Nellie Ohr, the wife of Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, claimed spousal privilege on Friday in order to avoid certain questions from House Republicans about the controversial anti-Trump dossier.
While describing her as cooperative in the voluntary appearance, Republican and Democratic lawmakers told Fox News that Ohr took spousal privilege, which Republicans said did not allow them to get to core questions about the salacious dossier, and how it got into the hands of the FBI.
Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS, the research group that commissioned the dossier.
Glenn Simpson, Fusion GPS’ co-founder, earlier this week invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to answer questions during a separate Capitol Hill appearance before congressional investigators. Bruce Ohr has previously testified about his contact with Simpson during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The dossier, authored by former British spy Christopher Steele and commissioned by Fusion GPS, was paid for by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign through law firm Perkins Coie. It included salacious and unverified allegations about Trump’s visit to Russia before he was president and has become a central focus as lawmakers investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.
The Ohrs’ role also has become a key focus for Republican congressional investigators as they investigate the origin of the FBI’s Russia investigation. They alleged in a January 2018 House Intelligence Committee FISA memo that Ohr was the backchannel for Steele after he was fired by the bureau in November 2016 over his contacts with the media.
Bruce Ohr previously told the FBI about his wife’s work for Fusion GPS, as well as his reservations about the credibility of the document and Steele’s animus for then-candidate Donald Trump. However, this was not shared with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when the dossier was used to help secure a surveillance warrant for then-Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Congressional Republicans argue the dossier was improperly used to obtain that warrant and subsequent renewals.
House Republicans will resume an investigation of the FBI and DOJ’s handling of the Russia investigation on Thursday with a deposition of George Z. Toscas, a national security attorney at the Department of Justice.
Toscas, who handles counterterrorism and counterespionage cases, will appear for a deposition at 10 a.m. before staffers with the House Judiciary and House Government & Oversight Committees, a source familiar with the matter tells The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Toscas was one of 17 current and former FBI and Justice Department officials included on a list submitted to the two House committees by California Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
Nunes suggested interviewing Toscas and the other officials regarding an investigation into the FBI and Justice Department’s possible abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Congressional Republicans have probed whether the agencies misled federal surveillance judges by relying on the unverified Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Toscas is mentioned throughout text messages exchanged between former FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page. Strzok and Page, neither of which work for the FBI (Strzok was fired on Aug. 10), mentioned Toscas most often during the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email investigation.
The Washington Post has reported that Toscas was the Justice Department official who reminded then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe about Clinton emails found on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. McCabe had been informed about the emails weeks earlier but failed to take action on them until late-October 2016.
Strzok and Page, who have already been interviewed by the House panels, also mention Toscas in text messages sent at key points in the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Strzok sent one message to Page on July 30, 2016, the day before the FBI opened the Russia probe, that appears to reference Toscas and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
“Do you know if Andy got concurrence back from George about the preamble? No need to ask Andy right now, I think we can in very good faith date the [letterhead memorandum] July 2016,” Strzok wrote.
TheDCNF’s source says that Republicans will ask Toscas about the origins of the government’s Russia probe as well as about Bruce Ohr, the Justice Department official who served as a back channel between the FBI and Christopher Steele, the former British spy who wrote the dossier.
Ohr was also in contact with Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele as part of an anti-Trump project financed by the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Ohr’s wife, a Russia expert named Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS on the Trump project.
Ohr, who was demoted in December from his position as assistant deputy attorney general, will be interviewed by the two House committees on Aug. 28.
Republicans want to know who at the Justice Department, if anyone, directed Ohr to maintain contact with Steele. The relationship has raised questions because the FBI cut ties with Steele on Nov. 1, 2016 because of the former spy’s unauthorized contacts with the media.
Lawmakers have also questioned why Ohr was meeting with Steele despite claims from top DOJ officials that he was not on the team leading the Russia investigation.
“To my knowledge he wasn’t working on the Russian matter,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testified on June 28.
Ohr was interviewed a dozen times by the FBI after the election about his interactions with Steele. Text messages and emails recently provided to Congress also show that Ohr and Steele were in contact throughout 2016 and 2017.
