Justice Department official Bruce Ohr and dossier author Christopher Steele worked together on a secret FBI plot that apparently involved helping a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, with U.S. visas in exchange for potential dirt on Donald Trump in the lead-up to the election, according to a recent New York Times report.
The Times reported:
Between 2014 and 2016, the F.B.I. and the Justice Department unsuccessfully tried to turn Mr. Deripaska into an informant. They signaled that they might provide help with his trouble in getting visas for the United States or even explore other steps to address his legal problems. In exchange, they were hoping for information on Russian organized crime and, later, on possible Russian aid to President Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to current and former officials and associates of Mr. Deripaska.
The report revealed for the first time the existence of the alleged plot, which was described as a “broader, clandestine American effort to gauge the possibility of gaining cooperation from roughly a half-dozen of Russia’s richest men.”
Trump critics argued the report showed that Ohr and Steele — who communicated more than 60 times during the 2016 campaign — had a valid reason to speak that was not related to the Trump dossier:
Inconvenient fact for Trump: Steele and Ohr were working together long before Trump’s political career.
“The contacts between Mr. Steele and Mr. Ohr started before Mr. Trump became a presidential candidate and continued through much of the campaign.”
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) September 2, 2018
However, others argued the alleged plot to flip Russian oligarchs sounded “moronic,” or that it appeared to be a cover-up.
“The FBI leaks a new cover story to NYT—the dumbest intel op ever. The FBI intended to ‘flip’ Russian oligarchs whose wealth Putin controlled. By offering what? Visas? Immunity from prosecution? Dinner at Arby’s? This is so moronic it might even be true,” tweeted the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran.
“So Ohr and Steele hatch a super-secret plan to make Deripaska (Steele’s billionaire client) an FBI asset? That’s why they communicated and met throughout 2016-2017?” American Greatness senior contributor Julie Kelly asked.
“The Russian collusion was coming from inside DOJ,” tweeted Sean Davis, co-founder of The Federalist.
“It’s pretty awesome that the conspiracy theorists at The NY Times ran a propaganda piece to protect the DOJ & Bruce Ohr & they inadvertently exposed the biggest scandal of all – the Russian collusion between Democratic opposition researchers, Russians, and the DOJ. Hilarious,” Dan Bongino, a former secret service agent and show host tweeted.
President Trump tweeted Monday, “Rigged Witch Hunt!”:
According to the Failing New York Times, the FBI started a major effort to flip Putin loyalists in 2014-2016. “It wasn’t about Trump, he wasn’t even close to a candidate yet.” Rigged Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 3, 2018
The Times story comes after the revelation of suspicious contacts between Ohr and Steele in recent weeks.
An August 8 Washington Examiner report revealed that Ohr and Steele communicated throughout 2016. The communications suggested that in the first several months of 2016, Steele was asking Ohr to help him get more visas for Deripaska. But beginning in the summer of 2016, the communications suggested that Steele was passing on anti-Trump research to Ohr.
FBI agent Peter Strzok had already revealed during a hearing in July that Ohr was passing him anti-Trump research. Thus, it appeared from the communications that Steele was using Ohr as a conduit to pass on dirt on Trump to the FBI.
But the Times painted the communications as more about the secret plan on Deripaska than the dossier:
The revelation that Mr. Ohr engaged with Mr. Steele has provided the president’s allies with fresh fodder to attack the investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, casting it as part of a vast, long-running conspiracy by a ‘deep state’ bent on undermining Mr. Trump.
While Mr. Steele did discuss the research that resulted in the dossier with Mr. Ohr during the final months of the campaign, current and former officials said that Mr. Deripaska was the subject of many of the contacts between the two men between 2014 and 2016.
According to the Times, Ohr claims his first conversation with Steele to cultivate Deripaska occurred on November 21, 2014 — seven months before Trump declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015. But the story also said the first time the FBI actually had a contact with Deripaska was September 2015 and again on September 2016.
Also, it did not appear that Steele began helping Ohr until February 2016. The Times story, which also revealed for the first time that Steele was working for one of Deripaska’s lawyers, said Steele “sought to aid” the efforts to engage Deripaska and emailed Ohr in February 2016.
According to the Examiner, Steele had emailed Ohr on February 8, 2016, saying, “Our old friend [Oleg Deripaska] apparently has been granted another official visa to come to the US later this month. … As far as I’m concerned, this is good news all round although as before, it would be helpful if you could monitor it and let me know if any complications arise.”
Ohr promised Steele, “To the extent I can I will keep an eye on the situation.”
Steele wrote Ohr again on February 21, 2016, telling Ohr that there would be a U.S. government meeting on Deripaska that week, which he expected Ohr would be attending, and that he was “circulating some recent sensitive Orbis reporting” on Deripaska that suggested the Russian magnate was not a “tool” of the Kremlin. Ohr said he would send the reporting to the person responsible for receiving all such reporting.
According to the Times, U.S. officials pressed Deripaska during his September 2015 trip on connections between Russian-organized crime and Putin’s government “as well as other issues.” Deripaska said the Americans’ theories were off base.
He reportedly would not agree to a second meeting, but in September 2016, FBI agents showed up to Deripaska’s home in New York and pressed him about whether his former business partner, Paul Manafort, had served as a link to the Kremlin during his time as Trump’s campaign chairman — which was what Steele’s dossier alleged.
Deripaska reportedly told the FBI he had no love for Manafort but their theories were “preposterous” and that there was no connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Coincidentally, the DOJ’s efforts to cultivate Deripaska “fizzled soon after,” according to the Times.
The FBI terminated Steele as a source in November 2016, reportedly because Steele had broken his contract with the FBI to not talk to the media about his relationship with the FBI.
Ohr would still continue to seek Deripaska’s cooperation for dirt against Manafort even after the election, asking “someone who communicated” with Deripaska last year to urge the Russian oligarch to “give up Manafort.”
Deripaska later agreed to testify to lawmakers what he knew about Manafort but said he would not testify about Russian collusion because he “doesn’t know anything about that theory and actually doesn’t believe it occurred,” his lawyer, Adam Waldman, told the Times.
Waldman said he never heard back from congressional staff members and said they later made up that Deripaska wanted immunity.
“We specifically told them that we did not want immunity,” Waldman told the Times. “Clearly, they did not want him to testify. What other conclusion could you possibly draw?”
The report comes one week after Ohr testified behind closed doors to the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees.