The revelation that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies DNC, RNC step up cyber protections Gun proposal picks up GOP support MORE’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) funded an explosive dossier about President Trump has emboldened Republicans, who view it as a turning point in the investigations into Russia’s campaign meddling.
New details from the Washington Post about Democratic involvement with the dossier — which was compiled by a British spy and may have been used by the FBI as part of its investigation into allegations that Trump campaign officials colluded with Russia — has the White House on the offensive after months of responding to damaging leaks and allegations.
Trump blasted the “fake dossier” and described it as the cornerstone of “the whole Russia hoax” at an impromptu news conference Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House.
The president called the memo “a disgrace” and a “very sad commentary on politics in this country.” Democrats, Trump said, are clinging to the allegations in the opposition research file as “an excuse for losing an election.”
“They didn’t know what to say so they made up the whole Russia hoax,” Trump said.
The Republican National Committee (RNC) is running with the story, pumping out statements to the press about how the Clinton campaign and DNC worked with Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm “known for doing business with the Kremlin.”
RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens blamed the Obama administration and the media for taking the memo seriously and used it to cast doubt on special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Trump campaign collusion.
“It served as a springboard for the Russia investigation we have today,” Ahrens said.
Those sentiments echoed across conservative media, where Trump’s allies at Fox News went wall-to-wall with their coverage of the revelations.
The latest, head-spinning turn of events comes amid reports that Tony Podesta, a lobbyist and the brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, has attracted the scrutiny of Mueller’s investigative team.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Republicans have launched new investigations into Clinton’s handling of classified material and the sale of a uranium company to a Russian firm during her time as secretary of State.
“The hoax has turned around and you look at what’s happened with Russia and you look at the uranium deal and you look at the fake dossier, so that’s all turned around,” Trump said.
Democrats were thrown into the unfamiliar position of having to defend their involvement with the memo — a centerpiece of the Russia investigation — after months of celebrating every incremental development around the alleged Trump-Russia connection.
Clinton’s allies and former campaign officials blasted back over Twitter and in interviews on cable news, describing Democratic involvement with the memo as typical campaign opposition research.
Former Clinton campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said over Twitter that, if he had known the campaign was paying British spy Christopher Steele for the opposition research, he would have “volunteered to go to Europe to try to help him.”
And Democrats had Russia investigation news of their own to tout, after The Daily Beast reported that the head of Trump-tied data firm Cambridge Analytica admitted contacting WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange in an attempt to get Clinton’s emails.
Republicans shot back on the dossier defenses, arguing that the Clinton campaign had successfully paid a foreign national for opposition research that was published by the media, while Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpIvanka Trump pens op-ed on kindergartners learning tech Bharara, Yates tamp down expectations Mueller will bring criminal charges Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open MORE Jr. has been relentlessly attacked for trying and failing to obtain campaign dirt on Clinton from a Russian attorney.
But Democrats insisted that Clinton’s involvement doesn’t absolve the Trump campaign of allegations of collusion, which are still being investigated by Mueller and several congressional panels.
“It doesn’t matter who paid for the research,” a Democratic official told The Hill.
“What matters is there’s a serious, ongoing investigation into these issues being conducted by the special prosecutor and multiple congressional committees. This is the latest in the Republicans’ only remaining strategy — they can’t control Trump or discredit the serious investigation into Russian meddling, so they revert to distraction and diversion.”
Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayThe rising importance of food to America’s national security Group fights to keep cholesterol warnings in dietary guidelines GOP hammers Obama on crude export ban MORE (Texas), the Republican overseeing the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russian meddling, told reporters that Clinton’s involvement would not significantly alter his work.
“There’s no change, we’re still on that track,” he said. “It’s just information that we didn’t have that we now have. There’s still a lot of other information we want.”
Still, Democrats were eager to distance themselves from the memo, which includes salacious allegations about the president and details deep financial ties between Trump and high-ranking Russian officials. Former FBI Director James Comey told a congressional panel that none of the allegations have been verified.
Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardThe OFF Act will mandate a swift and just transition to clean energy House panel approves 6.5B defense policy bill Jane Sanders starts group to boost ‘progressive voices’ MORE (D-Hawaii), who backed Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Clip shows Larry David and Bernie Sanders reacting after discovering they’re related For now, Trump dossier creates more questions than answers MORE (I-Vt.) over Clinton in the Democratic primary, said in an interview on CNN that the unsubstantiated dossier is part of the reason Americans are “disgusted by Washington.”
A spokesperson for Democratic National Committee chairman Tom PerezThomas Edward PerezClinton’s top five vice presidential picks Government social programs: Triumph of hope over evidence Labor’s ‘wasteful spending and mismanagement” at Workers’ Comp MORE told The Hill that “the new leadership of the DNC were not involved in any decision-making regarding Fusion GPS, nor were they aware that [DNC law firm] Perkins Coie was working with the organization.”
Rep. Keith EllisonKeith Maurice EllisonDemocrat walks back comment that Kim Jong-un ‘more responsible’ than Trump Keith Ellison: Reality of Trump is setting in Keith Ellison: New Trump travel ban is ‘irrational,’ ‘mean’ MORE (D-Minn.), the DNC’s deputy chairman, told The Hill that both he and Perez came to the DNC long after the contract with Fusion GPS had ended.
“Tom and me, we weren’t even there at the time,” Ellison said. “I know as much about it as you guys who have reported it.”
A spokesperson for Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the previous DNC chairwoman, said, “she was not aware of anything related to this research arrangement.”
Democrats with close ties to the national party said the DNC was not empowered to make campaign decisions at a time when it was dealing with email leaks and Wasserman Schultz was being forced out.
Furthermore, they said the DNC would not oversee work that had been contracted out to a third party.
“I doubt that any of the leadership at the DNC was even aware,” a Democratic official said.
Regardless, Republicans feel they finally have the upper hand. Some are praising Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for doggedly pursuing the matter, even after recusing himself from the investigation.
“The Clintons and Democrats tried to perpetrate a dirty trick on the American public,” said Bryan Lanza, the communications director for the Trump transition team. “Thank God for Chairman Nunes for exposing this fraud.”
Still, the consensus on Capitol Hill is that the atmosphere will become even more partisan now that news of Clinton’s involvement has broken. There is deep skepticism that congressional investigators can achieve meaningful consensus, raising the stakes for Mueller and his team.
“If the congressional inquiries weren’t dead already, they are dead now,” a congressional aide said.
Mike Lillis and Katie Bo Williams contributed.