What Did Mueller’s Team Learn from Christopher Steele?

AND HOW MANY TIMES DID THEY MEET?

by Sharon Rondeau

(Jun. 14, 2019) — In a little-reported aspect of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the compiler of the now-infamous “dossier” of unverified information alleging ties between Donald Trump and the Kremlin, Christopher Steele, met with investigators on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the summer of 2017 at least once, according to testimony from DOJ official Bruce Ohr and an October 2017 CNN report.

On page 209 of the transcript of Ohr’s closed-door congressional testimony on August 28, 2018, Ohr explained that he and Steele, who had frequent contact in 2016 and 2017 by text and phone, discussed Ohr’s facilitating a “re-engagement” between Steele and the FBI and Steele and the Mueller team.

FBI “re-engagement” with Steele was requested by one of Ohr’s FBI contacts, he testified (p. 208), as Steele had been terminated as an FBI source on November 1, 2016, according to “Ms. Shen,” an attorney representing House Democrats during Ohr’s deposition (p. 220).

Mueller completed his 22-month investigation in March.  The following month his report was released publicly with redactions to protect sources, methods and ongoing investigations, according to Attorney General William Barr.  Encompassing 500 witness interviews, 2,800 subpoenas, approximately 500 search warrants and 13 requests for information from foreign governments, the report states that it found insufficient evidence to believe that the Trump campaign “colluded” or conspired with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

Steele’s “dossier” alleged, in part, that the Kremlin pursued “cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years.”  In a meeting at Trump Tower with then-President-Elect Trump on January 6, 2017, then-FBI Director James Comey told Trump that the contents of the dossier were “salacious and unverified” despite its having been used as the basis to obtain a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

At the same time, Comey reportedly informed Trump that the dossier claims had been leaked to the press.

During his deposition, Ohr said he shared Steele’s information with three prosecutors in the Justice Department, Zainab Ahmad, Andrew Weissmann and Bruce Swartz (p. 36), two of whom were later selected to serve on Mueller’s team.

Other than when directly quoting someone else, the Mueller report referred to the dossier as the “Steele reports” or the “Steele material.”

Earlier in the deposition, “Ms. Hariharan,” a questioner for the Democrats, asked questions about text messages between Ohr and Steele spanning “March 30, 2017 through November 27, 2017,” one of which she quoted as stating:

We are frustrated with how long this reengagement with the Bureau and Mueller is taking. There are some new perishable operational opportunities we do not want to miss out on (p. 157).

At the bottom of the page, Hariharan is noted to have said, referring to pages of text messages:

Hariharan then asked Ohr if the texts were evidence of a “secret conspiracy” between Steele and the FBI and Steele and the Special Counsel’s office, to which Ohr responded, “I think the communications speak for themselves. He’s trying to reestablish contact and it’s not happening” (p. 158).

“Do you know if he ended up being successful in reengaging with the FBI or the Special Counsel’s Office?” was the next question.

“At some point during 2017 Chris Steele did speak with somebody from the FBI, but I don’t know who,” Ohr responded, with the deposition then turning away from the topic of the Special Counsel.

Ohr characterized Steele’s efforts to “reengage” with the FBI as an effort to advance “additional opportunities” on Steele’s part (p. 159).  “We did have a conversation at some point during this time period where he provided some information about what kind of opportunity, and I passed that along to the FBI,” Ohr concluded his response.

On page 210, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX4) said that he and his colleagues were in possession of 12 FBI interview summaries, commonly known as “302s,” documenting Ohr’s reports on Steele’s information made to one or more agents at the Bureau.  Ohr testified that he had made it clear to the agents with whom he interacted that Steele’s claims were “source material” and not necessarily verified.

In her closed-door testimony to some of the same members of Congress on August 31, 2018, former FBI Deputy General Counsel Trisha B. Anderson testified that her team received Ohr’s 302s in early 2018 and that they indicated Ohr had expressed doubt as to Steele’s “credibility.”

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday night, Rep. Devin Nunes, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said that after months of investigation, he has seen the entirety of the “scope” memo written by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Mueller and that Nunes’s finding is that it was “based on the Steele dossier.”

It is believed that the Ohr 302s are contained in classified documents currently under review by Attorney General William Barr for declassification. On Sunday, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC 11) told “Sunday Morning Futures” host Maria Bartiromo that documents from the Russia investigation would begin appearing “this week,” although he was unsure as to whether or not they were previously classified.

 

 

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