WASHINGTON — The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by a major Republican donor, was the first to hire the firm that conducted opposition research on Donald J. Trump — including a salacious dossier describing ties between Mr. Trump and the Russian government — website representatives told the House Intelligence Committee on Friday.
According to people briefed on the conversation, the website hired the firm, Fusion GPS, in October 2015 to unearth damaging information about several Republican presidential candidates, including Mr. Trump. But The Free Beacon told the firm to stop doing research on Mr. Trump in May 2016, as Mr. Trump was clinching the Republican nomination.
In April 2016, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee also retained Fusion GPS to research any possible connections between Mr. Trump, his businesses, his campaign team and Russia. Working for them, Fusion GPS retained a respected former British spy named Christopher Steele.
He went on to produce a series of memos that alleged a broad conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election on behalf of Mr. Trump. The memos, which became known as the “Steele dossier,” also contained unsubstantiated accounts of encounters between Mr. Trump and Russian prostitutes, as well as real estate deals that were intended as bribes.
The Free Beacon is funded in large part by the New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, according to an associate of Mr. Singer. The associate said Mr. Singer, a leading Republican donor, was not aware of the dossier or Mr. Steele’s involvement until January, when BuzzFeed published the dossier.
The Free Beacon has a history of employing so-called opposition research firms to assist in news articles critical of targets ranging from Mr. Trump to Mrs. Clinton.