Congressional investigators are reviewing new documents that suggest senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr assisted a firm that conducted Clinton-funded opposition research on Donald Trump—along with a former British spy working for that firm—before, during, and after the 2016 presidential election.
Ohr was communicating with former UK intelligence officer Christopher Steele about then-candidate Trump at least a month before the FBI officially opened its investigation into alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the documents suggest.
“There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately,” Steele wrote in a July 1, 2016, email to Ohr. “It concerns our favorite business tycoon.”
Steele is the author of the infamous and unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump.
Steele was paid about $170,000 for the dossier by Fusion GPS, the same research firm that hired Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee hired Fusion GPS to collect dirt on Trump.
The documents also show that Ohr maintained contact with Steele until at least March 2017—four months after the FBI cut ties with Steele, because he disclosed his association with the FBI to the media. That’s a violation of the bureau’s rules for confidential sources.
“B, doubtless a sad and crazy day for you re-SY,” Steele wrote to Ohr on Jan. 31, 2017.
“Just wanted to check you are OK, still [in position] and are able to help locally as discussed, along with your Bureau colleagues, with our guy if the need arises?” Steele wrote in the same message.
“Yes, a crazy day,” Ohr replied the same day. “I’m still here and able to help as discussed. I’ll let you know if that changes.”
The “SY” is an apparent reference to Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who was terminated by Trump a day earlier for insubordination. Before she was terminated, Yates signed a renewal application for a warrant to spy on Carter Page, a Trump campaign volunteer. Steele’s dossier formed the core of that application. The officials involved in the application failed to disclose that the Clinton campaign ultimately funded Steele’s research.
The emails also show that Bruce and Nellie Ohr met with Steele in Washington on July 30, the day before the FBI officially opened its Russia investigation and four days before FBI agent Peter Strzok traveled to London.
“Great to see you and Nelly this morning Bruce. Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s. Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help,” Steele wrote to Ohr on July 30, 2016.
Both Strzok and Steele have proven biases against Trump. Ohr told the FBI that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” while Strzok believed that Hillary Clinton would win “100,000,000 to 0,” discussed an “insurance policy” in case Trump was elected, and mentioned impeachment in the days after joining special counsel Robert Mueller’s team.
In a reply, Steele requests a backup contact at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in case Ohr is removed from his post.
“Thanks. You have my sympathy and support. If you end up out though, I really need another (Bureau?) contact point/number who is briefed,” Steele wrote to Ohr. “We can’t allow our guy to be forced to go back home. It would be disastrous all round, though his position right now looks stable.”
The identity of “our guy” in the message is yet unknown, but congressional investigators are likely to demand information on his role in the Russia probe.
The messages between the pair in March 2017 show that Steele was growing worried about congressional inquiries into his role in the Russia investigation.
“Would it be possible to speak later today please? We’re very concerned by the Grassley letter and its possible implications for us, our operations and our sources. We need some reassurance,” Steele wrote on March 7, 2017.
A day prior to that, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a letter to then-FBI Director James Comey, asking why the FBI paid Steele during the election to investigate Trump. Grassley demanded a range of documents and posed a series of related questions.
“The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for President in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends,” Grassley wrote at the time.
A portion of the new documents was first made public by award-winning investigative journalist John Solomon. According to Solomon, who reviewed more documents than were made public, contact between Steele and Ohr dates back to 2002.
Ohr’s notes also indicate that he met with Strzok and then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page—who was romantically involved with Strzok—on Nov. 21, 2016, almost three weeks after the bureau had terminated Steele as a source. As with Steele and Strzok, Page also expressed animus toward Trump.
Text messages between Strzok and Page are at the core of criticism of the Russia investigation. Their meeting with Ohr suggests they used the senior DOJ official as a back channel for information from Steele.
“Critical development: NEW emails obtained by Congress show Chris Steele was secretly funneling information to the FBI in 2017 through senior DOJ official, Bruce Ohr, even after the FBI claimed Steele was ‘terminated’ for leaking to the media in November 2016,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote on Twitter on Aug. 7.
“NEWSFLASH: New emails show even though the FBI fired Christopher Steele for leaking, they still used him for information. They just got it through a cut out—Bruce Ohr,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) wrote on Twitter.
The timing of the meeting is especially problematic since by March 2017, Steele was working for Fusion GPS with $50 million in backing from wealthy donors in New York and California. That means that privately funded anti-Trump research from an ex-spy who was already terminated by the FBI for media leaks was making its way to biased operatives at the bureau through a DOJ official whose wife worked for the same firm as Steele.
The FBI declined to comment. The DOJ didn’t respond to a request for comment by press deadline.