National Security

Steele told DOJ official Russia thought it had 'Trump over a barrel': report

Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr reportedly told lawmakers during a private interview this week that former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele told him that Russian intelligence officials believed "they had [President] Trump over a barrel."

The Associated Press reported Friday that Ohr, who testified before Republican lawmakers on the House Judiciary and the Oversight and Government Reform committees for roughly eight hours on Tuesday, said that Steele shared the sentiments of Russian intelligence during a breakfast meeting in July 2016.

The AP noted that it's unclear if Steele had received the statement on Trump directly from Russian officials, or from his contacts. 

Steele is the former British spy who compiled the controversial dossier that alleged ties between Trump and Russia.

Ohr also reportedly told lawmakers that Steele told him former Trump campaign aide Carter Page had met with higher-ranking Russian officials than he has previously stated.

Page, in a text to The Hill, pointed to a tweet he wrote about the report, in which he slammed the DOJ as "corrupt" and charged it with being a co-conspirator with the Democratic National Committee and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that funded the dossier compiled by Steele. Page has repeatedly accused them of bias against him. 

Some House Republicans have charged that the DOJ and FBI abused their authority in obtaining a surveillance warrant on Page, citing the use of Steele's dossier in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application on Page.

The dossier included salacious allegations on Trump's ties to Moscow. The FBI stated in the warrant application that while it considered Steele to be reliable, the agency stopped using the former spy as a source after he said he was sharing information with the media.

The AP also reported that Ohr told lawmakers that he believed Steele had previously been a credible source, but could not fully vouch for the accuracy of the information shared with him at the breakfast meeting.

The DOJ official also reportedly said during the interview that he did not inform his superiors in the department about the meeting because he considered Steele's information to be raw source material.

Ohr, who previously served as an associate deputy attorney general, was demoted in December 2017 after his ties to Steele were revealed. It's unknown in what capacity he is currently working for the department.

A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment about the AP report to The Hill.

A spokesman for Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who questioned Ohr, declined to comment further on the report. Spokespeople for several other GOP lawmakers present at the interview did not immediately return requests for comment.

House Republicans departing the private interview with Ohr on Tuesday told reporters the DOJ official's statements suggested the FBI knew more information than was included on the FISA warrant application.

No Democratic lawmakers were present at the interview, but they were represented by investigators. Some House Democrats slammed Ohr's interview the day after it took place, calling it a "waste of time" meant to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Ohr's wife, Nellie, has also faced scrutiny. She worked as a consultant for Fusion GPS on Russian relations and was present for part of her husband's breakfast meeting with Steele, but it's unclear how much work she completed for the dossier.

Trump has repeatedly attacked Bruce Ohr in recent weeks, threatening to strip the official of his security clearance. 

 

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