FBI special agent Peter Strzok refused to answer House Freedom Caucus co-founder Jim Jordan regarding which individuals gave the Bureau three copies of the Trump dossier, claiming the FBI will not allow him to divulge his sources.
Strzok appeared before a joint House committee hearing Thursday to discuss his role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
After Jordan got Strzok on record admitting to having read the dossier, the Ohio representative zoned in on an email Strzok sent to a number of intelligence officials, including a woman he was having an extramarital affair with, former FBI counsel Lisa Page. In the email, Strzok discussed the different version of the dossier the FBI received from three separate sources.
“We got an e-mail that you sent. It should be presented there or should be in front of you there. I want you to take a look at this. This is an e-mail you wrote to Lisa Page, Bill, Jim, and cc’d Andy McCabe. The subject is Buzzfeed is about to accomplish the dossier. Are you familiar with this e-mail?” Jordan asked.
“I am,” Strzok replied.
“It says this, ‘Comparing now the set is only identical to what McCain had, parentheses, it has differences from what was given to us by Corn and Simpson.’ Did you write all that?” Jordan asked.
Strzok tried to get around the question, but Jordan persisted. (RELATED: Swalwell Calls For Bannon Subpoena)
“It says ‘Peter Strzok’ and it says to ‘Lisa Page’ and a whole bunch of key people to the FBI. Did you write it?” Jordan asked.
“I did write this,” Strzok replied.
Jordan then tried to figure out who the Corn and Simpson Strzok was referencing and what their relation was to the dossier dumps. Strzok said that he is unable to answer that question under FBI direction.
Increasingly frustrated, Jordan then tried to coax Strzok to reveal the identities of Corn, Simpson and another source, Page.
“I just want to figure this out. I want to figure this out, agent Strzok. You’re referencing three copies of the dossier: the Buzzfeed copy you have, the one john McCain’s staff gave to you and the one that you said you got from Corn and Simpson. The one McCain gave to you and the one Buzzfeed has are identical in your words, but they have — the Corn and Simpson one is different,” Jordan said.
Jordan is referencing David Corn, a veteran reporter who works for Mother Jones, and Glenn Simpson, a founder of the opposition research firm behind the Trump dossier, Fusion GPS, in his questioning of Strzok. (RELATED: Revelations From Glenn Simpson Interview With House Intel Committee)
Strzok refused to answer that there were three copies of the dossier presented to the FBI, despite the fact that he referenced them in his email to intelligence officials.
The last portion of Jordan and Strzok’s interaction dealt with whether or not Simpson or anyone from Fusion GPS made contact with the FBI.
“Let me ask you one other question. Glen Simpson testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on August 2017. Did anyone from Fusion ever communicate with the FBI? His response, no. No one from Fusion ever spoke with the FBI,” Jordan said. “So here’s what I’m having trouble understanding. If Glenn Simpson says no one ever spoke with the FBI, how is it that you got a copy of the dossier from Simpson?”
Strzok said not only did he never speak to Simpson, he never spoke to anyone Jordan mentioned.
“Sir, I can tell you I never had contact with Fusion, with Mr. Simpson, with Mr. Corn,” Strzok replied.
“Very briefly, sir, I would love to do that. There’s an appropriate time for oversight and as you well know that is at the end of an investigation, once it’s concluded. I am certain Congress will absolutely have the opportunity to look at any investigation once it’s closed, ask all these questions, and I would love to answer each and every one of your questions once the FBI allows me to do that.”
STRZOK CLAIMS HE STILL HAS TOP SECRET SECURITY CLEARANCE, CONTRADICTING JEFF SESSIONS
Anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzok told Congress on Thursday that he still has a top secret security clearance, in contradiction with a claim made in June by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“You currently have what classification?” Strzok was asked by Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins during a joint hearing of the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees.
“I have a top secret clearance with some SCI compartments,” replied Strzok, the former deputy director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. “SCI” is an acronym for highly classified materials known as Sensitive Compartmented Information. (RELATED: Sessions Claims That Peter Strzok Lost Security Clearance)
Strzok’s statement is a surprise of sorts given comments that Sessions made during a June 21 interview with conservative radio host Howie Carr.
“Mr. Strzok, as I understand, has lost his security clearance,” Sessions said.
Strzok was escorted out of FBI headquarters on June 15, a day after the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General referred him to the FBI for a disciplinary review over his Trump text messages.
Strzok was the FBI’s top investigator on the probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. During that time, he spoke critically of Trump, calling the Republican an “idiot” and mocking his supporters.
He was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in July 2017 after the discovery of his text exchanges. He currently works in the FBI’s human resources division.
The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy between Strzok and Sessions’s statements.
An American lawyer who served as a back channel between dossier author Christopher Steele and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is opening up about explosive testimony he gave to a Senate committee late last year.
Adam Waldman said that during an appearance before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on Nov. 3, he relayed information about possible links between billionaire activist George Soros and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier.
Waldman said he received the information in a March 16 meeting he had with Daniel J. Jones, a consultant and former staffer to California Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
Waldman told The Daily Caller News Foundation that Jones asserted that he was working with Fusion GPS and that the research firm was being funded by a “group of Silicon Valley billionaires and George Soros.” Jones also described Fusion as a “shadow media organization helping the government.”
“He was there as Fusion GPS. He brought up Fusion GPS,” Waldman told TheDCNF of his interaction with Jones.
“It was very, very clear.”
Waldman, 49, also said that Jones mentioned Glenn Simpson, one of Fusion’s co-founders and Steele’s main partner on the dossier project.
Waldman’s testimony about the meeting was first revealed in a Daily Caller op-ed published last week by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire who is a client of Waldman’s.
In the op-ed, Deripaska, a former business partner of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s, largely criticized the so-called “Deep State,” which he alleges has pushed a false narrative about the Russia investigation. But the piece also broke news about his lawyer’s Senate testimony and the claims about Fusion GPS and Soros funding.
Jones, Fusion GPS, and a representative for Soros did not return repeated requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Senate panel declined to discuss Waldman’s testimony.
Reached by phone, Fusion GPS attorney Josh Levy declined to comment on Waldman’s testimony about Jones and Soros connections to the firm, saying “I’m not commenting for your story.”
Waldman’s link to key players in the Russia investigation is one of the more intriguing wrinkles in the dossier saga. On one side is Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch with close ties to Vladimir Putin. On the other are Steele, Jones and Warner, all of who are involved in one way or another in investigating the Kremlin’s meddling in the 2016
How the two sides found a common link in Waldman remains a mystery, one that lawyer said he is presently unable to discuss in full.
Waldman, who runs Endeavor Law Firm and also represents actor Johnny Depp, entered the national spotlight last month after text messages that he exchanged last year with Warner were leaked to Fox News. The messages, which Waldman provided to SSCI in September, showed that he negotiated with Warner on behalf of the London-based Steele to set up an interview with the committee.
Warner sought the meeting in his capacity as the top Democrat on Senate Intel.
Steele, as is now widely known, was hired by Fusion GPS in June 2016 to investigate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. The Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee paid Fusion for the project.
Waldman’s texts to Warner mention Steele, Deripaska, and Jones, who was an SSCI staffer for Feinstein when she chaired the panel.
Encrypted text messages provided to SSCI and obtained by TheDCNF corroborate some of Waldman’s claims, particularly regarding his meeting with Jones and a suggestion from him that he helped with anti-Trump news stories.
A March 15 message shows Jones contacted Waldman and introduced himself as being with an upstart non-profit group called the Democracy Integrity Project.
Signal messages from Daniel Jones to Adam Waldman
“Dan Jones here from the Democracy Integrity Project. Chris wanted us to connect,” reads the intro message, referring to Steele and to a newly formed non-profit group of which little is known.
Corporate registration documents show that a group by that name was formed in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 31, 2017, several weeks before Jones’ outreach to Waldman and several weeks after BuzzFeed News published the dossier.
Waldman’s contact with Warner began in February 2017 and initially centered on Deripaska and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Waldman suggested in his initial texts that he was in communication with Assange, who is living under asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
The lawyer first mentioned Steele to Warner on March 17, a day after he met with Jones, who now runs a consulting firm called the Penn Quarter Group.
