The former No. 4 official a the Department of Justice warned that the infamous “Russia dossier” commissioned by Fusion GPS and written by a former British spy was tied to the 2016 Clinton campaign and thus likely biased.
Writing in The Hill on Wednesday, John Solomon reported that Bruce Ohr, whose wife Nellie Ohr worked at Fusion when the dossier was being commissioned and produced, “briefed both senior FBI and DOJ officials in summer 2016 about Christopher Steele’s Russia dossier, explicitly cautioning that the British intelligence operative’s work was opposition research connected to Hillary Clinton’s campaign and might be biased.”
The briefings came in July and August 2016, Solomon noted, and included the FBI deputy director (Andrew McCabe at the time), a top lawyer for then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and a Justice Department official later would become special counsel Robert Mueller’s top deputy.
But Ohr’s warnings about political bias in the dossier were conspicuously absent some weeks later when, in September, the FBI filed for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant with the secretive FISA court, which gave agents permission to begin spying on the 2016 Trump campaign for alleged “Russian collusion” to steal the election, notes Solomon, who added:
Ohr’s activities, chronicled in handwritten notes and congressional testimony I gleaned from sources, provide the most damning evidence to date that FBI and DOJ officials may have misled federal judges in October 2016 in their zeal to obtain the warrant targeting Trump adviser Carter Page just weeks before Election Day.
They also contradict a key argument that House Democrats have made in their formal intelligence conclusions about the Russia case.
As we noted in August, during an interview with Fox News‘ Martha McCallum, Rep. John Radcliff, R-Texas, a former U.S. attorney, said that he had personally viewed the unredacted copies of the Justice Department’s FISA warrant applications, but that none of them mention Ohr and his wife Nellie Ohr.
We reported further:
Radcliff said none of the four FISA applications signed by former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, former FBI Director James Comey, former Deputy FBI Director Andy McCabe and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein mentioned the Ohr’s, and that their names were purposely withheld from the FISA court, a major violation of the law.
Bruce Ohr appeared before the House Government Oversight Committee in late August, reportedly to explain what he knew about the dossier, Steele, and Spygate generally.
Solomon notes that a redacted version of a FISA application released last year does not mention Clinton or the Democratic National Committee, which also helped finance the dossier.
The FBI claimed it was “unaware of any derogatory information” about Steele, that he was “never advised … as to the motivation behind the research” but that the bureau nonetheless “speculates” that those who hired Steele were “likely looking for information to discredit” Trump’s campaign.
During his August testimony, Solomon writes, Bruce Ohr said that FBI agents and DoJ lawyers did not have to speculate because he “explicitly warned them” via a “series of contacts” beginning July 31, 2016, that Steele was biased against Trump and was involved in a project that was linked to Clinton’s campaign.
“Ohr had firsthand knowledge about the motive and the client: He had just met with Steele on July 30, 2016, and Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the same firm employing Steele,” Solomon wrote.
In his Fox News interview last summer, Radcliffe said, “We know very clearly, and it’s not in dispute, that Bruce Ohr had more than 60 contacts with Christopher Steele, and his wife was retained and paid to create the dossier with Christopher Steele.”
Radcliffe, at the time, was also asking the right questions.
“Those are the definitions of material facts, and why it comes into play, Martha is, was this just Bruce Ohr and his wife? Or who at the Department of Justice and who at the FBI was aware of this information? When did they become aware of it, because it goes to those four separate FISA applications and the information that was sworn to before those judges,” he said.
He noted further that the four former FBI and Justice Department officials swore “that they were giving full and complete information about the dossier. And I can tell you, having seen the unredacted FISA applications, that Bruce Ohr and his involvement and Nellie Ohr and her involvement was never disclosed in any of the four applications.”
There’s also this: Radcliffe said that Rosenstein “told members of Congress under oath that he had no knowledge that Bruce Ohr was involved in the Russia investigation and he told Members of Congress that he wasn’t aware that Bruce Ohr had permission to be working on the Russia investigation.”
For his part, according to Solomon, Ohr was clear to the FBI about his suspicions regarding Steele’s work.
“I certainly told the FBI that Fusion GPS was working with, doing opposition research on Donald Trump,” Ohr told congressional investigators, noting further that he warned FBI agents that Steele expressed bias during their conversations.
“I provided information to the FBI when I thought Christopher Steele was, as I said, desperate that Trump not be elected,” he said. “So, yes, of course I provided that to the FBI.”
When investigators pressed him on why he would offer such information to the FBI, Ohr responded, “In case there might be any kind of bias or anything like that.” Later, he said, “So when I provided it to the FBI, I tried to be clear that this is source information, I don’t know how reliable it is. You’re going to have to check it out and be aware.”
“I also told the FBI that my wife worked for Fusion GPS or was a contractor for GPS, Fusion GPS,” he said.
Ohr divulged his first contact with the FBI was on July 31, 2016, when he reached out to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI attorney Lisa Page. He then was referred to the agents working Russia counterintelligence, including Peter Strzok, the now-fired agent who played a central role in starting the Trump collusion probe.
But Ohr’s contacts about the Steele dossier weren’t limited to the FBI. He said in August 2016 — nearly two months before the FISA warrant was issued — that he was asked to conduct a briefing for senior Justice officials.
Those he briefed included Andrew Weissmann, then the head of DOJ’s fraud section; Bruce Swartz, longtime head of DOJ’s international operations, and Zainab Ahmad, an accomplished terrorism prosecutor who, at the time, was assigned to work with Lynch as a senior counselor.
Ahmad and Weissmann would go on to work for Mueller, the special prosecutor overseeing the Russia probe.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), now the head of the House Intelligence Committee, also has some explaining to do.
A memo from Schiff’s Democrats claimed that Ohr’s contacts with the FBI only started “weeks after the election and more than a month after the Court approved the initial FISA application.”
However, Solomon notes, Ohr’s testimony now refutes that, as he makes clear he began conversations with FBI and DOJ officials long before the FISA warrant or election had occurred.
What’s more, his specific answers are a stinging rebuke of the FBI’s portrayal of the Steele material. — Jon Dougherty
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