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Republicans ready to grill Bruce Ohr as Trump-DOJ feud escalates
House Republicans are sharpening their knives for an upcoming closed-door interview with Bruce Ohr, a Department of Justice (DOJ) official who has faced increasing attacks from President Trump and his allies over ties to the controversial "Steele dossier."
Ohr, who has agreed to a voluntary interview with House investigators on Tuesday, is the latest target among Republicans who claim there is ample evidence of bias against Trump among the top brass at the DOJ and FBI during the 2016 presidential race.
Ohr has increasingly come under GOP scrutiny for his contacts with an opposition research firm and former British spy Christopher Steele, the driving forces behind the dossier containing a series of salacious allegations about Trump's ties to Russia. Glenn Simpson, co-founder of opposition research firm Fusion GPS, hired Steele to help compile the dossier - which was bankrolled in part by Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.
Republicans are eager to grill Ohr on whether there was a pipeline for Fusion GPS to feed the Democrat-funded dossier to the DOJ during the heated presidential race. Of particular interest to the hungry House GOP is the connection of Ohr's wife, Nellie Ohr, who worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS during the campaign.
"The relationship with Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Fusion GPS, and Christopher Steele needs to have a lot more illumination," Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of the House's fiercest DOJ critics, said in a Monday interview with The Hill.
The revelation that a senior DOJ official had close ties to the two men behind the damaging compilation of memos sparked demands from Trump allies for its own special counsel investigation into the DOJ and the FBI last December.
The Ohr interview comes amid a visibly cracking relationship between the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Although Trump has repeatedly criticized Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he delivered a forceful enough blow last week to prompt Sessions to release a public rebuke.
The mounting tension at the top doesn't appear to be isolated - Ohr has repeatedly faced attacks from the president in the form of tweets in recent weeks, lifting his public profile to a new height.
Just as Trump began escalating his public attacks against Ohr earlier this month, the president's allies in the House sought to arrange an interview with him and others tied to the Steele dossier.
Ohr, who served as an associate deputy attorney general and now works in the FBI's Criminal Division, is the only current official whose name made it on a list of former intelligence officials whose security clearances are under review by the Trump administration.
Withdrawing his security clearance would render him unable to perform his duties if the administration followed through on the matter, experts told The Hill this month, after Trump revoked former CIA Director John Brennan's clearance.
Republicans are now claiming Ohr inappropriately became involved in the Russia probe, maintaining contacts with Steele even after the FBI ended its relationship with him as a source. Ohr hasn't been found to have mismanaged sensitive information.
The FBI used Steele as a source in their application to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, according to the heavily redacted Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application released by the DOJ last month.
Republicans have sought to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election by claiming that officials overly relied on Steele as a source during the beginning of the probe. GOP critics say Steele showed clear bias towards Trump.
They also want to know the extent to which federal authorities used the Steele dossier at the start of the Russia counterintelligence probe into ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
While the bureau noted in their application that Steele was likely "looking for information that could be used to discredit" Trump's campaign, they still deemed him a "reliable" source. The FBI continued to view Steele as reliable even after they ended their relationship with him as a source over his improper contacts with the press.
Meadows, who said he has a list of 60 questions for Ohr, plans to pepper the DOJ official about his contacts with Steele.
"Why was a Department of Justice official that was not part of a counterintelligence investigation engaged in ongoing investigations or discussions with Christopher Steele when obviously the FBI had terminated that relationship in the fall of 2016?" Meadows said, noting that he wants to know why Ohr continued to have contact with Steele even after the FBI terminated its relationship with him.
Ohr's appearance on the Hill will come amid a string of other FBI and DOJ officials who have or are scheduled to interview with the House Judiciary and the House Oversight and Government Reform committees this month.
FBI official Jonathan Moffa talked to the committees' staff on Friday, in part about his knowledge of a critical period of the bureau's probe into Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of State, according to a GOP committee source familiar with the matter.
The same source said former FBI general counsel Jim Baker is expected to be interviewed on Thursday about his decisionmaking during the 2016 election.
The FBI and DOJ interviews come after The Hill first reported earlier this month that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) was readying subpoenas for people connected to the dossier - that is, if they do not agree to appear for a voluntary interview. The committee is looking to also talk to Nellie Ohr, Simpson and Sally Moyer, two congressional sources told The Hill earlier this month.