Just how much trouble will Bruce Ohr’s interview notes cause the FBI? As described by the Washington Post and Politico, it might create no small amount of embarrassment in the short term — and maybe worse down the road. According to Ohr, the FBI knew full well that Steele had an anti-Trump agenda months before the bureau relied on his dossier to get a FISA warrant on Carter Page, but never disclosed it to the FISA judge. Ohr expressed skepticism about the veracity of Steele’s claims well before that too:
Heavily redacted FBI memos released Thursday show that while the FBI formally cut ties with a former British intelligence officer who supplied some early information in the investigation of Russian election interference, agents quietly sought to reestablish contact as the case heated up.
The released documents are formal FBI interview memos of agents’ conversations with Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department official who has drawn the ire of President Trump for his connections to Christopher Steele, a former British spy with an expertise in Russia who wrote a dossier of allegations against Trump in 2016. The general thrust of Steele’s allegations was that then-candidate Trump was secretly aligned with Russian officials and could be manipulated by them.
That was the “general thrust,” but was it the truth? As Ohr’s 302s indicate, not even Ohr was convinced despite his wife Nellie’s connections to Steele. It became clear that Steele had an agenda, and it might have been connected to who was paying for his work. And if that was clear, why were FBI agents so keen on getting Steele back in the fold after he leaked information to Mother Jones? Especially when they didn’t really believe his information?
One of the FBI documents released Thursday night suggested Ohr told agents he didn’t assume what Steele was telling him was true. “There are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin,” the memo said Ohr told agents. “Ohr honestly believes (redacted) reported what he heard from (redacted) but that doesn’t make the story true,” the memo said, in apparent reference to Steele.
Josh Gerstein notes that Trump supporters “are seizing” on the newly released material, for that reason and others:
Supporters of President Donald Trump are seizing on newly released FBI reportsto argue that the law enforcement agency had clear warnings within weeks after the election that the former British intelligence officer who authored a disputed dossier about Trump’s alleged ties to Russia was intent on preventing the real estate mogul from becoming president. …
A codename for Steele appears to have been redacted from the earliest reports on Bruce Ohr’s meetings with FBI agents, but one from a November 22, 2016 interview says the unnamed source whose information Ohr was passing on “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not becoming the U.S. president.”
Ohr said in the same interview that the source of the dossier was hired by “a lawyer who does opposition research” and that the information about Trump and Russia was being relayed to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, a close aide to Secretary of State John Kerry and the FBI.
While many of Trump’s backers have expressed deep suspicion of Ohr and suggested he acted improperly by relaying his wife’s research to the FBI, after the 21 pages of new reports emerged Thursday, the president’s supporters said they show that Ohr’s candor about Steele’s motivations wasn’t adequately considered by the FBI or disclosed to judges who approved secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant for communications of a former Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page.
This lack of disclosure is especially curious, given Ohr’s clear understanding of Steele’s provenance and agenda. Ohr’s meeting took place in “late July 2016,” by which time both Ohr and his wife Nellie knew very well who was paying Steele and why. “OHR knew [redacted, Steele’s] reporting on Trump’s ties to Russia were going to the Clinton Campaign” at that time, the FBI’s interview notes show. And yet when the FBI applied for a FISA surveillance warrant in October, the FBI managed to avoid telling the judges about Steele’s agenda in assembling the dossier.
The warrant was approved by James Comey, then FBI director. According to Ohr, that made Steele nervous about what Comey might later tell Congress:
“Steele had been worried about Director Comey’s upcoming testimony to Congress, especially his response to questions that would be raised by (Sen.) Grassley,” according to the FBI’s notes from a May 10, 2017 interview with Ohr, who had spoken to Steele the day of the hearing.
Just what Steele was concerned about is redacted, but the notes said ultimately Steele was “happy with Director Comey’s response.”
Steele’s relief was likely only temporary. The real test will be how Inspector General Michael Horowitz views his dossier and the Ohr interviews in his investigations into Operation Crossfire Hurricane. The 302s indicate that the FBI had recognized several red flags about Steele’s work and his motives, and yet treated him like a reliable source in order to spy on Page and the Trump campaign.
That certainly suggests bias as the motive for the FBI’s actions, Lindsey Graham told Sean Hannity last night, and warned that this was “just the tip of the iceberg” on the question of bias:
“Here’s what we’re looking at: Systematic corruption at the highest level of the Department of Justice and the FBI against President Trump and in favor of Hillary Clinton,” Graham said.
Host Sean Hannity then asked Graham whether officials “lied purposefully” on a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
“The best you could say is that they were incompetent,” Graham responded. “The most likely outcome is that they wanted a result.”
“I think the insurance policy is what we’re seeing here, getting into the Trump campaign,” Graham continued. “The FISA warrant against Carter Page was a fraud, I believe. The counter-intelligence investigation is something we have to look at very closely.”
Graham has discussed this many times in television interviews, but he has yet to hold any hearings on the subject at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Horowitz report will give him a clear entrée for such an investigation, which might well derail any momentum left in Jerrold Nadler’s impeachment efforts in the House counterpart.