Christopher Steele expressed concern last year at a Senate committee’s request for information about the former British spy’s anti-Trump dossier, according to text messages recently provided to Congress.
“Would it be possible to speak later today please? We’re very concerned by the Grassley letter and its possible implications for us, our operations and our sources. We need some reassurances,” Steele wrote in a March 7, 2017 text message to Bruce Ohr, who then served as deputy assistant attorney general.
Steele, a former MI6 officer, was seemingly referring to a March 6, 2017 letter that Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley sent to then-FBI Director James Comey seeking information about Steele and the dossier.
The text message is part of a trove of documents that the Department of Justice recently provided to several congressional committees investigating the government’s handling of Steele’s dossier. The Hill obtained some of the records and reported on several text message and email exchanges between Ohr and Steele.
In his letter, Grassley posed 12 questions to Comey about the FBI’s relationship with Steele and its use of the dossier.
Grassley sought all agreements between Steele and the FBI and transcripts of interviews that Steele had with the bureau during his investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian government. The Iowa Republican also asked how the FBI first obtained Steele’s reports and whether investigators had verified any of the document’s allegations.
The dossier, which was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee, accuses the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russian government officials to influence the 2016 election. So far, none of its major allegations have been publicly corroborated.
Grassley also asked Comey whether the FBI relied on the dossier to obtain surveillance warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. At the time, it was not known that the FBI had obtained two surveillance warrants on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The warrant applications relied heavily on the dossier, which accuses Page of being the Trump campaign’s contact to the Kremlin.
Grassley’s letter also posed a question that hit directly at the relationship between Steele and Ohr.
“Were any other government officials outside of the FBI involved in discussing or authorizing the agreement with Mr. Steele, including anyone from the Department of Justice or the Obama White House? If so, please explain who was involved and provide all related records,” Grassley wrote.
It is not clear from the Ohr-Steele text messages how Ohr responded to Steele’s concerns. But the Justice Department and the FBI withheld the information Grassley sought for at least two months, if not longer.
Grassley sent a letter on May 2, 201,7 to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, saying that the FBI had not responded to his March 6 letter. Republicans on several congressional committees seeking information about the dossier have accused the Justice Department and FBI of stonewalling in response to records requests.
Steele and Ohr were in contact throughout the 2016 campaign and well after. Ohr, who was demoted from his top DOJ position in December, briefed the FBI at least 12 times about his interactions with Steele from November 2016 through May 2017.
The briefings occurred, even though the FBI cut ties with Steele because of his unauthorized contacts with the media prior to the election. Steele met with numerous journalists in the run-up to the election and was a source for news articles published by Yahoo! News and Mother Jones.
Emails provided to Congress and published by The Hill also show that Ohr and his wife, Russia expert Nellie Ohr, met with Steele in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2016. That was one day before the FBI opened up its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
Nellie Ohr was working at the time for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that commissioned the dossier.
Republican lawmakers have recently said that Bruce Ohr has emerged as a central figure in an investigation into the FBI’s handling of the unverified dossier.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said Monday that Ohr “is going to become more and more important” to his committee’s investigation of possible FISA abuse by the FBI.
“I think people should pay close attention to it,” the California Republican said of Ohr.
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