One of the most challenging and important steps in determining what really went on at the FBI that led to an investigation into Trump/Russia “collusion” is to nail down the timeline.
We know that the FBI officially opened “Crossfire Hurricane” on July 31, 2016. It was said to be based on Australian diplomat Alexander Downer’s claim that George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy advisor with the Trump campaign, had said something in a London bar about Russia having damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
It was also thought that Bruce Ohr, then the Number 4 in command at the Justice Department and married to Nellie Ohr, a Russian specialist who just happened to be working for Fusion GPS on the Steele “dossier” project, didn’t start communicating with the FBI about the Russia probe until late in November, after Thanksgiving and (more significantly) after Trump had won the election. That’s when his first documented interview with FBI agents occurred.
But now, based on Ohr’s own account in his closed-door testimony before Congress, we’ve been made aware that Ohr started “colluding” with the FBI on the Trump/Russia probe much sooner, in late July and early August, and it was sparked by information he’d already received from Christopher Steele.
Investigative reporter John Solomon has been told by several sources that the FBI, in the summer of 2016, received information that caused them to doubt the usefulness of the Papadopoulos scenario. (I’m just guessing here, but perhaps they saw that it was just too obvious a set-up??) The information about this issue is considered to be highly classified –- which probably just means it would make the FBI look really, really bad –- but one source told Solomon the evidence was “indisputably exculpatory” while another said it “put the predicate used to start the case in reversal.” (Just a thought: maybe they asked Mueller’s little helper Andrew Weissmann for advice on what to do with exculpatory evidence. He would've said to just hide it. But I digress.)
Rather than hit the brakes and back up --- which they should have done --- after acknowledging problems with the Papadopoulos story, the FBI appears to have used the Steele dossier as a life raft of sorts, grabbing onto different “evidence” of Trump/Russia collusion made conveniently available to them in the highly-inflated form of a trashy, uncorroborated “dossier” (Clinton-funded oppo research) from British former MI6 agent Steel.
So, here’s the revised timeline, as we understand it: In July of 2016, both Ohr and Steele were very busy. On July 5, Steele stopped by the Bureau’s office in Rome with some form of information about Trump/Russia ties. The FBI, at that time, did not immediately follow up, at least not officially.
During July, according to his contemporaneous notes and testimony before Congress, Bruce Ohr had multiple contacts with Steele. One was right before his visit to the Rome office, another right after.
His next in-person contact with Steele –- which also included Nellie, Ohr’s wife and Steele’s co-worker –- was a breakfast meeting on July 30, 2016. Steele had emailed to request the meeting, saying he wanted to talk about information he had about “our favorite business tycoon.” (Three guesses as to who that was.) As Solomon reports, Ohr told Congress that he was so concerned about the information given to him by Steele that he just had to pass it along to the FBI, regardless of any conflict of interest he might have. Apparently, he had such concerns that he called deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe the same day as the breakfast and met on August 3 with him and his legal assistant Lisa Page.
On July 31, FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok officially opened the Trump/Russia probe.
According to what he told Congress, Ohr’s next contact with the FBI came on August 15, with none other than Strzok. Within a month, the FBI scheduled a follow-up meeting with Steele and began their strategy to use the dossier to support a FISA warrant to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
One thing that is often forgotten is that the warrant to spy was inclusive of previous communications. In other words, the FBI was able not just to spy in real time but to delve into previous messages from all of his contacts and other records from much earlier. So it really doesn’t matter that the warrant was obtained so close to the election and that Carter Page was no longer active in the campaign. This was their way in.
Anyway, that’s the substantially revised timeline. Ohr also revealed to Congress that he had been aware the information in the dossier was just unverified hearsay, certainly nothing that would stand up in court. So, what I’d like to know is, why would intelligence of such inadequate quality cause such a hubbub at the FBI? It seems they desperately wanted to latch onto anything they could find, no matter how poorly sourced, to use an an excuse for --- pardon the expression --- “meddling.”
If they were that desperate (and the Strzok-Page texts make it clear they were), it would make sense that they didn’t disclose Ohr’s conflict of interest to the FISA court. After all, they were apparently willing to overlook it themselves and let him continue “colluding” with Steele. Plus, they never disclosed to the court that Steele himself was desperate to stop Trump from becoming President, or that the dossier he supplied to them was paid for by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. All they gave the court was a cryptic footnote cleverly designed to hide all that.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is still (we think) investigating whether or not the FBI misled the FISA court, so let’s hope he’s paying close attention to these new developments. He should also be aware that the FBI kept the court in the dark about its use of an article by Michael Isikoff to justify the dossier by conveniently leaving out that it was based on information fed to Isikoff by...the dossier’s author, Christopher Steele. John Solomon mentions that crafty bit of deception in another piece about media leaks.
In fact, there’s another new development related to all this: As Catherine Herridge of FOX News reports, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows has written a letter to Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions and IG Horowitz asking for a review of all these contacts, saying Bruce Ohr’s contacts with the FBI and with Steele may have “broken from established protocol to further their investigation of the Trump campaign.” Hey, there's an understatement --- try "broken THE LAW."
Meadows also mentions in his letter something I’ve called attention to, that neither Bruce nor Nellie Ohr has yet been interviewed by the special counsel. Of course, U.S. Attorney Huber hasn't interviewed them, either. Much more at the link.