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Dianne Feinstein releases Senate testimony of Fusion GPS founder, research firm behind the Trump-Russia dossier

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 25, 2017. Feinstein unilaterally released a transcript of the committee’s interview with one of the founders of the firm that produced a dossier outlining Russians effort to aid the Trump campaign, on Jan. 9, 2018. (Pete Marovich/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

WASHINGTON - The ex-British spy who authored a dossier of allegations against then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was told the FBI had someone inside the Trump campaign providing agents with information, according to a newly-released transcript of a congressional interview.

Glenn R. Simpson, founder of research firm Fusion GPS, spoke to investigators with the Senate Judiciary Committee for 10 hours in August. As the partisan fight over Russian interference in the 2016 election has intensified, Simpson has urged that his testimony be released, and a copy of the transcript was made public Tuesday.

It was released by the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. That decision marks the most serious break yet in the once cooperative relationship she has had with the Republican chairman of the committee, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa.

Fusion GPS was hired in mid-2016 by a lawyer for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig into the background of candidate Trump. Earlier that year, the firm had been probing Trump for a conservative website funded by a GOP donor, but that client stopped paying for the work after it became clear Trump would win the GOP nomination, according to people familiar with the matter.

After Democrats began paying for the research, Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a former British spy, to gather intelligence about any ties between the Kremlin and then-candidate Trump and his associates. Steele's reports were eventually compiled into a dossier alleging the Trump campaign did coordinate with the Kremlin - a claim the president has repeatedly denied.

Steele first reached out to the FBI with his concerns in early July, according to people familiar with the matter. When they re-interviewed him in early October, agents made it clear, according to Simpson's testimony released Tuesday, that they believed some of what Steele had told them.

"My understanding was that they believed Chris at this point - that they believed Chris might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization," Simpson said. Using the parlance of spies and law enforcement officials, Simpson said the FBI had a "walk-in'' whistleblower from someone in Trump's organization.

In recent weeks, as the political fights about the Russia investigation and the dossier have intensified, Simpson has urged the committee to release the full transcript of his interview, arguing that Republicans are trying to obscure, rather than reveal, what happened in 2016.

Through much of 2017, Feinstein and Grassley made joint requests for information about Russia and the FBI's investigation of election interference. In the fall, however, tensions between Grassley and Feinstein spilled out into the open as Grassley requested information from the FBI and other sources without Feinstein's support.

Increasingly, the Democrats and Republicans on the committee are going in different directions - with Grassley moving to investigate matters involving Clinton when she was secretary of state, and Feinstein concentrating on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Simpson, the Fusion GPS founder, was interviewed by the Judiciary Committee for 10 hours in August.

While Simpson has accused conservative lawmakers of acting in bad faith, Republicans have accused Steele, while working for Fusion GPS, of misleading the FBI. Last week, Grassley made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, suggesting Steele may have lied to the FBI. While details of the referral are classified, it appears to be related to Mr. Steele's contacts with reporters during the election campaign.

Republicans have attacked the credibility of Steele's dossier, which Democrats say is an effort to discredit the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into whether any Trump associates coordinated with Russian agents to interfere in the presidential election.

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