DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr’s Russia probe interviews
The FBI on Thursday released the bureau’s notes from its Russia probe interviews with Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who has come under GOP fire for his ties to the Steele dossier.
Ohr emerged as a key figure in the counterintelligence investigation examining ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, particularly after his connections to former British spy Christopher Steele and the opposition research firm Fusion GPS were revealed.
As a result of these ties, Ohr became a GOP target of attacks by President Trump and others who have called for his firing from the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The FBI released 34 pages of the 302s, an internal FBI term referring to notes of their interviews, that detailed contacts between Ohr and Steele from the start of 2016 to May 2017, which were released as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the conservative group Judicial Watch.
While heavily redacted, the documents reveal how Ohr and Steele came to form a relationship in which Steele began sharing intelligence he collected with the DOJ official, including early contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.
They also reveal that Ohr continued to serve as an unofficial contact between the FBI and Steele after the bureau cut ties with the intelligence official over contacts with the press.
Steele and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson shared intelligence on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and financial ties between Alfa Bank and Trump, among other allegations.
Ohr, who shared notes from his contacts with Steele with the FBI, knew the nature of Steele’s work for Simpson.
According to the 302s, Ohr knew Simpson had hired Steele to examine ties between Trump and Russia and that this information was contracted as opposition research that would be shared with the Clinton campaign, State Department employee Jon Winer, and the FBI.
Despite this, Ohr believed Steele was genuine in passing along intelligence he’d collected, but he also recognized that there was a bounty of conspiracy theories that dribbled out of the Kremlin.
“Ohr never believed [Steele] was making up information or shading it,” the memos read in part. “There are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin,” it continues.
Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS during this time. According to the documents, Bruce Ohr voluntarily provided his wife’s research to the FBI.
Republicans have long alleged that Bruce Ohr’s ties to Fusion GPS through his wife support their claims that there was bias against Trump within the FBI and DOJ.
Ohr also told the FBI that he believed Steele was having contacts with the press, suggesting this was at the request of Simpson, who wanted to draw attention to their allegations.
“Simpson asked [redacted] to speak to the Mother Jones reporter as it was Simpson’s Hail Mary attempt,” one memo says.
Another FBI memo dated December 2016 reveals that Steele had talked to a reporter in the fall of that year about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. That led the FBI to cut its ties with Steele over the media disclosure.
Nevertheless, the 302s reveal that Ohr continued to act as an unofficial contact between Steele and the FBI months after the ties were severed.
The documents released Thursday are likely to further inflame GOP allegations of bias against Trump in the Russia probe, particularly over claims of improper contacts between a Democratic-funded opposition research firm and a top DOJ official.
“FBI terminated their formal relationship with Steele because he was leaking. But DOJ official Bruce Ohr continued to meet with Steele and reported to the FBI about those meetings,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Reform Committee, tweeted Friday. “Why did top FBI officials try to hide their relationship with Steele?”
Republicans have long scrutinized the origins of the Russia probe, particularly over their allegations that officials overly relied on the dossier and Steele as a source in their efforts to obtain a surveillance warrant on Page.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, who was tapped to lead the Russia probe in May 2017, found there was not sufficient evidence to conclude the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election. The former FBI director did not, however, make a determination as to whether Trump obstructed justice.
While Attorney General William Barr and other DOJ officials determined that the evidence laid out in the report did not reach the threshold to charge Trump with obstruction, Democrats have said they do not trust Barr, a presidential appointee.
House Democrats, who are conducting a sprawling investigation into Trump, say it is in their hands to examine whether Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” and conclude whether his actions warrant his removal from office.
Updated at 11:28 a.m.
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