“Chris Steele asked me to call you,” Waldman wrote to Warner.
The text messages show that Warner, a Democrat, sought to meet with Steele separately from other members of the Senate committee. But Waldman said that Steele first wanted a letter signed by Warner and North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the committee, formally seeking an interview with Steele.
Warner rebuffed the idea and pressed for a private meeting with Steele, going as far as offering to travel to England.
“We want to do this right private in London don’t want to send letter yet cuz if we can’t get agreement wud rather not have paper trail,” Warner wrote on March 30.
Waldman’s texts to Warner also refer to Jones.
“[Steele] said he will also speak w Dan Jones whom he says is talking to you,” Waldman wrote in an April 25 message. “I encouraged him to engage with you for the sake of the truth and of vindication of the dossier,” the text continued.
Later that day, he wrote that “[Steele] said Dan Jones is coming to see you.”
“I suggest you explain to Dan why a call is the necessary first step rather than a letter from your perspective.”
Waldman had only a few text exchanges with Jones, but the messages provide some insight into Jones’ investigative work on Trump.
“Our team helped with this,” Jones wrote in a March 17 message that included a link to a Reuters article about Russian nationals’ investments in Trump-owned buildings. The article focuses heavily on Russians’ investments in Trump real estate properties in Sunny Isles Beach, Fla.
Jones did not describe who was included on his team, but Glenn Simpson, the Fusion GPS co-founder, testified to two congressional committees last year that his firm conducted research into Trump’s real estate deals in Sunny Isles Beach.
“I spoke w Warner and he did mention you as discussed. He obliquely brought your org up so it was natural,” Waldman wrote on March 19.
Waldman and Warner’s leaked texts show that the two called each other multiple times around that date.
The two sets of text messages, and Waldman’s testimony, raises numerous questions about the dossier.
It remains unclear why Jones reached out to Waldman. Jones and Waldman’s relationships to Steele are also a mystery. Waldman declined to comment on that particular matter, and a request for comment from Steele’s lawyers in London was forwarded to a legal adviser who said they could not speak to the media on Steele’s behalf.
Little else is known about Jones’ work with Fusion GPS or on the dossier. The only reporting on those connections comes from The Federalist which recently reported that Jones was working with Fusion as part of a post-election effort to validate the dossier.
Republican lawmakers remain puzzled by the Warner-Waldman and the possible links between Deripaska and Steele.
Republican Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, recently sent letters to Waldman and Deripaska’s London-based attorney, Paul Hauser, inquiring whether they or Deripaska have ever hired Steele or his private intelligence firm, Orbis Business Intelligence.
Grassley also sent letters in January to members of the Clinton campaign and DNC asking about any communications with more than 20 individuals, including Fusion GPS employees, Waldman and Jones.
Grassley appears interested in exploring what implications any links between Steele and Deripaska would have for the dossier, which BuzzFeed News published on Jan. 10, 2017. Waldman denies one lead that lawmakers appear to be chasing: that Deripaska was a source for the dossier.
Waldman has represented Deripaska since 2009, largely on visa issues. The oligarch has fought the State Department over its decision in 2006 to revoke his visa after the agency became concerned about the industrialist’s alleged ties to Russian organized crime.
The aluminum magnate pays Waldman $40,000 a month for the work, according to documents filed by under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Deripaska has also worked in the past with Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman who was recently indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on money laundering and bank fraud charges.
While Manafort was on the campaign, he and Deripaska were in a dispute over a failed business venture involving cable TV stations in Ukraine. Deripaska accused the Republican consultant of squandering $19 million from the deal.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote to an associate on July 7, 2016, while he was still with the Trump campaign.
And just before joining the campaign in April 2016, Manafort sent a cryptic message to his associate: “How do we use to get whole?”
The emails have fueled speculation that Manafort sought to use his position on the campaign to help settle his debts to Deripaska.
An associate of Arizona Sen. John McCain is invoking his Fifth Amendment rights in order to avoid revealing information to Congress about the Steele dossier.
David J. Kramer, a former State Department official, pleaded the fifth in response to a subpoena issued in December by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Fox News reported.
