Is the tone of the Russia investigation changing?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," October 23, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I would say it is the same baloney they have been peddling for years, and there's been no credible evidence by anyone. In fact, it has been debunked repeatedly and will continue to be debunked.

I'm not surprised, but I think the real story is how nervous they are about these continuing investigations.

REP. RON DESANTIS, R-FLA.: Last Congress in and the oversight committee wanted to investigate the Foundation and all the other payments involving the Clintons, and we were not allowed to do that by the leadership of the House for whatever reason. Now I think that this information is so explosive that there is no way you can justify not getting all the information on this.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: It seems like the investigation into Russia efforts in 2016 may have taken a turn, or at least the tone has changed, this as some new revelations about a Democrat lobbyist, Tony Podesta, who is the brother of John Podesta, who of course was the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, an investigation into what he did or his company did in relation to Ukraine. It has morphed into, we are told, a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the foreign agents registration act, and the tie to Paul Manafort, the one-time campaign manager of the Trump campaign.

NBC News had the original story. Mueller now investigating Democrat lobbyist Tony Podesta. The Podesta Group issued a statement saying the firm is cooperating fully with the special counsel's office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance in all of our client engagements. The Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance and disclosure regulations at all times. We did so in this case."

So we know that there is more to this investigation. Let's bring in our panel: Byron York, chief political correspondent of The Washington Examiner; Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist, and Charles Lane, opinion writer for The Washington Post. OK, Byron, you wrote a column about this. Is there a sense up on Capitol Hill that this is turning a bit?

BYRON YORK, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think the change in tone we are seeing among these committees that are investigating this, this is not the Mueller investigation but the Congressional investigation, is I think we are hearing more about Russia and less about collusion. If you look at public statements of the people who are running this thing, they are talking more about the active measures Russia took, like the Facebook ads. These are indisputable things that we know about. And from what I've heard, talking to a number of people involved in this, they just don't seem to have the evidence that's pointing them toward collusion.

And then when you get something like the uranium deal, that takes it further from the whole collusion idea, which used to be the heart of the investigation.

BAIER: Right. The president obviously tweeting about this. Officials behind the now dossier plead the fifth. Justice Department and/or FBI should immediately release who paid for it. This dossier and this group Fusion GPS are coming under a lot of scrutiny.


SEN. RICHARD BURR, R-N.C.: As it relates to the Steele Dossier, unfortunately the committee has hit a wall. The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like who paid for it, who are your sources and sub-sources?

SEN. TOM COTTON, R-ARK.: This outfit here in Washington D.C., Fusion GPS, has gone to the greatest lengths possible to try to conceal who paid them. It makes me think it was probably a Democratic political operative or a Russian intelligence service.


BAIER: Mollie?

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: This is very different than the narrative we had for a long time. One of the people there just mentioned we don't know how they got their information. But we do know that they did pay some sources for their information in Russia. That's what led Obama's former CIA director Mike Morell to say he didn't trust this dossier.

But originally this was the entire basis of the Trump-collusion narrative, that this dossier suggested that there was something very nefarious going on, and this was used to undermine the incoming administration. It coordinated with all these leaks we were getting about Michael Flynn having a conversation with a Russian or Jeff Sessions having a conversation with a Russian or Jim Comey did this briefing which pretty quickly made it to the media.

And now we have this totally different story which is Fusion GPS was actually getting funded or working on behalf of Russians to undermine sanction efforts against Russian oligarchs and Putin cronies and whatnot while doing this dossier. This is just a dramatically different story than we have been getting and requires a lot more of those great investigative journalism things we've been seeing on the Trump thing. We'd like to see some more on Fusion GPS.

BAIER: It's important to have a caveat that we don't know what we don't know about the special counsel's investigation. And we are reading the tea leaves in some of what's coming out in leaks. Obviously there hasn't been a major leak of some collusion tie. But these investigations continue.

CHARLES LANE, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think just stepping back a minute, the fact that they are following up some sort of lead on a foreign agent registration possible violation by a Democratic firm suggests Robert Mueller is a straight shooter and not a partisan figure as he has been accused of being. I think that piece of the narrative should be adjusted as well.

Just on the surface it doesn't seem like the crime of the century that they are running down on Tony Podesta, a failure to register when it seemed like he was working some kind of subcontractor to Manafort on a still murky episode. But I do think, again, stepping back and looking at the big, big picture that we're getting here, maybe collusion is receding, but there was a lot of Russian activity in America over the last few years. And yes, there was this purchase of the uranium stockpile which remains to be explained. There's the penetration of lobbyists. There is the effort to advertise on Facebook. I think everybody ought to be concerned that that was going on. And that has been true from the beginning.

BAIER: So on the Uranium One deal, the new wrinkle to that is that an informant, Congress wants to talk to this FBI informant tied to this case, and so far the Department of Justice has squelched it, the ability. And now you have Senator Grassley, Byron, talking about really wanting to talk to this guy, what he knew. I want to play just a little bit. Back when this all came out at first, FOX News was part of the news organizations along with The New York Times, and Peter Schweizer with the book "Clinton Cash" who first covered this Uranium One tie with the Clinton Foundation.


BAIER: So what happened to Giustra's company that benefited from that deal in Kazakhstan? After a merger it became a uranium giant called Uranium One. And then the Russians bought it.

PETER SCHWEIZER, AUTHOR OF 'CLINTON CASH': Uranium One became very active in acquiring uranium assets actually in the United States itself. By 2008, 2009, they were a particularly attractive target for the Russian government.

BAIER: And the Russians acquired that target.

SCHWEIZER: Fernwood Foundation is an entity in Canada controlled by Ian Telfer who ends up being the chairman of Uranium One, which is the Russian owned uranium company. Ian Telfer in 2007 made an individual contribution to the Clinton Foundation.

BAIER: So what this amounts to in the end is a Russian company essentially controlled by Vladimir Putin will now be in charge of a substantial portion of American uranium.


BAIER: We had a lot of details, tens of millions of dollars to the Clinton Foundation, a lot of speaking fees tangentially for former president Clinton. We did an hour long special on it back then. But it has developed since.

YORK: It has. And I think what you're saying that with Charles Grassley and the Justice Department is a continuation between -- there's a fight going on between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Republican- controlled Justice Department about all sorts of Russian information. The House Intelligence Committee controlled by Republicans on August 24th subpoenaed the FBI for information about the dossier. They have yet to see a single document. And so it is not really surprising here to see this conflict.

One thing on the uranium, a lot of it is framed in terms of the Clintons, but Hillary Clinton argued, and she was right, that she is not the sole person who made this decision about the uranium. There is a committee on foreign investment in the United States and all that.

BAIER: Which bring in the Obama administration.

YORK: It's a bigger Obama administration story than just Hillary Clinton.

LANE: I was going to say another thing we are learning today is that once the special counsel gets going, he never stops.

HEMINGWAY: This is something we should've learned a long time ago.

LANE: And the Podesta firm is running afoul of that basic Washington principle.

BAIER: Last word.

HEMINGWAY: Just this is -- we have so much that we need to learn and we have a lot we need to learn about what the FBI's work with this dossier was. Was it used to spy on political opponents? That's a big question that we haven't gotten good answers for.

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