An FBI lawyer told Congress last year that investigators were assessing the reliability of Christopher Steele as of late November 2016, a month after the bureau cited the former spy’s anti-Trump dossier to obtain a warrant to snoop on Carter Page.
Sally Moyer, an attorney in the FBI general counsel’s office, described a meeting held at FBI headquarters on Nov. 21, 2016 with Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official who has long known Steele, a former British spy. A month before that meeting, on Oct. 21, 2016, the FBI obtained its first of four FISA warrants against Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.
“We were meeting — one of the reasons that the investigators were talking to Bruce Ohr was to try to get further clarity about Christopher Steele and his reliability,” Moyer told lawmakers, according to a transcript of her testimony obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The FBI had severed ties with Steele around a week before the Nov. 8, 2016 election because of his unauthorized contacts with the media. Steele was quoted anonymously in a story published by Mother Jones on Oct. 31, 2016 that laid out claims that the Kremlin had blackmail material on Trump.
Moyer’s testimony provides new insight into why the FBI asked Ohr to reconnect with Steele. Other FBI and Justice Department officials have said that the FBI wanted to reconnect with Steele after Trump’s election win as part of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
The FBI turned to Ohr because of his longstanding ties to Steele, who operates a private intelligence firm in London.
Ohr first met with Steele regarding the ex-spy’s Trump investigation on July 30, 2016. Days after the meeting, Ohr met at FBI headquarters with then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and his general counsel, Lisa Page. Ohr testified to Congress on Aug. 28, 2018 that he told the FBI officials about the Trump-related information that Steele had shared.
Ohr also testified that Steele said he was “desperate” not to see Trump elected president because of his concerns about the Republican’s links to Russia.
The FBI did not include Steele’s comments about Trump in its FISA applications. The bureau did, however, portray Steele as a reliable and credible source.
“The FBI assesses Source #1 to be reliable,” reads the Oct. 21, 2016 FISA application, referring to Steele.
“Source #1 has been compensated by the FBI and the FBI is unaware of any derogatory information pertaining to Source #1.”
Moyer also testified that the FBI typically vouches for sources used to obtain FISA applications.
“Usually in a FISA it will say that source number one has been credible and reliable in the past,” she said.
Steele had provided information to the FBI in the past, including for a bribery investigation of FIFA, the international soccer organization. But while the FISA application puts Steele in a positive light, Moyer’s testimony suggests that the FBI still had questions about Steele.
“After we had — after the FBI closed him, the investigative team was making efforts to try to figure out if there were other issues or trying to verify the information he had provided,” Moyer said.
“So they wanted to talk to Bruce Ohr because they knew that he had had a relationship with him, so they were trying to get a better sense of his background, his reputation, the sorts of questions that you would ask others to try to verify your source reliability.”
The revelation comes in the wake of a report by The New York Times that the Justice Department inspector general is scrutinizing Steele’s role as a source for the FBI.
According to the newspaper, investigators with the inspector general’s office “have asked about role in helping the bureau investigate corruption at FIFA, the governing body of world soccer, suggesting that one focus of his is whether the bureau exaggerated Mr. Steele’s previous history with the bureau in its application to wiretap Mr. Page.”
Moyer and other FBI and Justice Department officials were interviewed last year by a task force comprised of members of the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees. Republican lawmakers formed the task force to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation as well as the Trump-Russia probe.
A major focus for Republicans on the task force has been the FBI’s use of the Steele dossier as part of the investigation of Carter Page and others on the Trump campaign.
While FBI officials have defended the FBI’s handling of the FISA applications, several developments in the Russia probe have undermined Steele’s work.
For one, special counsel Robert Mueller ended his 22-month investigation on March 22 without issuing any indictments for conspiracy between Trump associates and Kremlin officials.
Steele’s dossier described a “well-developed conspiracy” between the Trump team and Russians. Carter Page and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen are alleged in the dossier to have met with Kremlin insiders to exchange information related to the 2016 campaign.
Page has long denied the dossier’s claims. He met with Mueller’s grand jury on Nov. 17, 2017, and says he was told early on in the process that he was not a target of the investigation.
The dossier suffered another major blow on Feb. 27, when Cohen testified that he has never visited Prague. Steele alleged that Cohen met with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 to discuss making payments to Russian hackers.
As for Ohr, he communicated with Steele through 2017. Ohr provided interviews to the FBI after his interactions with Steele.