Bruce Ohr is scheduled to testify Tuesday behind a closed-door session of the House Oversight Committee. Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Devin Nunes outed Ohr as an overlooked, but important, figure in the Obama administration’s targeting of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
Recent revelations confirm Nunes’ characterization of Ohr: In his former position as the associate deputy attorney general under then-deputy attorney general Sally Yates, Ohr began feeding the FBI information from Christopher Steele, the former British spy who put together the unverified Trump dossier. Steele continued providing information to the FBI through Ohr, after the FBI had officially cut him off as a source and ordered him to stop gathering “intel.” Steele had leaked the investigation to the press.
Ohr’s role as a conduit between Steele and the FBI continued for months and resulted in 12 separate FBI interviews, including several after Trump’s inauguration. According to Ohr’s then-supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Ohr worked on the Russia probe without his permission and without his knowledge.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy promised Tuesday’s questioning of Ohr would “get to the bottom of what he did, why he did it, who he did it in concert with, whether he had the permission of the supervisors at the Department of Justice.”
Gowdy’s vow should be taken with a grain of salt, though, given the slow-walk of information that has tarred congressional attempts to investigate Spygate, and in some cases, outright refusals to provide subpoenaed documents. Further, there is a real risk that Ohr will refuse to answer the committee’s questions, either based on the supposed legal advice of the DOJ, or on his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Should Ohr show up ready to talk, here are the questions Gowdy and his fellow members of Congress should ask, arranged by subject.
While the oversight committee will be most concerned with understanding the role governmental actors played in Spygate, before questioning Ohr on those details, Gowdy should first establish the identity of everyone on the outside connected to the investigation of Russia and Trump. We know Ohr spoke with his wife Nellie Ohr, who also worked on the Russia opposition-research project funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, as well as Steele and Steele’s Fusion GPS boss Glenn Simpson.
Who else, if anyone, provided Ohr with information on Russia or Trump? Who else provided Steele, Simpson, Nellie, Fusion, or governmental agencies information on Russia or Trump? Were there other sources? Were they paid? How did these individuals communicate? What telephone or text numbers, email accounts, or other methods of communication were used? What in-person meetings occurred? Where and why?
The Department of Justice
Next, the oversight committee should ask Ohr to reveal the name of every individual within the DOJ who knew that he had contacts with Steele and Simpson about the Russia investigation. Similarly, the committee should ask which DOJ officials knew that Nellie worked for Fusion and was involved in investigating Trump.
What did those individuals know? When did they know it? Who assigned Ohr to the Russia probe? And when? Was Rosenstein truthful when he testified that he did not know Ohr was involved in the Russia investigation? Did Ohr intentionally conceal his involvement from Rosenstein? Why?
Did Ohr lie to Rosenstein about his meetings or whereabouts while hiding his work on the Russia probe? Who knew that Ohr had been keeping Rosenstein in the dark? Did anyone suggest or direct Ohr not to reveal his involvement in the Russia investigation to Rosenstein or others? What information did Ohr share with others at the DOJ concerning the Russia probe or Trump?
Special Counsel Robert Mueller
While theoretically under the DOJ’s auspices, Robert Mueller’s special counsel team appears to operate independently from the DOJ. Additionally, recent leaks of communications between Ohr and Steele indicate that Steele had sought to be reestablished as a source for the special counsel’s investigation of collusion with Russia. With whom connected to the special counsel investigation did Ohr communicate concerning Russia, Trump, Steele, Simpson, Fusion, or any of the other actors implicated in Spygate? When? Where? And what did they discuss? Who worked within the FBI or other agencies to reestablish Steele as a source? And who knew of these efforts?
Similarly, Gowdy’s team should drill Ohr on the FBI’s use of him as a sieve for Steele’s intel, and demand Ohr reveal the name of every individual within the FBI who knew that Ohr had contact with Steele, Simpson, and other sources involved in the Russia investigation. Also, which FBI officials knew that Nellie worked for Fusion and was involved in investigating Trump? What did these individuals know? When did they know it?
