FBI Documents Detailing Bruce Ohr Conversations Shed New Light on Spygate Scandal

Ohr gave FBI information from Simpson and Steele. Documents highlight state department role, conflicting statements, and information excluded from FISA application
August 14, 2019 Updated: August 15, 2019

Bruce Ohr, who was serving as the highest-ranking career official in the DOJ in 2016, played a crucial role in passing on unfounded allegations against Donald Trump from former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson to the FBI.

Interactions between Ohr—who at the time was associate deputy attorney general—and Steele were so frequent that Ohr was assigned an FBI handler, agent Joe Pientka, who summarized the conversations in FBI FD-302 forms.

Those 302s were obtained by Judicial Watch and have been made public. 

The 302s run from Nov. 22, 2016 (just after the presidential election), to May 15, 2017, in the days immediately following the firing of FBI Director James Comey. Although the 302s end in May 2017, Ohr later testified that he maintained contact with Steele and relayed those conversations to the FBI into November 2017.

The First Meeting

On Nov. 21, 2016, Ohr was introduced to his handler, Pientka, during a meeting with FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page—both key players in the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. The next day, on Nov. 22, 2016, Ohr met alone with Pientka and the sequence of 302’s stemming from these ongoing interviews began.

In that first interview, Ohr told Pientka that Simpson had been hired by “a lawyer who does opposition research.” Simpson’s firm, Fusion GPS, had been hired by law firm Perkins Coie on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee in April 2016.

Of particular note is the fact that Simpson’s name isn’t redacted—it appears 42 times in the Ohr 302s. 

Ohr told Pientka that he knew, “[Redacted] reporting on Trump’s ties to Russia were going to the Clinton Campaign, Jon Winer at the U.S. State Department and the FBI.” The redacted information is almost without doubt a reference to Steele, the former MI6 agent hired by Fusion GPS to produce the infamous dossier on Donald Trump.

Ohr’s comments indicate that the State Department may have played a larger role than had been previously known. Jonathan Winer, who at the time was U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya, had multiple meetings with Steele and comes up repeatedly in Ohr’s 302s. 

Ohr also told Pientka that “Simpson and others were talking to Victoria Nuland at the U.S. State Department.” 

While it hadn’t been known that Simpson was talking directly to Nuland, it has previously been reported that Nuland received Steele’s early dossier documents in early July 2016 and would also be provided with a final dossier from David Kramer, a close associate of the late Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), in December 2016.

Ohr also told Pientka that “Simpson was passing [Redacted] information to many individuals or entities and at times [Redacted] would attend meetings with Simpson.”

The redacted name in this instance is almost certainly Steele.

Steele’s Unauthorized Contact With Media

Ohr appears to have told Pientka about a meeting between Steele and Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff, which resulted in a Sept. 23, 2016, article on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, “U.S. Intel Officials Probe Ties Between Trump Adviser and Kremlin”:

“Simpson and [Redacted] could have met with Yahoo or Michael Isikoff jointly, but OHR does not know if they did. OHR provided copies of notes he took after the meeting with [Redacted] which are enclosed as attachments.”

On the same day the Isikoff article was released, Hillary for America released a statement touting Isikoff’s “bombshell report” with the full article attached.

Isikoff’s article, which came from information provided by Steele, would later be used by the FBI in the Page FISA application. The FBI told the FISA court that the FBI “does not believe that Source #1,” later identified as Steele, “directly provided this information to the identified news organization that published the September 23rd News Article.”

Notably, the FBI would cite Isikoff’s article, along with the inaccurate disclaimer, in each of the three subsequent FISA renewals, despite knowing since at least Nov. 22, 2016, that Steele had been the source for Isikoff’s piece.

The FBI also told the FISA court that “Source #1 [Steele] told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI.”

Steele would later admit to having spoken with Yahoo News, along with The New York Times, The Washington Post, the New Yorker, and CNN at the end of September 2016, in a May 18, 2017, UK court filing

Steele was officially terminated as a source by the FBI on Nov. 1, 2016, for communicating with the media—specifically, Mother Jones reporter David Corn. Steele’s meeting with Corn led to the Oct. 31, 2016, article “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump,” which provided the first public reporting on the existence of the Steele dossier.

Notably, most communications between Ohr and Steele appear to have been through the encrypted WhatsApp.

Ohr would again confirm Steele’s contacts with the media in a Dec. 5 interview, telling the FBI that “Glenn Simpson directed [Redacted] to speak to the press as that was what Simpson was paying [Redacted] to do. OHR does not know if [Redacted] going to Mother Jones was Simpson’s idea or not.”