In a Dec. 19 interview with the committee, Kramer said that he had information about some of the sources of information in the dossier, which was written by former British spy Christopher Steele and financed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Kramer learned the information in Nov. 2016, after traveling to London to meet with Steele. Kramer and McCain, a Republican, first learned of the dossier earlier that month after meeting with an associate of Steele’s.
After the London meeting, Steele provided a copy of the dossier to Kramer with instructions to share it with McCain. The senator then provided a copy of the document to then-FBI Director James Comey during a Dec. 9, 2016, meeting.
The House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena on Dec. 27 to compel Kramer to discuss the dossier’s sources.
Kramer, who was a director at the McCain Institute and now works for Florida International University, has avoided speaking publicly about his handling of the dossier. There has also been widespread speculation that he is BuzzFeed’s source for the document. The website published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.
In addition to his interview with the Intelligence Committee, Kramer was deposed in December as part of a lawsuit filed against BuzzFeed for publishing the dossier. Kramer’s lawyers have requested that his deposition in that case be sealed.
Steele, McCain and Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele to write the dossier, have all denied being BuzzFeed’s source. Kramer is the only person known to have handled the completed dossier who has not denied providing it to BuzzFeed.
Kramer and his attorney have not responded to numerous requests for comment.
An associate of Arizona Sen. John McCain’s who handled the dossier is asking a federal judge to block the release of a videotape and transcript of a deposition he recently gave in a lawsuit related to the salacious document.
David Kramer, a former State Department official and former director at the McCain Institute for International Leadership, filed a motion in federal court in Florida asking a judge for a protective order to block the public release of his deposition.
Kramer was deposed last month by lawyers for a Russian businessman suing BuzzFeed News for publishing the dossier. The lawyers for the businessman, Aleksej Gubarev, are interested in Kramer because he is one of just a few people known to have handled the dossier after it was completed by former British spy Christopher Steele and before its Jan. 10, 2017 publication.
Gubarev’s attorneys want to find out whether BuzzFeed’s source gave any warnings about the veracity of the dossier and whether it was verified or unverified.
Steele, McCain and Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier on behalf of Democrats, have all denied being BuzzFeed’s source.
Kramer has not commented publicly on the issue.
Kramer’s lawyer, Marcos Jiminez, argued in a motion to seal that the release of the deposition would jeopardize his personal safety, make him subject to hounding from the press, and conflict with congressional investigations looking into the dossier.
Kramer was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee last month and has also met with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“Mr. Kramer seeks to prevent the Plaintiffs from sharing his videotaped deposition and accompanying transcript beyond the instant litigation,” wrote Jiminez.
He asserted that Kramer’s deposition in the BuzzFeed lawsuit “would reveal the extent of the Congressional Committees’ knowledge regarding the information provided by Mr. Kramer in closed-door sessions.”
Jimenez also argues that should Kramer’s deposition be released to the public, he “will be hounded by the press.”
Kramer and McCain first learned of the dossier shortly after the 2016 election while attending the Halifax International Security Forum. On the sidelines of that event, Kramer and McCain had a conversation with Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia and associate of Steele’s.
Kramer then traveled to London to meet with Steele. While there, the pair made arrangements for Kramer to obtain the dossier back in the U.S. and to provide a copy to McCain.
McCain shared an incomplete version of the dossier with then-FBI Director James Comey on Dec. 9, 2016. The Republican was unaware at the time that Comey and the FBI were already aware of Steele’s report. FBI agents met with the ex-spy multiple times prior to the election.
Steele published his final dossier memo on Dec. 13, 2016. It is that document which alleges that Gubarev used two of his web-hosting companies to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems prior to the election. The dossier also alleges that Gubarev was recruited under duress by Russia’s spy services. He denies all of the allegations. In addition to suing BuzzFeed, he is suing Steele in London, where the former spy is based.
In court filings there, Steele has acknowledged that the Dec. 13 memo contained unverified information.
As of the beginning of this month, Steele and Fusion GPS have dodged requests for depositions from Gubarev’s lawyers.
David Kramer Motion to Seal deposition in BuzzFeed lawsuit by Chuck Ross on Scribd