A Justice Department lawyer whose ties to the infamous dossier about President Donald Trump and Russia has drawn the ire of Republicans told House lawmakers that he was told Russian intelligence thought they had the then-candidate “over a barrel” during the 2016 campaign, a source with knowledge of the testimony told CNN.
Bruce Ohr, who testified behind closed doors this week to the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, said dossier author Christopher Steele shared the information with him at a July 2016 breakfast, the source said.
Ohr said that his wife, Nellie Ohr, who was a contractor for Fusion GPS — the firm that employed Steele to dig up dirt on Trump — also attended the breakfast, along with an associate of Steele’s. Ohr couldn’t recall in his testimony who the associate was, the source said, but he knew it was not Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson.
The Associated Press first reported Steele’s comments to Ohr at the breakfast.
Ohr, a 30-year Justice Department veteran, has been attacked repeatedly by Trump and his conservative allies for his connection to Steele and the opposition research dossier containing salacious and unverified information on Trump and Russia. The President called for Ohr to be fired ahead of his congressional testimony.
Little is known publicly about the extent of the relationship between Bruce Ohr and Steele, but some House Republicans who are vocal critics of the Russia investigation have seized on it as proof of an untoward connection between government officials and the roots of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
The comments from Steele reflect what he wrote in his dossier, which Republicans charge was political opposition research inappropriately used to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Republicans have seized on the connections between Ohr and Fusion GPS and Steele to suggest there was a coordinated effort to push the Steele dossier within the FBI, according to another congressional source.
In addition to the July 30 meeting, Ohr and Steele spoke multiple times in 2016 and into 2017, and Ohr reported those conversations back to the FBI.
Steele and Ohr knew one another from their work before 2016. They met in the mid-2000s, people who know Ohr said, as both fought against the evolving threat of Russian organized crime for their respective countries.
The July 30, 2016, meeting between Steele and Ohr came one day before the FBI officially opened its counterintelligence investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. But the investigation was opened because of conversations involving former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, and not the dossier, FBI and congressional officials have said.
Ohr’s communications with Steele were blessed by former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, though he did not inform his supervisor, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, about the meetings, according to the source with knowledge of Ohr’s testimony.
Ohr also told lawmakers and staff he didn’t read any of his wife’s work or the documents that were given to him from Steele, the source said. Ohr told lawmakers that he turned over two USB keys to the FBI — one from his wife and one from Simpson. He said he didn’t look at the information on them, according to the source.