Steele met with Corn in October 2016.

Interestingly, in a subsequent interview on Dec. 12, Ohr told the FBI that “Simpson asked [Redacted] to speak to the Mother Jones reporter as it was Simpson’s Hail Mary attempt.” It would appear likely that Steele is the name that is redacted and would contradict Ohr’s previous statement regarding his understanding of Simpson’s direction to Steele in regard to contact with Mother Jones.

McCain Associate’s Contact With Steele

Steele also provided a copy of the dossier to Kramer, the longtime McCain associate.

Kramer, who traveled to London to meet with Steele on Nov. 28, 2016, revealed in a court deposition that he had been in contact with 14 journalists and producers about the dossier. 

Kramer showed a copy of the dossier to BuzzFeed reporter Ken Bensinger on Dec. 29, 2016, during a meeting at the McCain Institute. Buzzfeed published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017. Kramer also provided a copy of the dossier to McCain, who gave a copy to then-FBI Director Comey, in part because of Kramer’s urging.

Notably, in a Jan. 23, 2017, interview, Ohr told the FBI that “Steele also told OHR that he spoke with a staff member of Senator John McCain’s office sometime prior to October 2016. Steele had this conversation at the request of [Redacted] Since October 2016, Steele had not spoken to anyone regarding the Trump dossier.”

This would indicate that Steele was communicating directly with the McCain camp, possibly Kramer, at least a month prior to what was previously known, calling into question how far McCain’s already sizable role in the dossier dissemination went.

In an unsealed deposition related to a BuzzFeed lawsuit, Kramer said he was initially approached about the Steele dossier on Nov. 19, 2016, by Sir Andrew Wood, the former British ambassador to Russia, during a meeting at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada. Kramer stated in his deposition that he had never seen Steele prior to his Nov. 28 meeting and didn’t even know of him prior to the No. 19 briefing by Wood.

The other oddity from this statement is that Steele led Ohr to believe he had no discussions with anyone regarding the dossier past October 2016. This is demonstrably untrue as Kramer was personally shown a copy of the dossier during his Nov. 28, 2016, meeting with Steele.

Spread of Steele Dossier to UK Intelligence

In addition to Kramer, Steele was also providing his dossier to members of UK intelligence. According to The Telegraph, the UK spy chiefs were briefed about the dossier before Trump was made aware of its existence by Comey, but, notably, allegedly after the 2016 presidential election had taken place:

“The heads of MI5 and MI6 and one of [Prime Minister Theresa] May’s most trusted security advisers were told about former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s memos on the Trump campaign in the weeks after his November 2016 election victory.

“It is understood that Alex Younger, the MI6 chief, and Andrew Parker, the MI5 director general, were informed of the dossier.”

The Telegraph also reported that Steele met with Charles Farr, the former chairman of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), on two separate occasions to inform him of the events and information contained within his dossier. The two men, both former MI6 agents, had known each other for decades. The first meeting was reported as being one week after the 2016 presidential election in mid-November 2016.

It appears that there was a second meeting with Farr in late November 2016, approximately 10 days after the alleged date of their first meeting. The two men met again for follow-up questioning and to discuss the addition of two new memos written by Steele, one of which reportedly detailed “how the Russians were allegedly trying to block Mitt Romney’s possible appointment as US secretary of state.” It was also around this time that the heads of MI6 and MI5 were allegedly briefed on the dossier.

FBI Told About Steele’s Bias Against Trump

Ohr also told Pientka of Steele’s bias against Trump during his first interview in November 2016, noting that Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.” This strong bias on Steele’s part wasn’t relayed to the FISA court.

Notably, Ohr testified before the House Oversight and Judiciary committees on Aug. 28, 2018, that he maintained contact with Steele beyond the May 15, 2017, date of the final 302—but this was either not documented in FBI 302s or the 302s weren’t provided to congressional investigators:

Question: “On page 2 of the letter it lists 12 separate dates and 302s where the FBI interviewed you indicating the first interview took place on November 22, 2016, and the last one on May 15, 2017. Is this list of interviews and dates generally consistent with your recollection?”

Bruce Ohr: “Yes. The caveat I would say is, I continued to have some conversations with Christopher Steele after May 15, 2017. I’ve reported all of those to the FBI, but I do not see any 302s relating to those conversations.”

Ohr later said in the same congressional testimony that he maintained contact with Steele—and relayed the content of that contact to the FBI—into November 2017 through FBI agent Pientka and possibly two other FBI handlers. Notably, Ohr repeatedly stated that he never vetted any of the information provided by either Steele or Simpson. He simply turned it over or relayed it to the FBI—usually to Pientka. What Ohr didn’t know was that Pientka was transmitting all the information directly to Strzok.