Did someone within the bureau direct and oversee Ohr’s involvement in the Russia probe? Who? To Ohr’s knowledge, did any FBI agents work with anyone else at the DOJ (or other agencies) on the Russian probe? Did any FBI agents lie to Rosenstein about Ohr’s role or other aspects of the investigation? Did anyone with the FBI suggest or direct Ohr not to reveal his involvement in the Russia investigation to Rosenstein?
Other U.S. Agencies Or Obama Administration Officials
With evidence also implicating the State Department in Spygate, the House committee should also establish the identity of everyone within the United States’ government connected in any way to the investigation of Russia and Trump. Who in the Obama administration had any knowledge of the events leading up to the launch of Crossfire Hurricane? What did they know and when did they know it? What did State Department officials or representatives of other agencies know? And when?
Involvement of Foreign Governments
His status as a former MI6 agent also raises the question of whether Steele shared information with Ohr originating from the British intelligence service, or from other foreign governments. Does Ohr know whether other governments were also involved in gathering or sharing information on Russia or Trump? Which governments? And who within those governments? How was the information transmitted? Who approved this information-sharing relationship?
Beyond these general questions, the oversight committee should ask an array of specific questions based on evidence that has revealed — or hinted to — several troubling aspects of the investigation into Trump.
The Launch Of Crossfire Hurricane
The FBI has long maintained that it launched Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016, upon learning that former Trump-campaign advisor George Papadopoulos knew the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in advance of the late-July WikiLeaks publication of the hacked DNC emails. But recently revealed evidence shows that Ohr and his wife met with Steele the day before the official start of the investigation into the Trump campaign.
What did Steele tell Ohr and Nellie at that meeting? What did Ohr tell Steele? Did Ohr suggest any lines of inquiry for the former MI6 agent? Did Ohr share the details of that meeting with anyone else? If so, what did he say? What did they say? Did it have anything to do with the FBI’s decision to initiate Crossfire Hurricane?
Steele’s Work as a Confidential Human Informant
Given the meeting between Steele and Ohr on July 30, 2016, and Steele’s request earlier that month to chat with Ohr about their “favourite business tycoon,” the House committee should also question Ohr on any role he played in the Russia investigation prior to Steele’s termination as an FBI informant. Did Steele share information with Ohr that Ohr conveyed to the FBI? What was that information?
Did Ohr suggest avenues of investigation for Steele to pursue or share details of the FBI’s investigation with Steele (or his wife Nellie?) Did Steele keep Ohr apprised of his investigation? Where he was going? What he was doing? With whom he was talking? Did Ohr encourage or approve these lines of inquiry? Did anyone else with the government?
Gowdy should also quiz Ohr about his knowledge of Steele’s “intel,” including what was included in the Steele dossier. How did Steele’s “intel” reach the FBI? Who else had knowledge of the information? What parts, if any, were verified? What conversations did those in the FBI, DOJ, and other parts of the government have about the information included in the dossier, how it was paid for, and how it was used? And did Steele provide Ohr a copy of his Dec. 13, 2016 memo that comprised the final two pages of what is commonly called the Steele dossier?
If so, what did Ohr do with that document? What use did the FBI make of the information included? Who knew that Steele had shared that document with Ohr or others in the government after he had been officially barred from gathering intel for the FBI?
Following the FBI’s decision to terminate Steele as a source on Nov. 1, 2016, evidence indicates that Steele continued to feed Ohr information, which Ohr relayed to the FBI. Ohr’s notes confirm that the day before his first interview with the FBI, he met with former FBI Agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page, and another unnamed agent. Who was that third agent? What was discussed at that meeting? What prompted the FBI to interview Ohr the next day? Who in the FBI discussed using Ohr as a go-between for Steele?
Did using Ohr as a middle-man violate the FBI’s rules governing sources, or the spirit of those rules? What information did Ohr share with the FBI? Did that information come from Steele, Nellie, or others? What documents did Steele, Nellie, or others provide Ohr, that he in turn shared with the FBI? Who paid Steele to gather that intel?
