First came the text messages between FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, which gave us a painful glimpse at potential political bias inside America’s most famous crime-fighting bureau.
Now, a series of “Hi Honey” emails from Nellie Ohr to her high-ranking federal prosecutor husband and his colleagues raise the prospect that Hillary Clinton-funded opposition research was being funneled into the Justice Department during the 2016 election through a back-door marital channel. It’s a tale that raises questions of both conflict of interest and possible false testimony.
Ohr has admitted to Congress that, during the 2016 presidential election, she worked for Fusion GPS — the firm hired by Democratic nominee Clinton and the Democratic National Committee to perform political opposition research — on a project specifically trying to connect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKhalifa Haftar is no longer part of Libya’s solution Poll: 70 percent of Dems support impeachment hearings after Mueller report Seattle mayor: Federalizing local law enforcement in sanctuary cities isn’t making America safer MORE and his campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, to Russian organized crime.
Now, 339 pages of emails from her private account to Department of Justice (DOJ) email accounts, have been released under a Freedom of Information Act request by the conservative legal group Judicial Watch. And they are raising concerns among Republicans in Congress, who filed a criminal referral with the Justice Department on Wednesday night.
They clearly show that Ohr sent reams of open-source intelligence to her husband, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, and on some occasions to at least three DOJ prosecutors: Lisa Holtyn, Ivana Nizich and Joseph Wheatley.
The contents tracked corruption developments in Russia and Ukraine, including intelligence affecting Russian figures she told Congress she had tried to connect to Trump or Manafort.
“Hi Honey, if you ever get a moment you might find the penultimate article interesting — especially the summary in the final paragraph,” Nellie Ohr emailed her husband on July 6, 2016, in one typical communication. The article and paragraph she flagged suggested that Trump was a Putin stooge: “If Putin wanted to concoct the ideal candidate to service his purposes, his laboratory creation would look like Donald Trump.” Nellie Ohr bolded that key sentence for apparent emphasis.
Such overt political content flowing into the email accounts of a DOJ charged with the nonpartisan mission of prosecuting crimes is jarring enough. It raises additional questions about potential conflicts of interest when it is being injected by a spouse working as a Democratic contractor trying to defeat Trump, and she is forwarding her own research to her husband’s department and co-workers.
For instance, the same July 6, 2016, email that forwarded the anti-Trump screed also included research on an oligarch named Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian that Nellie Ohr told Congress she was researching for Fusion for possible ties to Trump.
“Rinat Akhmetov is someone who also was associated with Manafort. Now, he’s Ukrainian, and right now, I can’t remember whether people explicitly, you know, pointed to particular organized crime activity that he’s suspected of,” she testified.
Other emails that Nellie Ohr forwarded to her husband and the other DOJ officials contained links to open-source information, such as news articles and academic research, that would later surface as evidence of alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. They included that:
- then-Russian ambassador to Washington Sergey Kislyak attended an April 2016 foreign policy speech by Trump. Former Attorney General Jeff Session eventually was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation as attorney general in part because he met Kislyak at that speech;
- then-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page gave a July 2016 speech in Moscow. Nellie Ohr bolded a passage in the article noting Page’s company “continues to work with Russian investments” and included someone tied to the Russian energy giant GazProm.
House GOP investigators who reviewed Nellie Ohr’s emails believe that their timing may be essential to understanding how the false Russian narrative — special counsel Robert Mueller’s report did not establish there was Trump-Putin collusion — may have gotten such credence inside DOJ and intelligence circles despite its overtly political origins.
For instance, just 24 days after the anti-Trump screed was emailed, both Ohrs met in Washington with British intelligence operative Christopher Steele. Nellie Ohr testified that she had known Steele from past encounters and learned at that July 31, 2016, meeting at the Mayflower Hotel that Steele, like herself, was working for Fusion GPS on Trump-Russia research. She said she learned that Steele had concerns that he hoped the DOJ or FBI would investigate, with help from her husband.
The next day, Bruce Ohr used his official DOJ position to go to then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe with Steele’s allegations (later to become known as the Steele dossier), and the bureau opened its first investigation into Russia collusion.