Strzok was one of the lead agents on the Trump–Russia collusion case, and briefly joined special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, before being re-assigned to human resources, and eventually fired, following the revelation of thousands of text messages between him and his mistress, FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

In the text messages, Strzok and Page revealed a strong bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton, as well as the discussion of the so-called “insurance policy.”

Ohr’s Information to the FBI

Ohr passed along a number of allegations made in the Steele dossier to the FBI—many of which were later shown to be false or incorrect. It appears that Ohr may also have been getting incorrect information directly from Simpson as well.

In a Dec. 12, 2016 interview, Ohr told the FBI that Simpson “identified Michael Cohen, a lawyer in Brooklyn, NY as having many Russian clients in the Brighton Beach, NY area.” Ohr also tells the FBI of the allegation that Cohen was in Prague noting “Cohen may have attended a meeting in Prague, possibly in September, regarding the Trump Campaign and the Russians.”

The Prague allegations, although enduring, have never been proven as noted by Greg Miller, the national security correspondent for The Washington Post:

“There’s other material in the dossier we literally spent weeks and months trying to run down. There’s an assertion in there that Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, went to Prague to settle some payments that were needed at the end of the campaign. We sent reporters through every hotel in Prague—through all over the place—just to try to figure out if he was ever there, and came away empty.”

Allegations regarding communications of a computer in Trump tower with Russian Alfa Bank were also passed along from Ohr to the FBI.

On Oct. 31, 2016, three separate stories were published that referenced the Alfa Bank communications. The FBI, which investigated the allegations, found them to be unfounded. On the same day the articles were published, Hillary Clinton sent a tweet claiming that “Computer scientists have apparently uncovered a covert server linking the Trump Organization to a Russian-based bank.” Her tweet included a statement from Jake Sullivan, a senior policy adviser, which claimed, “This could be the most direct link yet between Donald Trump and Moscow.”

It’s possible that Steele also advised Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff of the same information during a separate September 2016 meeting:

“OHR met [Redacted] in Washington, D. C. in late September, possibly close to the time when the Yahoo news article was published on September 23, 2016. During that meeting, [Redacted] advised the Alfa server in the US is a link to the Trump campaign and Sergei Millian’s Russian/American organization in the U.S. used the Alfa server two weeks prior.”

An October 2018 testimony by former FBI General Counsel James Baker revealed that Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussmann, whose firm had been retained by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, provided information regarding Alfa Bank and alleged ties to the Trump campaign to Baker and at least one journalist in September 2016. This came directly ahead of the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant to spy on former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 31, 2016, that “F.B.I. officials spent weeks examining computer data showing an odd stream of activity to a Trump Organization server and Alfa Bank”  but “ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”

Ohrs Had Known Steele for Years

Ohr has testified before Congress that he had known Steele since 2007, when they met during an “official meeting,” while Steele was still employed by the British government. After that, they maintained contact approximately “once a year.” Ohr had also “met Mr. Simpson on various occasions over the years” and his wife, Nellie Ohr—a former CIA contractor who worked for Fusion GPS—had also known Simpson for “several years.”

Nellie Ohr’s Suspected Role in Steele Dossier

In a Dec. 5, 2016, FBI interview, Ohr told Pientka that his wife had worked for Fusion GPS and during a Dec. 20 interview, he provided the FBI with a thumb drive containing “the totality of the work Nellie Ohr conducted for Simpson.” Additionally, Bruce Ohr provided the FBI with a dossier on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort titled, “Manafort Chronology” that had been compiled by Nellie Ohr.

The fact that Nellie had compiled her own dossier on Manafort leads to further questions regarding her work for Simpson, and if any of that work was directly used by Steele. It remains unclear whether and how much of Nellie’s work was used in Steele’s dossier. Given her status as a researcher for Fusion GPS working on Russia during the same time Steele was working on his dossier, her role could have been substantial.

Steele provided Fusion GPS with something that Simpson’s firm was lacking: access to individuals within the FBI and the State Department. Those contacts could be traced back to at least 2010, when Steele had provided assistance in the FBI’s investigation into FIFA over concerns that Russia might have been engaging in bribery to host the 2018 World Cup.

Nellie had previously emailed Bruce dozens of times during her employment with Fusion GPS about Russia-related topics between October 2015 and September 2016. Nellie also routinely included several other DOJ officials in these communications.

