citizenship.
If Grassley doesn’t know this, he might want to check with Jason Foster, Grassley’s chief investigative counsel, who has received information Simpson dug up during Foster’s time on Judiciary and Foster’s previous stint as an investigator for Republican Rep. Dan Burton’s House Government Reform Committee.
A Grassley spokesman said Foster “has not had any significant working relationship with Glenn Simpson.”
David Bossie, a conservative activist who worked with Foster on the Burton committee, praised Simpson to Bill O'Reilly back then for exposing that McAuliffe protected himself from probes by giving “a lot of information to reporters.” Simpson had shown how McAuliffe “cashed in” on labor ties.
Simpson’s foreign-money investigations infuriated politicians of all stripes. With Jill Abramson (later top editor at the New York Times), he helped break key stories about John Huang, Webb Hubbell and overseas Asian interests giving big campaign gifts to Democrats.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Simpson probed terrorism financing. Then he went to Brussels under Journal bureau chief Peter Fritsch (now his Fusion partner) and became fascinated with Russian money. In March 2007, he wrote to Paul Manafort with a prescient inquiry, saying he had “credible information” that the future Trump campaign manager represented Ukrainian official Viktor Yanukovych without registering as a foreign agent. A decade later, Robert Mueller indicted Manafort over exactly that.
At Fusion, Simpson has investigated political money for clients of all persuasions, including a hedge-fund manager and more than a few Trump supporters. So it follows that when conservative Paul Singer’s Washington Free Beacon and then the Democrats wanted Trump research, Simpson used his intelligence contacts from Brussels to probe Trump’s financial ties to Russia.
I don’t share Simpson’s interest in journalism for hire, nor do I approve of his willingness to take distasteful clients.
But I do know he’s a dogged gumshoe with one overriding ideology: distrust of all politicians.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.