Simpson, founder of Fusion GPS, spoke at the 2016 Double
Exposure Investigative Film Festival and Symposium, an event
conducted by 100Reporters.
GPS bills itself as a corporate research firm, but in many ways it
operates with the secrecy of a spy agency. No sign marks its
headquarters above a coffee shop in Northwest Washington.
Its website consists
of two sentences and an email address. Its client list is closely
small firm has been under intense public scrutiny for producing
the 35-page document known as the Trump dossier. Senior executives
summoned to testify before Congress in October invoked their Fifth
Amendment right against self-incrimination, and the firm is
resisting a congressional subpoena for bank records that would
reveal who has paid for its services.
hundreds of internal company documents obtained by The Washington
Post reveal how Fusion, a firm led by former journalists, has used
investigative reporting techniques and media connections to
advance the interests of an eclectic range of clients on Wall
Street, in Silicon Valley and in the nation’s capital. The firm
has played an unseen role in stories that dominated headlines in
the years before it produced the dossier, records show, Fusion
worked to blunt aggressive reporting on the medical-device company
Theranos, which was later found to have problems with its novel
blood-testing technology. It was also hired to ward off scrutiny
of the nutritional supplement company Herbalife, which ultimately
paid $200 million to distributors to settle claims by
another case, the firm sought to expose what it called “slimy
dealings” by a competitor of a San Francisco museum proposed by
filmmaker and “Star Wars” director George Lucas. And it dug
up information about domestic disputes involving a former mayor of
Beverly Hills, Calif., as part of an investigation into a proposed
real estate development that the mayor supported.
other past research targets, documents show, included tech giants
Google and Amazon; 2012 presidential candidates Mitt Romney and
Barack Obama; and Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Bob
Corker of Tennessee. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns
The Washington Post.)
assigned code names to the projects — many of them after cities in
Texas and Maine — and avoided identifying its clients in internal
documents, making it difficult to determine who was paying for the
research. The firm also minimized its public footprints by paying
outside contractors to collect public records from courthouses,
police stations and federal agencies.
Post’s review provides a glimpse at the tactics that have fueled
Fusion’s rise in the growing and secretive industry of opposition
research and corporate intelligence. The review represents the
most comprehensive look at the firm’s work at a time when it is
being examined by those who seek to gauge the veracity of the
dossier, and it reveals methods that have drawn criticism from the
targets of the company’s research, including President Trump.
work on the dossier went beyond ordinary opposition research, the
kind that might explore a candidate’s past legislative history or
embarrassing gaffes — known in the industry as “votes and quotes.”
Instead, it paid a former British spy to compile intelligence from
unnamed Russian sources.
a handful of internal documents obtained by The Post relate to the
examination of Trump during the 2016 election, a project that was
code-named “Bangor” and was financed in part by Hillary Clinton’s
declined to comment on specific cases or identify clients, but
said in a statement that it is “proud of our methodology and the
rigor of our research, amply demonstrated by the records cited by
The Washington Post. They show what we’ve always stated: Our
secret sauce is diligent and exhaustive analysis of public
continued: “The reason we are so effective is that we unearth
facts that stand up to scrutiny — presumably why we are still
talking about our work detailing the connections between the Trump
campaign and Russia more than a year later.”
founder Glenn Simpson, an accomplished former investigative
reporter with expertise digging into financial crimes and
corruption in Russia and elsewhere, left the Wall Street Journal
in 2009 to start a research firm with Susan Schmidt, a two-time
Pulitzer Prize winner from The Post. Without Schmidt, Simpson
created Fusion GPS the following year, teaming up with former Wall
Street Journal editor Peter Fritsch and a former Treasury
call it journalism for rent,” Simpson, 53, said in August of last
year at the Double Exposure Investigative Film Festival and
Symposium in the District, where he described Fusion’s work on a
panel titled, “Investigations With an Agenda.”
has about 10 employees, he said. It has worked on a broad
array of cases, including matters related to marijuana
dispensaries, health-care workers, a state insurance official and
even a Florida homeowner’s association, internal documents
has also quietly advocated causes and pet projects dear to wealthy
and famous clients.
April 2014, Lucas wanted to build a cultural arts museum on
federal land at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge in San
Francisco, a site known as the Presidio. The museum was one of
three proposals under consideration by a federal agency called the
Fusion client — who is not identified in the documents obtained by
The Post — suspected the agency was trying to block the Lucas
museum, records show.
want to understand where this resistance is coming from and why,”
Fritsch wrote in an email to his Fusion colleagues. Fritsch added
that the “client would like to expose the slimy dealings” of a
nonprofit competing with Lucas for the right to build on the land.
The investigation was code named “Tyler.”
Conway, one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific start-up investors
and an outspoken supporter of the Lucas museum, was copied on
subsequent emails about the cost of the research. “I don’t have
any comment,” Conway said by phone when asked if he had hired
the next nine months, a contractor hired by Fusion blanketed the
Presidio Trust and another federal agency with dozens of requests
for a range of documents related to board members and a consultant
who were judging the proposals — expense reports, ethics forms,
employment contracts and other records.
