by Chuck Ross
Justice Department official Bruce Ohr’s congressional testimony undercuts testimony given by Glenn Simpson, the founder of the opposition firm that commissioned the infamous Steele dossier.
Ohr’s testimony, a transcript of which was published Friday, also confirms reports that Simpson was the source of a heavily disputed allegation about conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell.
Ohr told lawmakers in an Aug. 28, 2018 hearing that he met Simpson prior to the 2016 election to discuss information gathered by Christopher Steele, the former British spy who authored the dossier. That conflicts with Simpson’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that he met Ohr only after the election and at Ohr’s request.
Ohr also revealed Simpson provided him during a meeting in December 2016 with a seemingly false lead about Mitchell that ended up in a news article published in 2018.
Both of Simpson’s inaccurate claims have been reported in the past, but they were not officially confirmed until Friday, when Georgia GOP Rep. Doug Collins released a transcript of Ohr’s testimony before the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees.
In his interview, Ohr discussed his interactions with Simpson and Steele, a former MI6 officer. Ohr served as a back channel between Steele and the FBI after the 2016 election. He met twice with both Simpson and Steele to exchange information that Steele gathered as part of the dossier project.
Some Republican lawmakers have suggested that Simpson lied about the timeline of his interactions with Ohr, whose wife worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS. Texas GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe said on Oct. 14, 2018 that Simpson faced “real legal jeopardy” over his testimony. Simpson pleaded the Fifth two days later to avoid testifying to the House Judiciary and House Oversight Committees.
The testimony that could land Simpson in hot water took place before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 14, 2017. In the closed-door hearing, Simpson acknowledged that he met with Ohr, but he claimed the meeting occurred after the 2016 election. He also suggested that Ohr sought the meeting.
Ohr’s testimony conflicts directly with both claims.
Ohr said that he met twice with Simpson, on Aug. 22, 2016 and again on Dec. 10, 2016. He also testified it was Simpson who reached out to him and not the other way around.
Simpson revealed his contacts with Ohr after being asked in the November 2017 hearing whether he had heard from anyone at the FBI or Justice Department about his and Steele’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
“After the election. I mean, during the election, no,” Simpson said.
“What did you hear after and from whom and when?” a House staffer asked.
“I was asked to provide some information to the Justice Department,” Simpson replied.
When asked who contacted him and when, Simpson said: “It was by a prosecutor named Bruce Ohr, who was following up. You know, I can’t remember when. It was sometime after Thanksgiving, I think.”
“Did Mr. Ohr reach out to you, or how did that shake out?” he was asked.
Simpson did not acknowledge that he reached out to Ohr. Instead, he said that Steele had been in touch with Ohr “and that Bruce wanted more information.” Steele and Ohr had met on July 30, 2016.
Simpson claimed again that his interaction with Ohr occurred only after the election.
“The context of this is that it was after the election,” said Simpson. “A very surprising thing had happened, which is that Donald Trump had won. There was — we were — by that time, we were enormously concerned about rapidly accumulating indications that the Russian Government had mounted a massive attack on the American election system and that, you know, Donald Trump or his associates might have been involved.”
Ohr suggested in his testimony that Simpson initiated the December 2016 meeting. He also said that Simpson provided him with a memory stick that he wanted given to the FBI. That would seem to conflict with Simpson’s testimony that he was asked to provide information to the Justice Department and that Ohr requested the information.
“So, as I think I may have mentioned earlier, Glenn Simpson wanted to meet in early December, whatever date that was in December. At that meeting, he provided me with a memory stick and provided some additional details on information about possible connections between the Russian Government and the Trump campaign,” Ohr testified.
Simpson has not commented on his testimony. It is unclear why Simpson would have lied about his contacts with Ohr, but some Republicans have theorized the opposition researcher did not want to acknowledge the breadth of his efforts to disseminate information from the dossier.
Ohr also confirmed in his testimony that Simpson provided him with information on Mitchell during their meeting on Dec. 10, 2016.
“I think it was Glenn Simpson mentioned to me was that Cleta Mitchell became aware of money moving through the NRA or something like that from Russia,” Ohr testified. “And I don’t remember the exact circumstances. And that she was upset about it, but the election was over. I seem to remember that from my notes.”
Mitchell would later pop up on the radar of California Rep. Adam Schiff. The top House Intelligence Democrat released a memo on March 13, 2018 that included Mitchell on a list of potential witnesses in the committee’s Russia investigation. Two days later, McClatchy published a story revealing why Mitchell was of interest to Schiff.
The McClatchy story matched closely with what Simpson told Ohr, suggesting the Fusion GPS founder was somehow the initial source of information on Mitchell. Mitchell had privately expressed concerns that Russian money flowed into the National Rifle Association, according to the article.
There was one major flaw in the story.
The report initially claimed that Mitchell was a member of NRA’s board of directors. But in response to the report, Mitchell said that she left the board in 2012 and had no contact with the gun rights group during the campaign.
“I’ve never ever expressed any concerns because I’ve never had such concerns,” Mitchell told Talking Points Memo. “Never crossed my mind. Ever.”
Mitchell told The Daily Caller News Foundation that reporters from ABC News and CNN approached her weeks before Schiff’s letter inquiring about the information that ended up in the McClatchy piece.
Notably, the two reporters who wrote the Mitchell story are also behind two controversial reports alleging that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin officials. That claim is one of the main allegations of collusion in Steele’s dossier. Cohen denied the claim in sworn congressional testimony on Feb. 27.
McClatchy says it stands behind all of its reporting on Mitchell and Cohen.
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Chuck Ross is a reporter for the Daily Caller News Foundation. Follow Chuck on Twitter.