Skip to main content

Donald Trump is Using Bruce Ohr to Delegitimize the Mueller Probe

The FBI agent has no involvement with anything related to the investigation, but that doesn't matter to Republicans.

Trump is continuing his war on the Department of Justice and the intelligence community by threatening to declassify documents related to Bruce Ohr, an FBI agent whose name is not well-known to the American public, but who has been a target in conspiratorial right-wing circles. 

Ohr is the former associate deputy attorney general under Rod Rosenstein and former head of the FBI's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, and for the last few months, Trump has tweeted about him as though he is responsible for the investigation into his activities with Russia during the 2016 election:

Republicans have been going after Ohr due to his connections to Christopher Steele, the former MI6 agent commissioned by Fusion GPS to compile the infamous dossier which blew the lid off Trump's collusion with the Russians shortly before his inaugural. Ohr and Steele had known each other for years prior to the election, due to the former's background in organized crime. Previously, he had brought indictments against notorious Russian mob boss Semion Y. Mogilevich in 2003, and revoked the U.S. visa of oligarch Oleg Deripaska in 2006 due to suspicions that he was laundering money through New York real estate - the same year that Paul Manafort and Rick Gates created a Delaware LLC allowing him to do so. 

During the election, Ohr and Steele were in touch, even after the FBI dropped him as a source following his communication with Mother Jones. Republicans have seized on this as evidence that the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Donald Trump's activities began with the two of them. The infamous Nunes Memo last February alleged that Steele told Ohr he "passionately" wanted Trump to not get elected. 

However, we have known for a while now that the investigation did not begin with Ohr, but rather, with Trump campaign aide George Papadapoulos, who, in his conversation with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, claimed that Russia had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Papadapoulos, who was recently sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI, now claims that the conversation with Downer never happened, and went on a Twitter rant last night claiming Downer was actually Steele.

Apart from Papadapoulos's conversation with Downer, the other key event precipitating the FBI's investigation was the FISA warrant obtained on Carter Page. The Nunes Memo cast aspersions on this as well, claiming the warrant only came through evidence provided by Steele, even though this was debunked by a memo from the Democrats. It also tried to imply that Ohr had involvement in obtaining the warrant, even though that is also not true. Still, Trump wants to declassify documents related to the FBI's investigation into Page this week, in addition to the ones related to Ohr.

Complicating Ohr's connection with Steele is the fact that his wife Nellie, a Russian history expert, worked for Fusion GPS, the same company that commissioned the Steele dossier. Ohr did not share this information on federal disclosure forms, nor did Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson mention it when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee last year. By not disclosing this and continuing to meet with Steele after he went to Mother Jones, Republicans believe he has tainted the Mueller investigation.

Ohr himself has been demoted from his role working under Rosenstein, as well as his role with the OCDETF. It is unclear what his role with the FBI is now, but it's evident that his involvement with the counterintelligence investigation, the compiling of the Steele Dossier, George Papadapoulos, or Carter Page, has been either non-existent or minor at best. 

However, Trump and the Republican Party believe that if they can make him the middleman between all these disparate elements, they can delegitimize the Mueller investigation in the eyes of the American public. It is another example of his continuing war against the intelligence community, which he is purging so as to make it his own Praetorian Guard. In dismantling the safeguards of our democracy, he is engaging in dangerous executive overreach that could become one of the most unsettling parts of his legacy yet.