On May 30, 2016, for example, Nellie Ohr sent an email to Bruce Ohr and three other DOJ officials, with a subject line that read, “Reported Trove of Documents on Ukrainian Party of Regions’ ‘Black Cashbox.’” Within the email was the text from an article penned the day before by Nikolai Holmov, a blogger at Odessatalk, with the title bolded and enlarged. It also contained a link to the underlying article.

Nellie’s May 30, 2016, email would prove prophetic. It alerted officials within the Justice Department of a discovery that would have far-reaching implications for Manafort—and the Trump campaign— months before the news reached a national level.

Manafort would be famously implicated in the Black Box ledger scandal two months later, which would lead to his resignation from the Trump campaign.

Nellie Ohr had previously worked for the CIA as an independent contractor for at least two years. She was hired as a researcher by Fusion GPS in October 2015.

Nellie conducted open-source research into members of the Trump campaign for Fusion GPS that may have been used in the Steele dossier. And as previously noted, she also provided her husband with a USB stick containing all her research from her time at Fusion GPS to pass on to the FBI in late 2016 after she had officially left the firm in September.

Steele Dossier Handed Over to FBI

During a meeting on Dec. 10, 2016, Ohr met with Simpson, who gave him a memory stick that Ohr believed contained the Steele dossier. Ohr passed the memory stick to Pientka two days later. A digital copy of the dossier was now likely in the FBI’s possession.

Other “opposition research” also made its way to the FBI, with Simpson using Ohr as a conduit. During a Dec. 12 interview, Ohr told the FBI of claims made by Simpson regarding “A Russian senator and mobster named Torshin” and his alleged ties to the NRA:

“Torshin may have funneled Russian money to the National Rifle Association (NRA) to use in support of Trump. An NRA lawyer, [Redacted] found out about the money pipeline and was very upset, but the election was over by the time she learned of it.”

Simpson also provided Ohr with an article, “Why Has the NRA Been Cozying Up to Russia?” by Josh Israel of ThinkProgress.org, a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization that has received funding from the Center for American Progress (CAP).

The FBI may have taken Simpson’s claims seriously as it appears this information and the associated article may have led to the FBI’s investigation of the NRA and Maria Butina.

Butina, who is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence recently accused federal prosecutors of withholding exculpatory information about her. Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer and former NRA board member, was later named in a March 15, 2018, article from McClatchy as being the NRA lawyer who had learned of the “money pipeline.” Mitchell has strongly denied the accusations and noted that she hasn’t represented the NRA since 2012 and that her NRA board membership expired in 2013.

State Department Official Meets With Steele

In a Feb. 6, 2017, interview, Ohr told the FBI that “Kathleen Kavalec, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State, would be meeting [Redacted] representatives in order to discuss potential Russian influence in their upcoming presidential elections. OHR reminded the interviewing agents Kavalec did speak with Steele several times prior to the 2016 US Presidential election and believed Steele’s reporting to have generated from mainly [Redacted].”

On Oct. 11, 2016, Steele met with Kavalec just 10 days prior to the FBI obtaining a FISA warrant on Carter Page on Oct. 21, 2016.

Also present at this meeting was Tatyana Duran, who was referenced as being with Steele’s firm Orbis Security. The meeting was likely brokered by Jonathan Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya, whom Steele had known since at least 2010.

Notes taken by Kavalec of the meeting, of which a redacted version was made public in May this year, show that Steele provided her with a full rundown of the unverified information compiled in his dossier to that date. Also included in her notes from the Steele meeting are several references to London and the words “Multi-lat JIC.”

JIC may be a direct reference made by Steele to the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and possibly his meeting with its chairman, Charles Farr.

Prior to the release of the Bruce 302s, it wasn’t known that there were additional meetings beyond the Oct. 11 meeting between Steele and Kavalec. Of additional interest is Kavalec’s apparent involvement in State Department meetings regarding Russian meddling—a primary claim of the Steele dossier.

The May Interviews

There appears to be a several-month hiatus in contact between Steele, Ohr, and the FBI following a Feb. 6 interview. Ohr doesn’t meet with the FBI again until May 8, 2017. Interestingly, the May interviews appear to have been conducted by new FBI agents, including a higher ranking supervising special agent (SSA).

The call from Steele to Ohr that initiated the May 8 FBI interview took place on May 3, 2017, and appears to have been prompted by Comey’s same-day testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“STEELE had been worried about Director Comey’s upcoming testimony to congress, especially his response to questions that would be raised by Representative Grassley. STEELE was specifically concerned about anything Director Comey would say [Redacted] STEELE was happy with Director Comey’s response.”

