2015 Employment of Nellie Ohr by Fusion GPS Raises New Questions

September 2, 2018 Updated: September 3, 2018    

News Analysis

One of the bombshell admissions from the closed-door testimony of DOJ official Bruce Ohr was that his wife, Nellie Ohr, was already working for opposition research firm Fusion GPS in late 2015.

Previously, it had been reported that Nellie Ohr was hired to find dirt on then-candidate Donald Trump in the spring of 2016.

“Ohr testified that Fusion approached his wife for a job and that she began working for the research firm in late 2015,” the Daily Caller reported.

In addition to the new time frame for Nellie Ohr’s employment, Bruce Ohr also confirmed that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, FBI agent Peter Strzok, and FBI special counsel Lisa Page all knew he was talking to former British MI6 spy, Christopher Steele, who compiled the now-infamous opposition research dossier on Trump, which was used as the core evidence of an application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.

More importantly, Ohr also informed Justice Department prosecutor Andrew Weissmann about his dossier-related work and interactions with Steele. Ohr made these internal disclosures before Weissmann joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Mueller team has known of Ohr’s involvement with the Steele dossier from the start of their formal investigation.

These events are likely intertwined. To understand why, we need to revisit an April 26, 2017, unsealed FISA court ruling that was declassified by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

There is a staggering amount of information contained within the ruling, including these two disclosures:

“NSA estimates that approximately 85 percent of those queries, representing [Redacted] queries conducted by approximately [Redacted] targeted offices, were not compliant with the applicable minimization procedures.”

“The FBI had disclosed raw FISA information, including but not limited to Section 702-acquired information, to a [Redacted] … is largely staffed by private contractors … the [Redacted] contractors had access to raw FISA information that went well beyond what was necessary to respond to the FBI’s requests.”

The court said these practices had been going on since at least November 2015 and noted that “there is no apparent reason to believe the November 2015–April 2016 period coincided with an unusually high error rate.”

The FISA court also pointed out that the government couldn’t say how, when, or where the noncompliant information was used. Once an individual had access to the information, it could no longer be traced or tracked.

What the FISA court disclosed is alarming in its simplicity.

Illegal NSA database searches were endemic. Private contractors, employed by the FBI, were given full access to the NSA database. Once in their possession, the FISA data couldn’t be traced.

Which brings us back to the original question: What was Nellie Ohr doing in 2015? And who were the FBI’s private contractors?

There’s been a long-held suspicion that the FBI was improperly accessing the NSA’s Section 702 database in order to mine for data on the Trump campaign. Former CIA Director John Brennan appeared to allude to this in a recent interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

“Any time we would incidentally collect information on a U.S. person, we would hand that over to the FBI because they have the legal authority to do it.”

Given the involvement of Steele and Fusion GPS in the dossier’s creation and dissemination, it’s been speculated that Fusion GPS may have been one of the private contractors referenced in the FISA court ruling. The 2015 hiring of Nellie Ohr falls exactly within the timeline outlined in the FISA court ruling.

Bruce and Nellie Ohr have known Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson since at least 2010, and Steele since at least 2006. The Ohrs and Simpson worked together on a DOJ report in 2010. In that report, Nellie Ohr’s biography lists her as working for Open Source Works, which is part the CIA.

Open Source Works describes itself as “the Intelligence Community’s experts in collecting and analyzing publicly available information in support of national security.”

“This multi-lingual staff uses a global collection infrastructure to bring the latest foreign, political, military, economic and technical information to the attention of policy makers, analysts and other consumers within the U.S. government,” it says.

Nellie Ohr is a specialist in Russia and is fluent in the Russian language.

The FISA court ruling is heavily redacted and the names of the private contractors haven’t been disclosed. Declassification of this document will likely help reveal much in regards to abuses of FISA procedures.

Bruce Ohr’s testimony apparently revealed some other problems, as well. Kimberley Strassel of The Wall Street Journal disclosed the following in a recent opinion piece:

“Congressional sources tell me that Mr. Ohr revealed Tuesday that he verbally warned the FBI that its source had a credibility problem, alerting the bureau to Mr. Steele’s leanings and motives. He also informed the bureau that Mrs. Ohr was working for Fusion and contributing to the dossier project.”

Assuming Ohr’s testimony under oath is accurate, the FBI ignored his warnings and used the Steele dossier as the primary evidence to obtain a FISA warrant on Carter Page, without disclosing Ohr’s significant conflicts of interest to the FISA court.

The assumption behind this disclosure is one that’s been raised before.

Violation of the FBI’s Woods Procedures

As former FBI director Mueller himself noted:

The goal of the procedures is to ensure accuracy with regard to:

  1.           The facts supporting probable cause;
  2. the existence and nature of any related criminal investigations or prosecutions involving the subject of the FISA; and

  3. the existence and nature of any of any prior or ongoing asset relationship between the subject and the FBI.

“Documentation showing that certain steps have been accomplished must be attached to every initiation and renewal FISA package before it is sent for certification. … The form also requires confirmation that field offices have verified the accuracy of facts alleged in the form,” the document reads.

In the case of the Carter Page FISA application and its subsequent renewals, this procedure doesn’t appear to have been followed.

It’s likely that more details from Bruce Ohr’s testimony will trickle out in the coming weeks. Nellie Ohr has been referred for testimony by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). What she has to say is likely to prove most interesting.

Jeff Carlson is a CFA charterholder. He has worked for 20 years as an analyst and portfolio manager in the high-yield bond market. He runs the website TheMarketsWork.com

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