Justice Department official Bruce Ohr found his way into the Russia investigation in a circuitous way. He knew a former British intelligence officer who authored the controversial dossier alleging contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and — apparently at the intelligence officer's urging — discussed the matter with the opposition research firm that hired the officer to dig into Trump.
Those contacts have thrust Ohr into the center of a political controversy over whether bias has infected the Russia probe. On Friday, Republicans named him in a memo alleging the Justice Department misled a court to obtain a secret warrant to monitor a former Trump campaign operative.
The memo, produced by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), has roiled Washington for the past week — increasing the partisan rancor on Capitol Hill and pitting President Trump against his own Justice Department. It broadly alleges that the FBI relied on faulty, biased information to obtain and renew a warrant to monitor Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
Ohr is a curious target for Republican ire. He was not assigned to work on counterintelligence matters, and he is not thought to have played a direct role in obtaining or renewing the warrant to monitor Page.
But Ohr did have a relationship with Christopher Steele, the former intelligence officer who authored the controversial Trump dossier, and his wife did work for the firm, Fusion GPS, that hired Steele to research Trump. Fusion was hired by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign after researching Trump for the conservative Washington Free Beacon.
Republicans pointed to conversations between Steele and Ohr as key evidence in their case that the Page warrant was flawed because it relied in part on Steele's Democrat-funded work.
Ohr and his wife, Nellie Ohr, did not return messages seeking comment.
According to the memo, Ohr had been in talks with Steele before and after the FBI considered the former British intelligence officer a source, and at some point, Steele told Ohr he was "desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president." The memo alleged that the "clear evidence of Steele's bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files — but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications."
FISA refers to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is the type of warrant that authorities sought to monitor Page.
The timeline of Ohr's dealings with Steele is somewhat murky. Steele had his own relationship with the FBI and approached the bureau about his Trump research in summer 2016. The memo alleged that Steele admitted his bias to Ohr in September 2016, the month before the warrant on Page was first obtained, and in that same time period, Ohr's wife was doing opposition research on Trump for Fusion.
The memo alleges that Ohr "later provided the FBI with all of his wife's opposition research," and that their relationship with Steele and Fusion were "inexplicably concealed" from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson told the House Intelligence Committee in November that both he and Steele had known Ohr previously; Simpson said his relationship with Ohr was through organized crime conferences.
Simpson said that after Trump won the election, when it was not clear to what extent top U.S. government officials were aware of his organization's research on connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, the group felt they should put the material in the hands of someone "higher up."
Steele, Simpson said, suggested he give some information to Ohr. Simpson said he and the Justice Department official "eventually met at a coffee shop, and I told him the story."
Fusion declined to comment for this story.
That Steele's information was used to obtain the warrant on Page — and his views on Trump not disclosed — is not necessarily problematic, former law enforcement officials said Friday.
Page was on the FBI's radar before October 2016 for contacts with Russians as part of a separate investigation begun years earlier. It is likely that previous probe — as well as other information — was a part of the application, the officials said.
"If you have a U.S. citizen — who was presumably approached by the FBI and continued to circle with Russians — there's going to be an ongoing concern about what his relationship is," said Ron Hosko, a former FBI assistant director. "Is he being co-opted? Are they using him for their purposes? I'm assuming that was going on, and that there was an ongoing concern about this guy. How the Steele information, or how you characterize Steele — I'd want to see it in the broader context, and that's missing" in the memo.
Until late last year, Ohr had worked as an associate deputy attorney general and as head of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, one of the Justice Department's components ferreting out gangs and drugs. But after Simpson testified in November about his and Steele's dealings with Ohr, Ohr was stripped of his role as an associate deputy attorney general.
A Justice Department official said that was at least part bureaucratic, so Ohr could be more focused in his job leading the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. But Ohr was soon also removed from that job, and he now works in the criminal division, a Justice Department official said Friday.
Ohr's being removed from his previous jobs was first reported by Fox News.
Nellie Ohr's LinkedIn profile — which does not list Fusion — describes her as a Eurasia analyst and cybersecurity expert at Accenture iDefense since 2017. In 2010, she was listed as a researcher at the Open Source Works, which does intelligence analysis for the CIA. She also worked as a linguist for many years and speaks six languages. She received her bachelor's degree in history and literature from Harvard University and her doctorate in history from Stanford University, where she wrote a thesis titled "Collective farms and Russian peasant society, 1933-1937: the stabilization of the Kolkhoz order."