Justice Department official Bruce Ohr told House lawmakers on Tuesday that the FBI doubted the credibility of a salacious anti-Trump dossier used to obtain a surveillance warrant for a member of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team, according to a key Republican.
“Not only did the FBI know the dossier was unverified, but they also knew there were real credibility issues where it would never end up in a courtroom,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican.
The disclosure is the latest twist in the complicated saga of Mr. Ohr, a career Justice Department official with close ties to those responsible for creating and disseminating the dossier full of unproven allegations about President Trump’s ties to Russia.
Mr. Ohr, a nearly 30-year veteran of the Justice Department, had a longtime relationship with British spy Christopher Steele, who created and circulated the dossier. His wife, Nellie Ohr, is an employee of Fusion GPS, the firm that was paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee to compile the dossier.
Republicans have said that Mr. Ohr gave the dossier to the FBI, which it used to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, warrant on Carter Page, a key Trump campaign aide. When the dossier was given to the FBI, Mr. Ohr was head of the Justice Department’s organized crime and drug task forces, and passing it along would have fallen outside his job responsibilities.
Fox News reported this month that Mr. Steele, who was fired by the FBI for leaking information to the media, tried to use Mr. Ohr to contact special counsel Robert Mueller, who is heading the probe into any Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.
Mr. Ohr testified in a closed-door hearing for nearly eight hours Tuesday before a handful of Republicans on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees. No Democrats attended the meeting, but staff members of both parties were on hand.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, and Mr. Meadows said during a break in the testimony that the FBI withheld crucial information when it sought a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance on Mr. Page.
“Until today, we were not certain that the FBI knew all of the things at the time that they were making initial FISA application and subsequent renewals,” Mr. Gaetz said. “What we’ve learned today is that the FBI was absolutely in possession of material facts that they withheld from the FISA courts.”
The FISA warrant for Mr. Page was approved in October 2016 and renewed three times by key Justice Department officials, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The warrant says Mr. Page was the subject of a “targeted recruitment” by the Russian government.
But Mr. Meadows implied the warrant may not have been approved had the FBI fully disclosed all the information to the FISA court.
“It was not only confirmed once, but multiple times that information that should have been in the FISA application was not, or it appears that it was not based on the footnotes that we have read,” he said. “I have not seen the actual FISA application. If indeed the information we heard about today was not given to those four FISA judges, there’s a real problem.”
Lawmakers said Mr. Ohr was forthcoming, but his testimony about his contacts with Fusion GPS appeared to contradict previous statements by Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.
“Either Bruce Ohr’s lying or Glenn Simpson’s lying,” Mr. Gaetz said, emphasizing the need for public hearings before the Judiciary Committee to resolve the contradictory testimony.
Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, told reporters that Mr. Ohr disclosed he had multiple “handlers” at the FBI who received the dossier, but Mr. Issa did not identify those officials.
“There’s quite a list of names,” he said coyly.
Mr. Ohr was demoted by the Justice Department after news of his role in distributing the Steele dossier surfaced. Mr. Trump proposed revoking his security clearance this month.
“I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace with his wife, Nellie,” the president told reporters. “For him to be in the Justice Department and doing what he is doing is a disgrace.”
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