Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview

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 John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE within the department.

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Ohr, who still works at the Justice Department, has been a popular GOP target as a result of his contacts with Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer who compiled the controversial dossier containing salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia.

In remarks from the House floor, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsGOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse House to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members GOP lawmaker: Schiff should be first witness Republicans call to testify in impeachment inquiry 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 GoodlatteUSCIS chief Cuccinelli blames Paul Ryan for immigration inaction Immigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids Top Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview 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 ClintonJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? 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.

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Democrats and other critics have accused Republicans of attempting to undermine special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' 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 GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Conway spars with Wallace on whether White House will cooperate with impeachment inquiry after formal vote Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' 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 ManafortManafort sought to hurt Clinton 2016 campaign efforts in key states: NYT Ex-Trump campaign official testifies Stone gave updates on WikiLeaks email dumps Paul Manafort's former son-in-law sentenced to 9 years in prison for scamming Dustin Hoffman, others 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 McCabeThe curious timeline for taking down Trump Federal prosecutors interviewed multiple FBI officials for Russia probe review: report Brendan Gleeson lands Trump role in CBS miniseries based on Comey memoir 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 to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) and Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMaloney primary challenger calls on her to return, donate previous campaign donations from Trump Second person heard call suggesting Trump cared more about 'investigations' than Ukraine: AP Brindisi, Lamb recommended for Armed Services, Transportation Committees 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 SessionsWhat are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Sessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Sanford: 'It carries real weight' to speak against Trump 'while in office' MORE and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinDemocrats ask judge to force McGahn to comply with subpoena Democrats ask court to force DOJ's hand on Mueller grand jury materials Washington celebrates diplomacy — and baseball — at Meridian Ball 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.”