Was Steele reimbursed for any expenses for gathering intel? Was Nellie compensated for gathering intel that was then shared with Ohr? Did anyone in the DOJ know of, suggest, or approve the use of Ohr as a conduit for Steele’s intel? Did anyone in the DOJ, including Yates, know of, or approve the decision to use Ohr as a middleman? Did the FBI provide Rosenstein information laundered through Ohr without Rosenstein’s knowledge?
Nellie Ohr’s Role
While it has long been known that Ohr’s wife worked for Fusion GPS gathering dirt on Trump, how much of Nellie’s research made its way to the federal government is unknown. The committee should require Ohr to detail every conversation he had with Nellie concerning Russia or Trump and determine how much of that information made its way to the DOJ, FBI, or others in the government.
Ohr should also be asked about Nellie’s compensation for her work with Fusion, to allow the oversight committee to determine whether any laws were violated.
The DOJ used Steele’s dossier to support its application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act wiretap order on Carter Page. The DOJ first applied for a FISA surveillance order in October 2016, and then again in early January, early April, and late June of 2017. Yates approved the first two FISA applications, and Rosenstein signed the final application.
In recent congressional testimony, Rosenstein explained that before signing the FISA application, a team of DOJ attorneys reviewed the application and briefed him on its contents. Was Ohr one of those attorneys? What other attorneys were involved in the briefing? In his briefing did Ohr include any details that originated from Steele after the FBI had terminated its relationship with the former source?
Did the FISA application include any information from the dozen 302 interview forms the FBI compiled summarizing their chats with Ohr in which Ohr passed on Steele’s intel? If so, what did Ohr tell Rosenstein about the source of those details? Had Ohr informed Rosenstein that Steele had been terminated as an FBI source even though Steele continued to feed the FBI information indirectly? What information did Ohr know about the investigation that he did not share with Rosenstein? What information did Ohr know that the other DOJ attorneys involved in the briefing did not know? Were any of the DOJ attorneys who briefed Rosenstein also privy to Steele’s continued role in the investigation?
What about Yates? Had Ohr previously briefed Yates on the FISA applications? What other agents briefed Yates? Did the applications submitted to Yates include any information provided by Steele following the FBI’s Nov. 1, 2016 directive for the former spy to stand-down on the case? Specifically, did the January 2016 FISA application approved by Yates include any information contained in Steele’s Dec. 13, 2016 memo or the other documents Steele provided Ohr?
Did that application include any information Ohr obtained from Simpson during a December 2016 meeting Ohr had with Simpson? If so, what did Yates know about Steele and Simpson’s continued role in gathering intel on Trump and Russia? Did Ohr inform Yates that Steele had been terminated as a source? Did Ohr tell Yates that he continued to receive updates from Steele? Did Yates say anything to Ohr which indicated others in the DOJ or the Obama administration know of, or were involved in, the targeting of Trump?
A final line of inquiry should focus on whether Ohr had a role in any of the many leaks that occurred over the last two-plus years of the Russia investigation. At The Wall Street Journal, Kim Strassel recently highlighted an interesting text between the FBI force of Strzok and Page concerning these leaks: On Oct. 7, 2016, Strzok texted Page, “Jesus. More BO leaks in the NYT.”
Whether BO refers to Ohr, of course, is not yet known, but the House committee should pursue this possibility and ask Ohr the names of all media-connected individuals with whom he spoke about the Russia probe or Trump. What did he tell them? And when?
Also, there is the real possibility that Ohr used Steele as a backdoor conduit to the beltway chattering class: Did Ohr share information with Steele, or maybe his wife, to feed it to the media? What information? And if Ohr leaked to the media, whether directly or indirectly, did anyone at the DOJ, FBI, or elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy encourage or condone the leaks? Did anyone reprimand him for violating DOJ rules concerning media release?
These questions, if answered honestly and fully, will provide the House Oversight Committee with a much better understanding of several aspects of the Russia investigation. Unfortunately, the closed-door format will leave Americans in the dark for a while longer, but at least Congress should finally be getting somewhere.