The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee on Friday released the full transcript of the panel’s closed-door interview last year with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
The August interview was one of several conducted by the panel, when it was led by Republicans, as part of an investigation into decisions made by the Justice Department and FBI in 2016 amid allegations of political bias against President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE within the department.
In remarks from the House floor, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Lobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike MORE (R-Ga.) said he was releasing the transcript out of a need for “transparency” without redactions proposed by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which he argued had “nothing to do with national security and are anathema to our goal of government transparency.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, we gave DOJ an opportunity to review them for information that would endanger national security, but after many months and little progress, our patience has grown thin,” Collins said.
The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment on Collins’s decision to release the transcript without the proposed redactions.
Under former Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteFight breaks out between Jordan, Nadler over rules about showing video at Garland hearing The job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line MORE (R-Va.), the GOP-led Judiciary Committee in the previous Congress conducted a joint probe with the House Oversight and Reform Committee into FBI decisions made in 2016 with respect to the investigations into former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonRepublican Ohio Senate candidate slams JD Vance over previous Trump comments Budowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE’s email server and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
Republicans have pointed to anti-Trump texts exchanged between FBI officials, as well as links between Ohr and Steele, as evidence that the agency improperly opened a counterintelligence probe into Russian election interference and links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Democrats and other critics have accused Republicans of attempting to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to meddle in the election.
“People anticipate the Mueller report soon. Will he find any so-called collusion? Or was the only collusion among agency personnel who hated the president and started this investigation?” Collins said Friday.
He called the interview transcripts “pertinent” to the now-defunct Republican investigation, which Goodlatte and former Oversight Chairman Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) ended last year before Democrats took control of the House in 2019.
The transcript of Ohr’s closed-door interview, which stretches well over 200 pages, documents him being grilled by Republican lawmakers on his contacts with Steele and Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the research firm that hired Steele to research links between Trump and Russia. Steele’s work was funded in part by Democrats.
At one point, Ohr recounted a breakfast meeting with Steele in late July 2016 during which Steele reportedly told him that a former head of the Kremlin’s foreign intelligence service had said the Russians believed “that they had Donald Trump over a barrel.” That conversation was previously reported by The Associated Press.
Ohr also informed lawmakers that Steele told him former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page met with “certain high-level Russian officials” while in Moscow. Ohr said Steele also explained to him at the breakfast that a lawyer for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska had told him that former Trump campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortCountering the ongoing Republican delusion Yellen should utilize the resources available before pushing new regulations Huawei paid Tony Podesta 0K for White House lobbying MORE had entered into a business deal with and had stolen “a large amount of money” from Deripaska.
Ohr told lawmakers he eventually passed the information, which he described as “hearsay” and “source information,” to former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeAndrew McCabe's settlement with the Department of Justice is a signal to John Durham Trump criticizes Justice for restoring McCabe's benefits The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Jan. 6 panel flexes its muscle MORE and Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents who worked on the initial Russia counterintelligence investigation.
Ohr said that he did not believe his meeting with Steele in late July had anything to do with the decision to open the investigation into links between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, which was started at the same time, according to the transcript.
He said he also gave the FBI information he obtained from Simpson about “possible intermediaries between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign.”
Additionally, Ohr informed the panel that he notified the FBI that Fusion GPS was hired by someone “related to the Clinton campaign” when he passed the information to the agency, according to the transcript.
Ohr was also asked about his wife, who worked for Fusion GPS beginning in late 2015. He told lawmakers that on one occasion in 2016 she gave him a “memory stick,” including research she did for Fusion on “various Russian figures,” to give to the FBI.
He said he did not provide information to Fusion GPS during 2016 or 2017.
Following Ohr’s eight-hour interview last summer, Republicans raised concerns that the FBI had abused surveillance powers in an effort to obtain a warrant to spy on Page. Heavily redacted surveillance renewal applications released by the Justice Department have shown that the FBI cited some information from Steele in its request for a warrant to spy on Page.
The FBI described Steele, who at one point was an informant for the bureau, as a credible source in the application and acknowledged that he was likely “looking for information that could be used to discredit” the Trump campaign. Republicans have alleged that the FBI did not adequately disclose the Democratic link to Steele’s research.
After Ohr’s interview, Democrats accused Republicans of trying to create a “distraction” from Mueller’s investigation, which at that point had ensnared Trump associates like Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges Unrequited rage: The demand for mob justice in the Rittenhouse trial Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by American Clean Power — Democrats prepare to grill oil execs MORE (D-N.Y.) and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer GOP congressional candidate Kimberly Klacik suing Candace Owens for defamation Former Cummings staffer unveils congressional bid McCarthy, GOP face a delicate dance on Jan. 6 committee MORE (D-Md.), the top Democrats on the Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively, defended Ohr in August, saying in a joint statement that he “violated no law, regulation, or Department of Justice policy” and describing the interview as a “complete waste of time in trying to prove what has already been thoroughly debunked.”
Ohr was an associate deputy attorney general until December 2017, when he was demoted after the Justice Department found out about his contacts with Steele.
According to the transcript of his interview, Ohr said he was subsequently reassigned last January because then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsPress: For Trump endorsement: The more sordid, the better Those predicting Facebook's demise are blowing smoke If bitcoin is 'digital gold,' it should be taxed like gold MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinWashington still needs more transparency House Judiciary to probe DOJ's seizure of data from lawmakers, journalists The Hill's Morning Report - Biden-Putin meeting to dominate the week MORE didn't want him in a position where he would be "directly" interacting with White House officials.
His prior position would have required him to deal with officials in the National Security Council on issues involving organized crime, he explained.
"I was told at the time that the Attorney General and the deputy attorney general didn't want me in a position where I would be interacting directly with the White House," Ohr said, according to the transcript.
Ohr has since endured numerous attacks from Trump. A day after his closed-door interview, Trump wrote on Twitter it was “disgraceful” that Ohr continues to work at the Justice Department.
“How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote in August.
Collins said Friday he plans to "soon" make public additional transcripts of the GOP-led investigation and that he is “willing to consider any reasonable redactions DOJ makes in a timely manner, but won’t allow these transcripts to remain shrouded in secrecy.”