Because Bruce Ohr’s testimony on Tuesday before the House Oversight and Judiciary committees was behind closed doors and we reportedly won’t see a transcript until sometime after Labor Day (and then, it’ll no doubt be covered with those thick black bars), we’re learning what was said in dribs and drabs.
California Rep. Darrell Issa, in an interview with FOX News, said that although they haven’t learned much so far about Bruce Ohr’s personal political leanings, his wife Nellie was definitely working on the “find dirt on Trump” project at Fusion GPS, and had been since 2015. She was reportedly a specialist on Russia and spoke fluent Russian. We still don’t know how extensive her role was in creating the “dossier” itself; if members of the committees have heard the details from her husband, they haven’t shared that information yet.
Ohr told the committees that people at the FBI knew about his connection with Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS (“And he named names,” Issa said) but that his colleagues at the Justice Department did not. Was this indirect collaboration with the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee deliberately kept under wraps from them, perhaps to give them “plausible deniability”? Ohr was fourth in command at the DOJ; no doubt he communicated frequently, in person and by email, with those at the very top and probably had an office close by. The assertion that his boss and co-workers didn’t know he was involved in such a monumental effort to bring down Trump, if true, is stunning and confounding.
As you know, Ohr defied protocol by continuing to work with Steele even after he had been fired for lying and leaking to the media and determined –- at least officially –- to be an inappropriate source. Material from this “inappropriate source” was used for FISA applications to receive warrants to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page, whom they accused of being a Russian agent. The FISA judges were not told of this problem with their source. They also weren’t informed of the source’s extreme political bias against Trump.
“Bruce has a poor memory,” Issa said Tuesday during a break in the proceedings. “He seems not to remember a lot of details.” According to Issa, he’d been candid but seemed to be having some trouble with his memory, which he noted often happens when witnesses want to avoid charges of perjury. The committees are looking for “paper proof” of what they’re hearing from Ohr and don’t have nearly as much at this point as they’d like to have.
Issa made an interesting point, that Ohr had done what lawyers aren’t supposed to do: he had become a part of the chain of evidence, a fact witness, a part of what needs to be investigated –- the apparent scheme to help Hillary and hurt Trump –- just as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page did.
The idea of being a “back channel” for Christopher Steele, as Ohr was, is unusual at the Justice Department. Ohr said, in fact, that it was a first for him in his nearly 30-year career.
Issa had a way of describing what the federal government did that cuts to the bone: Before the election, our government had actually been involved in opposition research against a Presidential candidate. (Let that sink in.) And then, after that candidate was elected President of the United States, they used their “insurance policy” to move forward with a special counsel to keep the investigation going...and going...and going. I would add that with the addition of a special counsel, they were even able to expand the investigation into whatever areas they wanted to.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan put it succinctly: “The fundamentals don’t change the fact that a top Department of Justice official’s wife if working for the firm the Clintons hired to put together the dossier and the FBI uses that dossier that they’re getting from Bruce Ohr...to then go get the warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.”
According to Issa, Ohr’s story is not consistent on some significant points with the testimony of Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS and also that of Lisa Page. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz made the same observation. (One example of the inconsistency: Simpson had told the committees that he didn’t talk with Ohr until November of 2016, when emails show they were in contact the previous August. That’s a pretty wide discrepancy.) The timeline on all of this is extremely important. These witnesses need to be questioned again to see who’s going to change his or her story rather than face perjury charges.
Text messages confirm what we’d suspected: that Ohr was used by Steele to get information to special counsel Robert Mueller. “We are frustrated with with how long this reengagement with the Bureau and Mueller is taking,” Steele wrote to Ohr. “Anything you could do to accelerate the process would be much appreciated.” Ohr later confirmed to Steele that he had passed along his questions to Mueller’s team.
This would strongly suggest that the Mueller investigation has been tainted, and the smell of this whole business is starting to get to me. Better keep those nose clips handy because there’s more to come.