N.Y. Times Throws Up a Smokescreen for Bruce Ohr

If this weekend’s bombshell story in the New York Times is to be believed, the nation’s top law enforcement agency under Barack Obama was not only corrupt, it was really dumb, too.

In an effort to get ahead of the release of Bruce Ohr’s private congressional testimony—which undoubtedly will include more stunning details about the depth of his relationship with a paid political operative from another country—and mitigate the damage from Ohr’s recently released emails, the Times is already working to cover the Justice Department official’s tracks.

The article, “Agents Tried to Flip Russian Oligarchs. The Fallout Spread to Trump,” is an almost laughable attempt to justify Ohr’s decade-long collaboration with Christopher Steele, the former British spy and author of the infamous dossier that alleged the Putin regime was working with the Trump campaign in 2016.

Reporters Kenneth Vogel and Matthew Rosenberg expose a super-secret government plan to persuade six Russian billionaires, including Oleg Deripaska, to become FBI assets. (Deripaska has figured into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s prosecution of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager.) One of the Justice Department officials in on the alleged oligarch-flipping plan was Bruce Ohr.

The reporters cite unnamed former and current Justice Department officials who expressed concern that President Trump and his supporters would “use the program’s secrecy as a screen with which they could cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.” But a closer look at what this article says—and more importantly, what it doesn’t say—makes it clear that Vogel and Rosenberg are running cover for Ohr, even portraying him as a victim of unfair attacks by the president.

The article reveals that Ohr’s relationship with Steele, a one-time FBI source, dates to 2007. The two started discussing plans to “cultivate” Deripaska in 2014, long after Steele left the British government and started his own consulting business. But it probably wasn’t the case that these two former crime-fighting colleagues hatched a genius plan to convince one of the richest men in the world to turn on a vengeful Russian authoritarian president. It’s more likely that Steele, who now claims Deripaska as a client, was attempting to get U.S. officials to reinstate the Russian’s visa, which was revoked in 2006. (A story, coincidentally, that Fusion GPS principal Glenn Simpson broke in 2007 while he was a reporter with the Wall Street Journal. In his Senate testimony last year, Simpson said his article caused Deripaska “a lot of embarrassment and trouble with his business and led to [Deripaska] hiring a lobbyist and trying to get involved with getting a visa to the U.S.”)

Steele’s plea apparently worked. According to the Times article, the “F.B.I. pushed the [Obama] State Department to allow Deripaska to travel to New York on a Russian diplomatic passport as part of a Russian government delegation to the United Nations General Assembly. The State Department previously had rejected some of Deripaska’s efforts to secure visas to enter the United States but it approved diplomatic visa requests in 2015 and 2016.” Allowing Deripaska back into the country purportedly was to facilitate meetings between law enforcement officials and the oligarch to flip him into an intelligence asset: only one meeting occurred in 2015. The intermediary for the meeting? Christopher Steele. The U.S. official in attendance? Bruce Ohr.

Tell me again who was conspiring with the Russians?

Ohr and Steele continued to communicate throughout 2016 and 2017 after Steele had been fired by the FBI for leaking information to reporters while he and Simpson pushed the shady dossier to the media just weeks before the presidential election.

The Times story briefly alludes to a breakfast meeting in the summer of 2016 between Ohr and Steele. It was during this time that Steele was preparing his dossier for Fusion GPS, which in turn was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign to dig up Russian-related dirt on Trump. The Times insists the breakfast was just so Steele could give Ohr a “friendly heads-up” about his research and that it had nothing to do with the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.

But what the Times conveniently omits is that Ohr’s wife, Nellie, also was present at the breakfast. And the get-together took place on July 30, 2016, exactly one day before the FBI officially launched its counterintelligence probe into four Trump campaign associates.

That was not the only omission about Nellie Ohr in the Times article. The reporters give a vague passing mention about the fact Nellie Ohr worked for Fusion GPS throughout the 2016 election cycle, only commenting that she “worked as a contractor at the same research firm that produced the dossier.”

In fact, in the nearly 2,500-word story, there is no mention of Fusion GPS or Glenn Simpson, despite the highly relevant point that both Steele and Bruce Ohr’s wife were working for the firm during the period the Times article covers. Even when the Times reporters mention that Steele’s “research” had been paid for by the DNC and Clinton campaign, they do not divulge Simpson’s key role. That could not have been an accidental oversight, and it could be an attempt to cover for Simpson’s own troubling Russia connections, such as working with the Russian lawyer who attended the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. in June 2016. (Simpson met with Natalia Veselnitskaya before and after that meeting.)

The Times also failed to mention the fact that Bruce Ohr twice has been demoted at the Justice Department for not disclosing his ties to Fusion and his communications with Steele. Instead, the Times blames Trump for the Ohrs’ woes, accusing the president of unfairly casting the couple as “villainous central players in a cabal out to destroy” him.

It strains credulity to think the reason Ohr met and communicated with Steele so often between 2015 and 2017 was to devise a way to sway Steele’s billionaire Russian client to work with the FBI. But if it is true, Attorney General Jeff Sessions should verify the plan and make the information public because it was a truly stupid idea that obviously failed. For now, the Times story looks like yet another media smokescreen to protect the key players behind the Trump-Russia collusion hoax.

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Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

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