A conservative website with strong ties to the Republican establishment triggered the investigation into Donald Trump's past that ultimately produced the dossier that alleged a compromised relationship between the president and the Kremlin, the AP reports. The Washington Free Beacon on Friday confirmed it originally retained the political research firm Fusion GPS to scour then-candidate Trump's background for negative information, a common practice known as "opposition research" in politics. Leaders from the Free Beacon, which is funded largely by Republican billionaire Paul Singer, insisted none of the early material it collected appeared in the dossier released later in the year detailing explosive allegations, many uncorroborated, about Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
"During the 2016 election cycle we retained Fusion GPS to provide research on multiple candidates in the Republican presidential primary, just as we retained other firms to assist in our research into Hillary Clinton," wrote the site's editor-in-chief, Matthew Continetti, and chairman Michael Goldfarb. They denied, however, any link to Steele or the dossier. Earlier in the week, reports revealed that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee continued funding Fusion's work after the original GOP source lost interest. Trump this week called it a "disgrace" that Democrats had helped pay for research that produced the document. But the original source of the research remained a secret. Sources tell the AP the Free Beacon first retained Fusion to investigate Trump in the fall of 2015 and ended its relationship after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination in late spring of 2016, and that Singer was not aware of Steele's involvement or the dossier until earlier this year when it was published.