The testimony of Department of Justice (DOJ) official Bruce Ohr has provided congressional investigators with a unique insight into the activity at the FBI and DOJ that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.
“Bruce Ohr is creating a link for us between people who had animus, who were, in fact, desperate to stop candidate Trump from being President Trump, both before and after he became the president-elect,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who serves on the House judiciary committee, told Fox News during a break in the closed-door testimony.
Ohr had been in ongoing communication with Christopher Steele, author of the infamous dossier on then-candidate Donald Trump, throughout 2016 and into the first half of 2017.
Following Steele’s termination by the FBI for leaking to the media, Ohr began to transmit information obtained from Steele to the FBI through a series of 12 meetings that would be formally documented by the FBI. Ohr’s meetings with the FBI began shortly after Steele’s termination as an FBI source, and ran from Nov. 22, 2016, until May 15, 2017.
“Before the election, our government was involved in [opposition] research against candidate Trump,” Issa said. “After the election, after he was the president-elect, the famous ‘insurance policy’ went into effect that clearly led to the special prosecutor and the investigation we’re now seeing.
“This is what we’re uncovering, the pre-Mueller activity that created an environment in which many people—myself included—were willing to deal with a special prosecutor, not knowing all the lies the American people and Congress had been told.”
At the time, Ohr was the fourth-highest-ranking official in the entire Justice Department and held two important positions: associate deputy attorney general, and director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. Ohr was also the highest-ranking career official within the DOJ—he was not a political appointee. Despite recent reports in the media, Ohr wasn’t some anonymous, mid-level official.
Former CIA Director John Brennan—who played a key role in instigating the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation and promoting the Trump–Russia collusion narrative—said in an interview with MSNBC on Aug. 28 that Ohr’s actions were known to senior FBI and DOJ officials.
“It’s my understanding that everything that Bruce Ohr did was approved and known to senior Department of Justice officials, coordinated closely with the FBI,” Brennan said.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told reporters after the first hour of testimony by Ohr that there had been inconsistencies between his testimony and those of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“It’s either Bruce Ohr is lying or Glenn Simpson is lying and, in another circumstance, it’s either Bruce Ohr is lying or Lisa Page is lying,” Gaetz said.
When asked about the significance of the fact that there might have been conflicts between Ohr’s testimony and that of Simpson, Issa said:
“It is significant. There’s also some ambiguity between Ohr and Lisa Page. And there’s 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’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was hired by Fusion GPS, the same opposition research firm that had hired Steele and was paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee through law firm Perkins Coie.
“Although Bruce Ohr would appear to claim to be without partisan[ship], his wife, since 2015, knowingly worked on ‘find dirt on Trump’ and ‘try to make this connection with the Russians,’ for which she was paid and he didn’t properly disclose,” Issa said.
According to Issa, Ohr testified that he, in fact, did disclose the work his wife was doing to the FBI, and that he gave names.
A clarification is needed from Issa. Did Issa misspeak when he stated that Nellie Ohr had been working since 2015 to find dirt on then-candidate Trump? It’s known that Nellie Ohr began to work with Fusion GPS sometime in late spring 2016—probably May or June 2016—around the same time that Steele was hired. If Nellie Ohr began her work in 2015, it raises entirely new questions as to the start of Fusion’s involvement.
Ohr was candid in his answers, Issa said, but has a “poor memory” when it comes to certain details, such as in which month certain meetings took place.
“Bruce has a poor memory, he seems to not remember a lot of details. Poor memories are often claimed by people who want to stick to what they can say and not be caught in perjury,” Issa said.
“He, in fact, became part of an investigation that was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, and pursued by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who obviously had real hate for the president,” Issa said.
The testimony also revealed, according to Issa, that the FBI wanted to talk to Steele directly, even after they had fired him over his unauthorized contacts with the media.
“It is also very clear, he became a backchannel—a willing backchannel—but then later, the FBI actually went back the other way, that they wanted to talk to him directly. In other words, even after they fired him, he had no credibility, they produced FISA warrants that did not make clear his lack of credibility, they then re-engaged him in some direct fashion,” Issa said
Ohr acknowledged in his testimony that he had never been involved in anything like this in his nearly 30 years in public office.
Unnoticed by many was earlier closed-door testimony by FBI official Jonathan Moffa that took place on Aug. 24. Moffa, who comes from the FBI’s criminal division and the bureau’s Office of General Counsel, was mentioned at different times in texts between Strzok and Lisa Page.
Moffa was part of the FBI’s so-called “Mid-Year Exam” into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server and was copied on Comey’s draft statement that ultimately recommended no charges against Clinton, following the FBI’s investigation into her handling of classified emails and use of an unauthorized server. Moffa’s full role and level of involvement is not yet fully understood.
Rep. Mark Meadows, who was present during Moffa’s testimony, provided a hint via Twitter as to what had been revealed:
“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. Unreal. Tomorrow’s Bruce Ohr interview is even more critical. Did he ever do this?”
We already knew that Steele engaged in this tactic. He used a Sept. 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focused on Carter Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow, to corroborate his dossier, in a process known as circular reporting. When the FBI drafted the Carter Page FISA application, it extensively cited that article.
The Isikoff article also publicly launched the Trump-Russia collusion narrative directly prior to the 2016 presidential election.
Steele has admitted in British court filings that he leaked to Isikoff—along with several other media outlets—at the direction of Fusion GPS. This admission led to the Grassley referral letter—whereby Steele was referred to the DOJ for making false statements.
Meadows, who has seen copies of the original Page FISA application and the three subsequent renewals, is making a somewhat different assertion. Instead of using an intermediary such as Steele, Meadows is stating FBI and DOJ officials directly leaked information to the press themselves, and then used the reporting on that leaked information to obtain and/or justify FISA warrants. In essence, Meadows is claiming the FBI engaged in an even more direct form of circular reporting—without the use of Steele as an intermediary.
The Daily Caller was the first to provide context to Meadows’s tweet. According to one source quoted in the article, Moffa “more or less admitted that the FBI/DOJ have previously leaked info to the press and then used stories from the press as justifications for FISA warrants.”
Meadows, who was at the Moffa testimony and also was present at Ohr’s testimony, made the following statement to Fox News prior to the hearing:
“Jonathan Moffa made it clear to the committee the FBI routinely uses media reports to corroborate analytic work product. We have emails and texts plainly showing the FBI leaks to the media, raising major red flags. If FBI executives want the American people to believe they haven’t used leaks to their advantage, they are not being honest.”
This isn’t the first indication of leaking behavior from the FBI. The recent report from DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz examining various actions by the FBI and the DOJ in connection with the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server ahead of the 2016 election noted the following:
“We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.”
The FBI employees, according to the report, received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golf outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.
“We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review,” the IG report said.