Opinion | Judiciary

The family secret Bruce Ohr told Rod Rosenstein about Russia case

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Who would have thought that, this deep into the Russia collusion probe, we'd be learning about yet another dossier connected to Hillary Clinton? And, as it turns out, it was sort of a family secret.

By his own account, senior Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr played an essential - and unorthodox - role, carrying politically tainted allegations of Donald Trump-Russia collusion to the FBI during the 2016 election.

First, it was unverified intelligence starting in July 2016 from Trump-hating former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous Russia dossier.

Next, it was sketchy intelligence starting in August 2016 from Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, an opposition-research contractor who hired Steele and was paid to help Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign develop political dirt on Trump.

And now we learn, from testimony that is still being kept secret from the public, that Ohr admitted to Congress last year that he also took Russia information that his wife, Nellie, assembled against Trump on a computer drive and delivered that to the FBI in 2016 - a revelation that has raised fresh concerns in Congress about a possible conflict of interest.

Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS and, for a time, worked on the same Clinton-financed Russian research project as Steele, according to the testimony.

DOJ ethics rules forbid department officials from working in cases where a spouse has a financial interest, a prohibition that Bruce Ohr said he knew about when he forwarded his wife's evidence to the FBI.

The way Ohr described it, his wife's research was like an additional dossier assembled from Fusion GPS research to augment what Steele was separately providing the FBI.

"She (Nellie Ohr) provided me with a memory stick that included research she had done for Fusion GPS on various Russian figures," Ohr told congressional investigators.

"And the reason she provided that information to me is, my understanding was, it related to some of the same - it related to the FBI's Russia investigation. And she gave me that stick to give to the FBI."

Ohr's revelation about his wife adds yet another example of people connected to the Clinton machine flooding the FBI with anti-Trump Russia research during the 2016 election.

Steele's dossier was the opening salvo. A document sent to the State Department by Clinton proteges Cody Shearer and Sidney Blumenthal was another. A thumb drive given by Clinton campaign lawyer Michael Sussman to FBI general counsel James Baker was a third. Simpson's thumb drive given to Bruce Ohr was a fourth. And Nellie Ohr's thumb drive would be a fifth. At least three of those work products - those from Steele, Shearer/Blumenthal and Nellie Ohr - resemble what many people might consider a dossier.

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Before Ohr gave his testimony, there was only a single hint that he and his wife had helped the FBI: a solitary sentence in a January 2018 memo on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses by House Intelligence Committee Republicans. It was mostly overlooked because it lacked much detail.

Now we know, belatedly, what Ohr forwarded and who in the chain of command knew about it.    

Ohr said he told the FBI about his wife's role at Fusion GPS but did not divulge his role as an evidence courier for his spouse to any of his DOJ supervisors - except for one.

Ohr testified that he told Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the man who was overseeing the Trump-Russia probe, more than a year ago that he had taken information his wife assembled against Trump at Fusion GPS and gave it to the FBI.

"What I had said, I think, to Mr. Rosenstein in October of 2017 was that my wife was working for Fusion GPS," Ohr testified. "... The dossier, as I understand it, is the collection of reports that Chris Steele has prepared for Fusion GPS."

"My wife had separately done research on certain Russian people and companies or whatever that she had provided to Fusion GPS," he added. "But I don't believe her information is reflected in the Chris Steele reports. They were two different chunks of information heading into Fusion GPS."

A spokeswoman for Rosenstein did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ohr said his wife generally knew what the FBI might be investigating because she had joined her husband for a breakfast with Steele on July 30, 2016, right before Steele, a former MI6 agent, began working as an informer on the FBI's Trump probe.

"Basically she was concerned that maybe the FBI might want her information as well, and so (she) provided the information to me," he explained in his testimony.

In a matter of weeks, in the shadows of a presidential election, Ohr took derogatory information about Trump from Steele (a contractor at Fusion GPS just like his wife), a thumb drive from Simpson (his wife's boss) and then another thumb drive from his wife and delivered all of it to the FBI.

And Ohr admitted his conduct was extremely unusual.

"You can't think of a single case where you inserted yourself into a chain-of-custody other than this one?" then-Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) asked him at one point.

"That's right," Ohr answered.

He also was pressed about whether his wife became involved in any of his other cases over a three-decade career.

"I don't recall my wife being involved in any of these other cases," Ohr answered.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) asked Ohr if he understood that there were DOJ rules against becoming involved in cases where his family would have "a financial benefit."

"Yes," Ohr answered. Later, he expanded what he understood the requirement to be.

"If I was working on the case I would probably have to get off the case," Ohr said. "... My wife can work for whoever she works for, but I can't work on a case where she's getting a financial benefit."

"So in this case she was getting a financial benefit?" Ratcliffe asked.

"Right," Ohr answered.

But then the senior DOJ official insisted his role in providing the FBI evidence from his wife's fellow contractor (Steele), from her boss (Simpson) and from her as well did not constitute "working on the case."

Ohr's testimony also revealed that the DOJ's internal watchdog, the inspector general (IG), was interested in his actions. "They have asked to interview me and I will talk with them," Ohr explained.

No matter what the IG investigation finds, it is clearer today than ever before that Ohr played an essential role in feeding a Clinton-financed political opposition-research project to the FBI.

And, clearly, it was a family business.

John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists' misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He is The Hill's executive vice president for video.

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