WASHINGTON — The Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website funded by a major Republican donor, first hired the research firm that months later produced for Democrats the salacious dossier describing ties between Donald J. Trump and the Russian government, the website said on Friday.
The Free Beacon, funded in large part by the New York hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer, hired the firm, Fusion GPS, in 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.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee had begun paying Fusion GPS in April for research that eventually became the basis for the dossier.
The Free Beacon informed the House Intelligence Committee on Friday that it had retained the firm. That committee is one of a number of congressional committees investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the 2016 election and whether there was any collusion with Mr. Trump’s associates.
The role of the website answers one of the lingering mysteries behind the events leading up to the production of the dossier and its publication by BuzzFeed in January.
It has long been known that Fusion GPS was first hired by Republicans, but it was not known who was the source of the funding. This week, Mr. Trump and his allies seized on the fact that Democrats had paid the firm for the research as evidence that the dossier was part of a political smear campaign.
Mr. Trump said on Wednesday that it was a “disgrace” that Democrats had funded the dossier, calling it “a very sad commentary on politics in this country.”
At the heart of the story is Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research firm founded by former Wall Street Journal employees. Little is known about the firm’s list of clients, and Republicans in Congress have pressed the firm and one of its founders, Glenn Simpson, to hand over documents about the funding and research that produced the dossier.
The Free Beacon’s editor, Matthew Continetti, and its chairman, Michael Goldfarb, said in a statement that the website was not involved in the dossier.
“All of the work that Fusion GPS provided to The Free Beacon was based on public sources, and none of the work product that The Free Beacon received appears in the Steele dossier,” they said. “The Free Beacon had no knowledge of or connection to the Steele dossier, did not pay for the dossier, and never had contact with, knowledge of, or provided payment for any work performed by Christopher Steele.”
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee retained Fusion GPS to research any possible connections between Mr. Trump, his businesses, his campaign team and Russia, court filings revealed this week. Working for them, the firm retained Christopher Steele, a respected former British intelligence officer.
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 presidential 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.
Speculation had circulated for months that Mr. Singer was involved in the dossier, but his allies had denied that. On Friday, an associate said Mr. Singer had not been aware of the dossier or Mr. Steele’s involvement in Fusion GPS’s research until January, when BuzzFeed published the dossier.
Mr. Singer was among the leading Republican critics of Mr. Trump during the Republican presidential primary race. Even after Mr. Singer’s first choice, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, dropped out of the race, Mr. Singer continued to fund efforts to block Mr. Trump from the party’s nomination.
The revelation of The Free Beacon’s involvement with Fusion GPS threatens a rapprochement between Mr. Trump and Mr. Singer, who donated $1 million to the president’s inaugural fund and has visited the White House on multiple occasions. After one such visit, Mr. Trump declared that Mr. Singer “was very much involved with the anti-Trump or, as they say, ‘Never Trump,’ and Paul just left, and he’s given us his total support and it’s all about unification.”
Josh Levy, a lawyer representing Fusion GPS, said questions about who funded Mr. Steele’s work should be secondary to its credibility.
The Free Beacon has a history of employing so-called opposition research firms to assist in news articles critical of targets like Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton. In their statement, Mr. Continetti and Mr. Goldfarb said that “we stand by our reporting, and we do not apologize for our methods.”
Investigators working with several congressional committees and the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, have delved into Mr. Steele’s work as part of inquiries into connections between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including whether they conspired to influence last year’s election.
The Free Beacon’s notification to the House Intelligence Committee came a few days before a deadline set by a federal judge for Fusion GPS’s bank to respond to a subpoena issued by the committee for financial records that could have revealed who funded the dossier.
Fusion GPS had filed a motion to block the subpoena on the grounds that it would “irreparably damage” the company’s business and also “chill” its free speech rights and those of “many others engaging in opposition research on political candidates.”
In a telephone conference with representatives for Fusion GPS, the committee and the bank, the judge hearing the case said that Fusion GPS’s clients have “the expectation of confidentiality.” But the judge added that it was “not to say that the congressional committee doesn’t have interests that may trump those expectations of confidentiality.”
The firm’s connection to Democrats was revealed in a letter this week from Matthew J. Gehringer, the managing partner of the law firm Perkins Coie. The letter said that Fusion GPS had already been conducting the research “for one or more other clients during the Republican primary contest,” and urged the earlier clients to waive their confidentiality “given the interest in this issue.”
Perkins Coie was paid $12.4 million to represent the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 race, according to campaign finance filings, though most of that money probably went to legal compliance.