WASHINGTON — The revelation that the Steele Dossier – a document containing outrageous and unverified claims about U.S. President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia – is the result of an effort originally funded by a right-wing website could reopen a feud between its financial backer and Trump. Billionaire Paul Singer, who funds The Washington Free Beacon, also happens to be one of the most prominent donors to pro-Israeli organizations in the United States.
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According to a number of reports that came out on Friday, the company that produced the infamous dossier, Fusion GPS, was originally hired in early 2016 by The Free Beacon, a conservative website, to do “opposition research” on a number of Republican contenders for the presidency, including Trump. Later, when Trump secured the nomination, then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid the company to continue its research, with a narrow focus on Trump. After Trump won the election, the FBI asked the company to continue its work in light of some of the findings it had dug up on Trump’s alleged connections to Moscow.
The Free Beacon’s involvement in the affair brings Trump’s relationship with Singer back into the spotlight.
Singer, who is 73 and made most of his money as a hedge fund manager, is one of the most influential donors in Republican politics and an avid supporter of Israel-related causes. Over the last two decades, he has emerged as a major political player who not only donates large sums to different candidates and organizations, but also has influence over a network of like-minded donors who share his worldview. That worldview includes strong support for Israel, a dedication to free markets and a moderate position (relative to current-day Republican politics) on some social issues, such as immigration and LGBT rights.
In late 2015, Singer supported the presidential campaign of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, whose politics are in line with Singer’s priorities. Trump began attacking both Rubio and Singer on his popular Twitter account, calling Singer “Mr. Amnesty” for his positions on immigration and ridiculing Rubio for relying on Singer’s financial support for his campaign.
In early 2016, when it became clear that Rubio's campaign was failing and that Trump had an open path to win the Republican nomination, a political action committee that was financially supported by Singer began working on stopping Trump from winning the nomination. That effort also failed; in June 2016, when Trump was about to officially secure the nomination, Singer publicly attacked him and warned that his economic plans would lead to another recession.
During the Republican nomination fight, Trump’s positions were significantly different from Singer’s – not only on immigration and the economy but also with regards to Israel. Trump promised to be a “neutral broker” between Israel and the Palestinians, refused to commit to moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and said that Israel probably had some responsibility for the failure to reach a peace deal in the past. Rubio tried to use those statements as attack lines against Trump. He held one of his very last campaign events at a synagogue in Florida, giving a speech with an Israeli flag behind him and attacking Trump for being “Israel-neutral.”
Ever since Trump’s election victory, however, it seemed like he and Singer had decided to put the past behind them. They met in December 2016, and Trump later boasted that the billionaire who was affiliated with the “Never Trump” movement was now a fan of him and his policies. Trump also adopted a more right-wing line regarding Israel: He promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem and appointed his extreme right-wing adviser David Friedman as ambassador.
Singer has supported many organizations related to Israel over the years, including the Republican Jewish Coalition, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Philos Project. In 2016, Singer partnered with the evangelical Museum of the Bible in supporting a program called Passages Israel to send young American Christians to visit Israel. The partnership drew criticism both from the religious right wing and from supporters of gay rights, who wondered how Singer, who supports same-sex marriage, could cooperate with groups that strongly oppose it. Singer has also donated to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think-tank that played an important role in the fight against President Barack Obama’s Iran policy and the 2015 nuclear deal.
It’s too early to tell how the news about the Free Beacon’s connection to Fusion GPS and the Steele Dossier could influence the Trump-Singer relationship moving forward. Singer was an important supporter of George W. Bush’s political efforts, and in 2008 tried to help Rudy Giuliani win the Republican nomination before getting behind the Republican nominee of that year’s election, John McCain. In 2012, he supported Mitt Romney, who, like McCain, lost to Obama in the general election.