Whatever Steele had been concerned about appears to have been allayed by Comey’s actual Senate appearance and subsequent testimony.

From here there are some intriguing comments or statements from Ohr that lead to more questions than actual answers:

“[Redacted] and had been on the staff of the [Redacted] At the time of the interview, [Redacted] was working with the [Redacted].”

Although not known with any certainty, this comment may relate to Dan Jones, the founder of Penn Quarter Group.

On page 112 of the House Final Report on Russia Active Measures, there is a reference to “post-election anti-Trump research by Steele and/or Fusion GPS” along with a footnote. Contained in the footnote on page 113, is the following:

“In late March 2017, Jones met with FBI regarding PQG [Penn Quarter Group], which he described as ‘exposing foreign influence in Western elections.’ [redacted—likely Jones] told FBI that PQG was being funded by 7 to 10 wealthy donors located primarily in New York and California, who provided approximately $50 million. [redacted—likely Jones] further stated that PQG had secured the services of Steele, his associate [redacted—likely Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson], and Fusion GPS to continue exposing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.”

Jones, who had previously worked as a senior intelligence staffer for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), founded PQG in the spring of 2016. The Federalist reported in April 2018 that Jones and Penn Quarter may have begun funding Steele and Fusion GPS sometime in early 2017. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) first identified Jones and Penn Quarter in a Jan. 25, 2018, letter sent to a number of individuals. Jones was also referred to a joint congressional task force for an open-setting interview in a July 5, 2018, letter sent by then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes. Fusion GPS founder Simpson, along with several other Fusion GPS affiliates, has been referred as well.

In another comment in Ohr’s May 8 302 form it says:

“GLENN SIMPSON of FUSION-GPS and [Redacted] would be visiting STEELE soon and were in the process of “lawyering up” (NFI).”

From the comment, it appears as if Simpson and Steele were indeed still working together as of May 2017. If so, it’s likely that Jones was involved. It remains unknown as to how long Steele continued to work with Simpson.

In an isolated comment that provided no context, Ohr apparently told the FBI that “JONATHAN WINER was bringing over a letter separately (NFI).” What makes this somewhat notable is the fact that Winer, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement and former special envoy for Libya, had left the State Department four months prior.

Notably, the October 2016 meeting between Steele and State Department official Kavalec was likely brokered by Jonathan Winer, whom Steele had known since at least 2010.

Winer also received a separate dossier, very similar to Steele’s, from longtime Clinton confidant Sidney Blumenthal. This “second dossier,” compiled by longtime Clinton operative and former journalist Cody Shearer, echoed claims made in the Steele dossier. Winer gave Steele a copy of the “second dossier.” Steele then shared it with the FBI, which may have used it as a means to corroborate Steele’s own dossier.

FBI Asked Ohr to Re-engage With Steele

During a May 12th interview, a notation in the 302 states “[Redacted] requested that OHR ask STEELE if he would be willing to have a conversation with FBI agents in the UK. OHR agreed to pass along the message.”

It’s not known whose name lies behind the redaction, but it’s likely someone fairly high up in the FBI hierarchy—possibly Strzok or even acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. We know that in the days following the firing of Comey by President Donald Trump, the FBI, under McCabe, sought to re-engage with Steele. Ohr had previously disclosed this in his Aug. 28, 2018, testimony:

Ohr: “The FBI had asked me a few days before, when I reported to them my latest conversation with Chris Steele, they had had would he – next time you talk with him, could you ask him if he would be willing to meet again.”

Rep. Jim Jordan: “So this is the re-engagement?”

Ohr: “Yes.”

This is further confirmed in notes from Ohr’s final transcribed interview on May 15, 2017:

“Per FBI’s previous request, OHR asked STEELE if he would be willing to meet with FBI agents. STEELE responded that the answer was an immediate yes but that he would need to check with [Redacted] OHR was clear that this would be nothing more than a conversation with the FBI and STEELE said that would be alright.”

However, on May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. In doing so, Rosenstein took the Trump–Russia investigation out of McCabe’s control, and the FBI re-engagement attempts with Steele effectively came to an end.

Steele would later confirm that in a text to Ohr on Nov. 18, 2017:

“I am presuming you’ve heard nothing back from your SC colleagues on the issue you kindly put to them for me. We have heard nothing from them either. To say this is disappointing would be an understatement.”

Ohr testified that “at some point during 2017, Chris Steele did speak with somebody from the FBI, but I don’t know who.”

Although the 302s end with Ohr’s May 15, 2017, interview, we know from Ohr’s testimony that his meetings with both Steele and the FBI continued into November 2017.

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