February 2015, with Fusion still waiting for the documents, Conway
sent an email to Fritsch with a link to a story in the San
Francisco Chronicle. It was about a petition, signed by
celebrities such as Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and
hip-hop artist MC Hammer, calling on the Presidio Trust to release
some of the same records Fusion had requested.
ARE OFF AND RUNNING !!” Conway wrote. Fritsch forwarded the email
to other Fusion executives and said, “GLORIOUS!!!”
not clear whether the effort had the desired effect. The Presidio
Trust ultimately rejected all three proposals. A spokeswoman for
Lucas told The Post in a statement that Lucas was “unaware of
any research undertaken by Fusion GPS.” A Presidio Trust spokesman
did not respond to messages from The Post seeking comment.
has at times used hardball tactics, the documents show.
year, Fusion’s sleuths targeted a controversial proposal for a
$1.2 billion hotel and condo project in Beverly Hills, in the
heart of one of the nation’s wealthiest areas, records show. The
investigation was code named “Gray.”
client is not identified in the records reviewed by The Post, but
the documents show that Fusion investigated the activities of the
Chinese developer behind the project, Wanda Group, there and in
other U.S. cities.
part of its research, Fusion took aim at a vocal supporter of the
Beverly Hills project, then-mayor John Mirisch, records show.
Fusion sought police reports from the city related to domestic
disputes involving the mayor and his ex-wife that had occurred
between 2008 and 2010, records show.
Beverly Hills mayor John Mirisch at City Hall in August 2016.
(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)
city police balked at releasing some of the police reports, a
Fusion contractor sued the city. Neither the public-records
requests nor the legal complaint mentions Fusion. The suit was
filed by former journalist Russell Carollo, who is described in
court records as a public records consultant.
executive Jason Felch, a former investigative reporter with the
Los Angeles Times, emailed Carollo on July 21, 2016, with a
statement he could give reporters inquiring about the lawsuit. The
statement suggested that the mayor might be supporting the Wanda
Group project because he owed a favor to a retired police chief
who worked for a firm that was lobbying the city on behalf of the
hotel, records show. The statement also argued that the
public had a right to see the records involving the mayor.
weeks later, Carollo was quoted in the local newspaper, the
Beverly Hills Courier, under a story headlined: “Pulitzer
Prize-winning Journalist Petitions Court For Public Information On
Mayor’s Domestic Disputes With Ex-Wife.”
an interview, Mirisch said he had no idea that Fusion was behind
the renewed scrutiny of the years-old domestic disputes. “It was
dirty politics and misinformation,” said Mirisch, now a city
said in an interview that he worked for Fusion and was asked by
the firm to file the lawsuit. In a statement, Fusion wrote: “Our
policy prohibits any employees or contractors from misrepresenting
themselves as journalists or anything else.”
spokesman for the Beverly Hills hotel project, which remains in
planning stages, declined to comment. The retired police chief,
Dave Snowden, said in an interview, “Hearing this, that the mayor
owed me a favor, is absurd on its face.”
that the firm does not engage in public relations work or
advertise its media connections to prospective clients. But Fusion
executives have interceded with former colleagues in media when
their clients came under scrutiny, records and interviews show.
mid-2015, Fusion was conducting research on two competitors of
Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up that had created buzz in the
health-technology industry. Around the same time, the Wall Street
Journal was pursuing its own Theranos reporting, which
ultimately raised doubts about the accuracy of the
company’s revolutionary lab-testing technology. Fusion, working on
behalf of Theranos, tried to influence the Journal’s early
reporting, according to records and interviews.
called the case “Ferris.”
few weeks after Journal reporter John Carreyrou approached
Theranos about his investigation into the company, Fritsch
contacted him to create a back channel, according to documents and
a person familiar with the Journal’s reporting who was not
authorized to speak publicly.
advised the reporter that his approach with Theranos up to that
point had been too blunt and aggressive, and he encouraged him to
soften it, the person said. Fritsch also accompanied a Theranos
delegation that went to the Journal’s newsroom in June 2015 to
discuss the story with Carreyrou and his editor. The delegation,
made up mostly of lawyers, was headed by prominent attorney David
the ensuing years, Theranos — once valued at $9 billion — faced
regulatory actions, including in 2016 losing its certificate to
operate a blood-testing lab in California and its eligibility to
receive Medicare and Medicaid payments. The company reached a
settlement in April with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid
Services, agreeing not to operate a lab for two years in exchange
for the restoration of its certificate.
