Lawmakers who questioned Justice Department (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr on Aug. 28 say there are significant discrepancies between what they learned from Ohr and prior testimonies given by former FBI attorney Lisa Page and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, suggesting that at least one among them may have lied to Congress.
Ohr, Simpson, and Page are among a group of key witnesses who have been interviewed by the House Judiciary and Government Oversight committees as part of an investigation of FBI and DOJ actions before and after the 2016 election.
Ohr entered the spotlight relatively late after his text messages, emails, and notes revealed that he was in regular contact with Simpson and former British spy Christopher Steele, the author of the infamous anti-Trump dossier produced for Fusion GPS. After the FBI terminated Steele as a source for leaking to the media, Ohr became the foreign spy’s conduit for funneling information to the bureau. Ohr also met with Page and her then-FBI colleague Peter Strzok.
The factual differences in the testimonies are significant because of potential perjury charges against one or more of the central figures in the investigation or the possibility that a witness may have to walk back their prior answers to Congress, leading lawmakers closer to the truth.
“In the first hour of testimony, it became very clear that there are a number of factual conflicts. Either Bruce Ohr is lying or Glenn Simpson is lying, and in another circumstance, either Bruce Ohr is lying or Lisa Page is lying,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told reporters on Capitol Hill on Aug. 28.
Rep. Darrell Issa told the press during a break in the closed-door session that the discrepancy between the testimonies of Ohr and Simpson is significant.
“There’s also some ambiguity between Ohr and Lisa Page,” Issa said. “And there is no question at all, we’re going to have to go back through the loop to find out which one of them is willing to change their story or face perjury.”
Ohr was the fourth-highest ranking official at the DOJ before he was demoted for failing to disclose that his wife, Nellie Ohr, was paid by Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Nellie Ohr worked on the same project at Fusion GPS as Steele.
The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid Fusion GPS for the work of Nellie Ohr, Steele, and others. The research culminated in a dossier of unverified claims authored by Steele. Bruce Ohr passed the dossier to FBI officials, who went on to use it as a probable cause to spy on former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
The application to spy on Carter Page didn’t mention Ohr, his wife, or their connection to the dossier. The omission is troubling since Ohr benefited from his wife’s Clinton-funded work and helped funnel the fruits of the labor to the FBI.
“In the four FISA applications I reviewed in their full, unredacted form, Bruce Ohr’s involvement with the Steele dossier was never disclosed,” Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) wrote on Twitter.
The FISA acronym Ratcliffe mentioned refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which enables U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct some of the most intrusive spying options available, provided that they convince a secret court that there is probable cause to suggest the target of the surveillance is an agent of a foreign power.
Carter Page was subjected to a year of FISA surveillance through a warrant based on the dossier concocted by Steele, even though none of the claims in the dossier have been verified to this day.
The Page FISA warrant application and its three renewals also failed to mention that Ohr informed the FBI that Steele was biased against Trump, nor did they mention that the research on the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the DNC.
Lawmakers also plan to find out if anyone at the DOJ knew of Ohr’s involvement with the Steele dossier. Ohr wasn’t officially part of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the bureau’s codename for the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.
“That’s a big concern. Who at DOJ knew that?” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told reporters on his way to the Ohr hearing. “Did [Deputy Attorney General] Sally Yates know what was going on?”
Ohr reported to Yates at the DOJ. Yates signed the FISA warrant to spy on Page. Trump fired Yates for insubordination in early 2017.
Among other issues, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) planned to question Ohr about leaks to the media. The joint committee investigation recently uncovered that the FBI leaked to the media in order to use the resulting stories to apply for FISA warrants, according to Meadows.
“We’ve learned NEW information suggesting our suspicions are true: FBI/DOJ have previously leaked info to the press, and then used those same press stories as a separate source to justify FISA’s,” Meadows wrote on Twitter. “Unreal. Tomorrow’s Bruce Ohr interview is even more critical. Did he ever do this?”
During a lunch break, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) told reporters that Ohr was cooperating with lawmakers.
“He’s been so far willing to pitch some answers to us, which also always leads to more questions, of course,” Biggs said.