Steele Dossier Back Channel Bruce Ohr Resigned From DOJ Ahead Of Disciplinary Review Decision

Bruce Ohr, a longtime Justice Department veteran who was harshly criticized by the DOJ’s watchdog for concealing his discussions with British ex-spy Christopher Steele from his superiors during the Trump-Russia investigation, resigned last month ahead of an impending disciplinary review decision.

“Bruce Ohr retired from the Department of Justice on September 30, 2020. As such, he is no longer an employee of the Department,” DOJ spokesperson Kerri Kupec told the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. “Mr. Ohr retired after his counsel was informed that a final decision on a disciplinary review being conducted by senior career officials was imminent.”

Catherine Herridge of CBS News had tweeted Wednesday that “a person familiar with the matter tells CBS News that … he resigned the day before he was going to be terminated by DOJ over his conduct cited in IG Horowitz report.”

The FBI dumped Steele as a confidential source in November 2016 after he admitted to the FBI he was consulted for an Oct. 31 Mother Jones article, “A Veteran Spy Has Given the FBI Information Alleging a Russian Operation to Cultivate Donald Trump," but he remained in contact with the bureau through Ohr, who acted as a backchannel for the former MI6 agent and discredited dossier author.

“Despite having been closed for cause, the Crossfire Hurricane team continued to obtain information from Steele through Ohr, who met with the FBI on 13 occasions to pass along information he had been provided by Steele,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a December report.

Horowitz said Ohr could not recall the FBI asking him to take any action regarding Steele but that “the general instruction was to let [the FBI] know ... when I got information from Steele.”

DOJ leadership, including Ohr’s supervisors and those who reviewed and approved the Page FISA applications, was not made aware of Ohr’s meetings with the FBI, Steele, Fusion GPS, or members of the State Department “until after Congress requested information from the Department regarding Ohr's activities in late November 2017.”

Horowitz said the late discovery of Ohr's meetings with the FBI prompted DOJ’s National Security Division to notify the FISA court in July 2018, a year after the final FISA renewal order was issued, of information Ohr gave the FBI but that the bureau failed to show the court, including that Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.”

Ohr, who worked with Steele for years and acted as a conduit between Steele and the bureau during the Trump-Russia investigation, was interviewed by the FBI in 2016 and 2017 and passed along info from the British investigator. Ohr was the fourth-ranking official at the DOJ until he was demoted after it came to light that he met with Steele and Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned Steele's work. Ohr’s wife Nellie also worked for Fusion GPS in 2016.

Simpson met extensively with Ohr as well as numerous journalists to whom he provided Fusion GPS’s anti-Trump research in 2016. When Nellie Ohr was hired by Fusion GPS to conduct research, Simpson knew her husband was working at the DOJ. Both Ohrs met with Steele at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2016 — one day before the FBI initiated its counterintelligence investigation into members of Trump's campaign, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane." Bruce Ohr provided information from his July 30 meeting to the FBI a few days later — after the inquiry had opened.

Documents show Ohr was removed from his position as associate deputy attorney general in December 2017. In January 2018, he lost his position as director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force and shifted to be counselor for international affairs in the Criminal Division.

Ohr had also taken part in a series of meetings related to a DOJ and FBI money-laundering investigation into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, which he similarly did not make his superiors aware of. Horowitz said he agreed with “concerns expressed to us” by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and Criminal Division Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell that DOJ leaders “cannot fulfill their management responsibilities, and be held accountable for the DOJ’s actions, if subordinates intentionally withhold information from them in such circumstances.”

One of Horowitz’s nine major recommendations was aimed squarely at Ohr, noting that he made “consequential errors in judgment” by not telling his superiors what he had been up to. Horowitz also said Ohr showed “a lapse in judgment” by not availing himself of the DOJ’s ethics procedures when his wife worked as a Trump-Russia contractor for Fusion GPS.

The Senate Intelligence Committee also released a bipartisan report in August which shed more light on the relationship between Ohr and Steele, which concluded that “Steele’s relationship with FBI began in the spring of 2010” when Ohr introduced a yet-redacted individual to Steele. The committee said it was aware of 13 FBI 302’s with Ohr in 2016 and 2017, which Ohr said reflected 15-20 interviews total. Ohr also met with leaders at the FBI during the 2016 election about Steele’s Trump-Russia allegations, including with now-fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

The Senate report said that “multiple witnesses,” including Ohr and Simpson, “either told the Committee or implied to the Committee that Steele had a business relationship” with wealthy Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. The report found that Deripaska “conducts influence operations, frequently in countries where he has a significant economic interest,” and “the Russian government coordinates with and directs Deripaska on many of his influence operations.” Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence, were working for Deripaska in the lead-up to 2016, helping recover millions of dollars the Russian oligarch claimed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had allegedly stolen from him when the Republican operative worked for him.

The Senate committee said a February 2016 email “strongly suggests Deripaska's awareness of Steele's work” when Steele wrote to Ohr that Deripaska “is also aware of the thrust of our new intel.”

Horowitz’s report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau's reliance on the Democrat-funded discredited dossier compiled by Steele. Declassified footnotes from Horowitz’s report indicate that the bureau became aware that Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation, and FBI interviews show Steele’s primary subsource undercut the credibility of the dossier.

“The Department's Office of Professional Responsibility should review our findings related to the conduct of Department attorney Bruce Ohr for any action it deems appropriate,” Horowitz said last year. “Ohr's current supervisors in [the DOJ’s criminal division] should also review our findings related to Ohr's performance for any action they deem appropriate.”

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Steele dossier back channel Bruce Ohr resigned from DOJ ahead of disciplinary review decision
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Steele dossier back channel Bruce Ohr resigned from DOJ ahead of disciplinary review decision
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