When asked by House lawyers during her deposition last year, Nellie Ohr testified that she did not discuss her Fusion GPS research before fall 2016 with anyone except possibly her husband (which she refused to answer, citing marital privilege) and Steele at the hotel meeting.
Bruce Ohr testified that his wife gave him a thumb drive of research to provide to the FBI during the 2016 election.
“At any point prior to fall of 2016, did you discuss your research on organized crime and Donald Trump with individuals outside of Fusion GPS, outside of this Mayflower breakfast meeting?” Nellie Ohr was asked during her congressional testimony last fall. “No,” she testified.
But the DOJ emails show that Nellie Ohr frequently forwarded open-source research on Russian organized crime figures, Trump, Manafort and developments in Ukraine with implications for the Trump campaign.
For instance, she directly alerted her husband and two DOJ prosecutors specializing in international crime on May 30, 2016, to the discovery of “black ledger” documents in Ukraine. “Reported Trove of documents on Ukrainian Party of Regions’ Black Cashbox,” Nellie Ohr wrote her husband, Holtyn and Wheatley, attaching a news article on the announcement of the Ukrainian release of the documents.
Those documents eventually led Manafort to resign from the Trump campaign and face criminal prosecution by Mueller’s team for improper foreign lobbying.
Two months earlier, in March 2016, Holtyn asked Bruce Ohr for permission for Wheatley and another DOJ prosecutor to speak to Nellie Ohr. “Do you think she would be comfortable with talking to them, and would it present any conflict of interest issues for her or for you?” Holtyn wrote.
Bruce Ohr forwarded the request to his wife: “Hi honey! I trust you are okay with this? Love, B.” She wrote back two consecutive emails with the words “Sure!” and “Cool.”
There is no indication in the emails about what the three discussed. But Holtyn and Wheatley were among those who received some of Nellie Ohr’s Russia/Ukraine research. Holtyn sent a second email suggesting Nellie Ohr had “impressive knowledge” on a topic that was redacted from the released email chain and could be “of assistance” to the DOJ. Officials told me they believe the topic was Russian oligarchs, a subject her husband was working on in his official role.
“Thanks so much Nellie. I’m back in country and will touch base soon on the email you sent us yesterday,” Wheatley wrote on May 4, 2016, after Nellie Ohr forwarded information on a Spanish arrest warrant against Russian crime figures.
On more than one occasion, Nellie Ohr forwarded articles about Oleg Deripaska, the Russian aluminum magnate and former Manafort business partner. She testified that Deripaska was one of the focal points of her research.
As it turns out, the Russian also was being targeted by her husband and Steele. Emails, text messages and handwritten notes show that, during the 2016 campaign, they repeatedly discussed approaching Deripaska about delivering dirt on Manafort. The FBI eventually did so in fall 2016.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), one of those who questioned Nellie Ohr last fall, said he is reviewing the accuracy of her testimony given the recent emergence of the emails.
“If Ms. Ohr used her time at the opposition research firm to place information directly in the hands of investigators, it would be a severe conflict of interest,” Meadows told me. “Contrary to Ms. Ohr’s congressional testimony, it appears that she funneled research gathered during her time at Fusion GPS directly to the DOJ. A draft of a criminal referral for giving false testimony to Congress is currently being reviewed.”
Joshua Berman, a lawyer for Nellie Ohr, did not immediately respond to email and phone requests for comment.
Tom Fitton, head of Judicial Watch, said the memos raise serious questions of a conflict of interest hidden behind a marriage: “The documents show that Nellie Ohr had extraordinary access to the Justice Department. Nellie Ohr may as well as have had a desk at DOJ.”
Whatever transpires, it is clear Nellie Ohr was no ordinary spouse during the 2016 election. She was a robust source of Russia information for her husband and his colleagues inside the DOJ, at the same time her employer was trying to smear Trump.
And that should concern us all.
John Solomon is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work over the years has exposed U.S. and FBI intelligence failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal scientists’ misuse of foster children and veterans in drug experiments, and numerous cases of political corruption. He serves as an investigative columnist and executive vice president for video at The Hill. Follow him on Twitter @jsolomonReports.