Wall Street Journal published its award-winning series on Theranos
despite legal threats and strenuous objections from the company
and its representatives,” a spokeswoman for the paper said in a
representative of Boies’s law firm, Boies Schiller and Flexner,
referred comment to Theranos. A Theranos representative
declined to comment.
was also a behind-the-scenes player in a Wall Street battle
between billionaire investor William Ackman and the supplement
company Herbalife, records show.
had a huge financial stake in Herbalife’s fate. He had taken a
short position in the company — meaning if the company failed, his
investment would pay off big. Ackman held news conferences calling
for regulatory and criminal investigations into Herbalife,
alleging that the company’s network of distributors was
effectively a pyramid scheme.
had Fusion working on its side in a project that carried the code
name “Rice,” documents show. Fusion launched investigations into
Ackman and his hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management,
according to emails and internal documents.
attorney and outside publicist are copied on some emails that
discussed strategy for uncovering public records that would expose
whether Ackman was paying nonprofit groups to criticize Herbalife.
Fusion’s contractors were looking for information that would spark
government investigations into Ackman, documents show.
June 2014, Richard Hynes, a contractor for Fusion, noted that the
U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York Attorney
General’s Office had previously conducted investigations that
touched on Ackman, emails show.
seems to have come from them,” he wrote. “I wonder what the SEC
and NY AG DIDN’T have to make their cases. What else could we
provide them this time to effect a different outcome,” he asked.
Simpson soon instructed a Fusion contractor to request the SEC’s
case file on closed investigations into Ackman or his firm,
Pershing Square, documents show.
was Herbalife that fell under investigation. In 2016, it agreed to
a $200 million settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over
allegations that it deceived buyers and sellers of its products.
Herbalife did not respond to a request for comment, and Hynes did
not respond to messages.
has been thrust into the spotlight because of the Trump dossier,
it has been forced to reveal details of its operations in court
objections from Democrats, the Republican leader of the House
Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), subpoenaed
Fusion’s bank records to try to identify the then-mystery client
who paid for the dossier. In October, Fusion executives invoked
their constitutional right not to answer questions from the
founder Glenn Simpson, left, arrives for an appearance before a
closed House Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington on
Nov. 14. (Associated Press)
had previously sat for a 10-hour closed-door interview with
members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also looking
into allegations of foreign influence in the 2016 U.S.
presidential election. He has also testified before the House
committee behind closed doors.
its investigation into Trump, Fusion was initially
hired in the fall of 2015 by the
conservative Washington Free Beacon website. The publication is
backed by billionaire GOP donor Paul Singer, who was then
supporting Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) in the GOP primary.
Post revealed in October that Fusion was paid, via a law firm, by
the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee for its
work on the dossier.
Trump won the primary, Fusion approached Marc
Elias, a partner at the law firm Perkins Coie who
represented the Democratic Party during the 2016 election. Perkins
Coie decided the party needed to go deeper than traditional,
issue-oriented opposition research groups — a “no-stones-unturned
approach,” according to a person familiar with the arrangement who
was not authorized to speak publicly.
spokeswoman for Perkins Coie said Trump “was unvetted by the
political process — a businessman with significant real estate
holdings both in the United States and around the globe, a history
of litigation, financial problems and bankruptcies, and of a
decidedly litigious nature,” adding that “the challenge of
reviewing public-record information alone on his candidacy
necessitated additional research.”
and Fritsch had worked on stories involving money laundering and
Russian government officials while based in Brussels for the
Journal. They knew how to pull documents around the world — a
skill that had earned them work from top law firms.
known Glenn for a long time,” said John W. Moscow, a former
prosecutor and now a lawyer with the firm BakerHostetler, which
hired Fusion to assist in defending the Russian company Prevezon
in a civil money-laundering case. “When we need information from
various parts of the world, he can go get it. We hire him on a
per-case basis because he’s good.”
this year, Prevezon settled the suit, brought by the Justice
Department, for $5.9 million without admitting guilt.
its work on the dossier, Fusion hired Christopher Steele, a former
British intelligence officer who had worked extensively in Russia.
In a statement, Fusion said Perkins Coie paid it
$1.02 million for work in 2016, and it said Fusion paid
Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, $168,000.
campaign, DNC paid for research that led to Russia dossier]
dossier alleged that the Russian government had collected
compromising information on Trump and that the Kremlin was trying
to assist his campaign. Officials have said that the FBI has
confirmed some of the information in the dossier but the most
sensational details have not been verified and may never be.
the dossier circulated among Washington journalists late last
year, senior U.S. officials viewed the matter as serious enough to
brief then-President-elect Donald Trump on its existence. And when
BuzzFeed published the document online in early January, the
dossier — particularly its more salacious claims — gripped the
recent weeks, Trump and congressional Republicans have seized on
the Clinton campaign’s role in the dossier to try to discredit
suggestions that his campaign colluded with Russia.
the August conference last year, Simpson said his firm upholds
strict standards developed in his years as a journalist.
can’t just say what you know. You have to say how you know it. And
you have to be able to prove it,” he said. “That imposes a sort of
discipline to the investigative process that people in other
fields don’t really absorb.”
was candid about the money involved. Explaining why he left
journalism, he joked: “We don’t use the word ‘sold out.’ We use
the word ‘cashed in.’ ”
Zapotosky and Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.