The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee released a transcript on Friday of congressional testimony from Justice Department official Bruce Ohr.
Ohr met with members of Congress last August to discuss his role feeding the FBI information about President Donald Trump and his 2016 campaign team’s ties to Russia that Ohr gathered from employees at the opposition research firm Fusion GPS.
Those employees include Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, and former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who compiled an unverified dossier of information — yes, the one that goes into detail about the president’s alleged urine-filled escapade with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel — on Trump’s Russian ties.
“People anticipate the Mueller report soon. Will he find any so-called ‘collusion’? Or was the only ‘collusion’ among agency personnel who hated the president and started this investigation?” Collins said in his floor speech.
Ohr’s interview was part of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees’ joint probe into potential abuses of power and misdeeds within the DOJ over the course of its investigations into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia.
That congressional probe ended last year when Democrats won back a majority in the House, though Republicans have since tried to keep the pressure on the DOJ over some of its agents’ possible political bias.
In the transcript, Ohr appears to have indicated to lawmakers that the information sharing between him and his wife, and him and Steele, was a one-way street.
Asked by former GOP House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy if he had ever provided information to anyone working at Fusion GPS, Ohr responded that is has never been his “practice” to provide DOJ information to “outsiders.”
But Republicans seized on the notion that the information Ohr provided from his wife and Steele might have influenced investigatory decisions at the FBI despite the partisan tinge of that information’s origins.
Fusion GPS research into Trump’s past was originally funded by a key Florida donor to Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. The Democratic National Committee later hired the firm to renew its research to help the 2016 campaign of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In 2016, Nellie Ohr handed her husband a thumb drive with her research on various Russian entities with possible ties to Trump, Bruce Ohr testified. Ohr then passed that thumb drive along to agents at the FBI who were working on the Russia investigation, since it did not fall under his purview as the DOJ’s director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
Ohr also continued to have conversations with Steele, an acquaintance from before Steele was working on the Russia dossier and whom the FBI let go as a source after it learned he had shared some information with media, he testified.
Ohr provided notes from those conversations with Steele — some conducted over the phone, at least one at a breakfast that Nellie Ohr also attended — to the FBI because it is standard practice to share information with the FBI when a DOJ official receives it, Ohr indicated.
“At some point I became aware [Steele] had been terminated,” Ohr testified, in response to a question from GOP Rep. Mark Meadows. “But nevertheless, when I receive information from Chris Steele I’m not going to sit on it. I’ve got to give it to the FBI.”
Ohr explained to Congress in his testimony that he made clear to the FBI that the information from Steele could not be taken at face value because it was hearsay.
“That information would never see the inside of a courtroom, because you can’t cross-examine it. You can’t find out who, if anyone, really is the source of that. Do you agree?” Gowdy asked him.
Ohr said that, yes, he did agree, but that he and the FBI agents with whom he shared his notes understood well that the information he received from Steele was “not evidence in a courtroom.”
“This is source information. And most FBI investigations involve source information, at least in the early stages,” Ohr testified.
After Ohr’s testimony last year, Democrats on the panel defended Ohr’s actions.
Ohr “appropriately handed [the information] off” to other FBI investigators who were working on the Trump-Russia probe because Ohr was working elsewhere within the department, Reps. Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler, then the ranking members of the committees, said in a joint statement at the time.
“It was not his job to vet the accuracy of this information himself,” the joint press release stated.