In three articles for The Hill last week, investigative journalist John Solomon revealed previously undisclosed text and email discussions between former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr and former MI6 agent and Spygate dossier author Christopher Steele. Solomon’s reporting also uncovered notes Ohr took summarizing discussions he had with Steele’s boss at Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, about the Russia “collusion” investigation.
In isolation, the details revealed in Solomon’s must-read exposés are troubling. But when considered in conjunction with information related to the Russia investigation the government previously released, this new information is potentially devastating, because it indicates that, notwithstanding claims to the contrary, the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched operation Crossfire Hurricane based on Steele’s Clinton-funded opposition research.
This conclusion flows from an email exchange revealed in Solomon’s first article, which established that Ohr met with Steele on July 30, 2016, in Washington DC. Ohr brought his wife Nellie to the breakfast gathering. Nellie, as has long been reported, worked at Fusion GPS, also on the Trump opposition-research project.
That end-of-July meeting followed emails exchanged earlier in the month, in which Steele told Ohr: “There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!”
“An apparent reference to Trump,” Solomon explained, noting that Steele’s reaching out to Ohr came just days before Steele met with an FBI agent stationed in Rome to relay “still-unproven allegations that Trump had an improper relationship with Russia, including possible efforts to hijack the presidential election.”
While we do not know the details discussed at the July 30, 2016, tête-à-tête, the morning meeting with the Ohrs appears related to Steele’s request to chat about their “favourite business tycoon.” Significantly, as Solomon reported, “That meeting occurred exactly one day before FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok formally opened an investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, into whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Moscow to steal the election.”
Add This New Info to What We Already Know
This meeting raises serious questions concerning whether Steele shared information from his “dossier” with Ohr, which Ohr then passed on to the FBI, prompting the FBI to launch Crossfire Hurricane. This possibility seems extremely likely, given two additional facts.
First, the FBI’s proffered rationale for initiating Crossfire Hurricane has long seemed shaky. According to Republican Rep. Adam Schiff’s House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Democratic response memorandum, “the FBI initiated its counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, after receiving information” that individuals linked to Russia had told George Papadopoulos they could assist Trump’s presidential campaign by anonymously releasing information about Hillary Clinton.
Schiff’s memo redacted the details of the information the FBI received concerning Papadopoulos’ purported conversation with the Russians. But The New York Times reported in May 2018 that, according to officials speaking “on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly,” it was comments Papadopoulos made to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer over drinks in a London bar in May 2016 that prompted the FBI to launch Crossfire Hurricane.
The New York Times further reported that Papadopoulos had told Downer “that Russia had dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton,” and implied the “dirt” consisted of the hacked DNC emails, writing, “Before hacked Democratic emails appeared online, he had seemed to know that Russia had political dirt on Mrs. Clinton.”
However, in an interview with The Australian, Downer said that “during their drink at the Kensington Wine Room, Mr. Papadopoulos had told him he had damaging information on Mrs. Clinton, but he did not reveal what it was.” As Downer put it: “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.” Rather, “During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.”
This Is Reading Into What Papadopoulos Said
While Papadopoulos would later mention “dirt” and “emails” when the FBI interviewed him in late January 2017, at the time the FBI launched the investigation in July 2016, agents would only have Downer’s version of the events, which, according to the former Australian diplomat, made no reference to emails — either the Democratic National Committee’s hacked ones or the 30,000 emails missing from Clinton’s homebrew server.
Yet the narrative goes that the former Trump advisor’s comments justified an investigation into the Trump campaign once WikiLeaks released the hacked DNC emails in late July 2016, because Papadopoulos had obviously known ahead of time that Russia had that “dirt” on Hillary.
Taken in isolation, this theory is a tough sell, but now that we know that Steele met with Ohr the day before the FBI launched Crossfire Hurricane, no one should be buying the bureau’s bull. Unlike Papadopoulos’ vague reference to damaging material, Steele had already authored several memos — including at least two from July 2016 that purported to connect the Trump campaign to the WikiLeaks release of the DNC emails.
For instance, one memo claimed “Source E, acknowledged that the Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the WikiLeaks platform.” Steele’s memo continued: “The reason for using WikiLeaks was ‘plausible deniability’ and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team.”
Then in a memo dated July 30, 2016, Steele wrote that the Kremlin was “concerned that political fallout from DNC e-mail hacking operation [was] spiraling out of control,” and was “keen to cool [the] situation and maintain ‘plausible deniability’ of existing/ongoing pro-TRUMP and anti-CLINTON operations.”
From Solomon’s reporting we now have proof that Ohr fed information from Steele to the FBI after the FBI had dismissed Steele as a Confidential Human Source (CHS). The question is whether Ohr also funneled information from Steele to the FBI before the launch of Crossfire Hurricane and, if so, whether Steele’s statements brought about Crossfire Hurricane.
Yet Schiff Has Said Exactly the Opposite
This point is significant because in his Democrat response memo, Schiff states unequivocally that Steele had nothing to do with the decision to launch Crossfire Hurricane: “Christopher Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016.” Schiff reiterated this point a second time, stressing that Steele’s reporting “played no role in launching the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference and links to the Trump campaign.”
Schiff, however, only knows what the FBI included in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application or disclosed to congressional oversight committees. With every new revelation, it becomes more and more apparent that the FBI was less than forthright with both the FISA court and Congress.
At least Congress will have a chance to explore these issues with Ohr, as the House Oversight Committee has reportedly scheduled a closed-door session for Aug. 28, 2018, to question Ohr about his contacts with Steele. Hopefully, when the time comes the committee will focus on both Ohr’s role following Steele’s removal as a CHS and whether the former MI6 spy played a part in the decision to launch Crossfire Hurricane.