steel ohr simpson
Emails in 2016 between former British spy Christopher Steele and Justice Department official Bruce Ohr suggest Steele was deeply concerned about the legal status of a Putin-linked Russian oligarch, and at times seemed to be advocating on the oligarch's behalf, in the same time period Steele worked on collecting the Russia-related allegations against Donald Trump that came to be known as the Trump dossier. The emails show Steele and Ohr were in frequent contact, that they intermingled talk about Steele's research and the oligarch's affairs, and that Glenn Simpson, head of the dirt-digging group Fusion GPS that hired Steele to compile the dossier, was also part of the ongoing conversation.

The emails, given to Congress by the Justice Department, began on Jan. 12, 2016, when Steele sent Ohr a New Year's greeting. Steele brought up the case of Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska (referred to in various emails as both OD and OVD), who was at the time seeking a visa to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the United States. Years earlier, the U.S. revoked Deripaska's visa, reportedly on the basis of suspected involvement with Russian organized crime. Deripaska was close to Paul Manafort, the short-term Trump campaign chairman now on trial for financial crimes, and this year was sanctioned in the wake of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

"I heard from Adam WALDMAN [a Deripaska lawyer/lobbyist] yesterday that OD is applying for another official US visa ice [sic] APEC business at the end of February," Steele wrote in the Jan. 12 email. Steele said Deripaska was being "encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening." Steele concluded: "A positive development it seems."

Steele also asked Ohr when he might be coming to London, or somewhere in Europe, "as I would be keen to meet up here and talk business." Ohr replied warmly the same day and said he would likely travel to Europe, but not the U.K., at least twice in February.

Steele emailed again on Feb. 8 to alert Ohr that "our old friend OD apparently has been granted another official [emphasis in original] visa to come to the US later this month." Steele wrote, "As far as I'm concerned, this is good news all round although as before, it would be helpful if you could monitor it and let me know if any complications arise." Ohr replied that he knew about Deripaska's visa, and "to the extent I can I will keep an eye on the situation." Steele again asked to meet anytime Ohr was in the U.K. or Western Europe.

Steele wrote again on Feb. 21 in an email headlined "Re: OVD - Visit To The US." Steele told Ohr he had talked to Waldman and to Paul Hauser, who was Deripaska's London lawyer. Steele reported that there would be a U.S. government meeting on Deripaska that week - "an inter-agency meeting on him this week which I guess you will be attending." Steele said he was "circulating some recent sensitive Orbis reporting" on Deripaska that suggested Deripaska was not a "tool" of the Kremlin. Steele said he would send the reporting to a name that is redacted in the email, "as he has asked, for legal reasons I understand, for all such reporting be filtered through him (to you at DoJ and others)."

Deripaska's rehabilitation was a good thing, Steele wrote: "We reckon therefore that the forthcoming OVD contact represents a good opportunity for the USG." Ohr responded by saying, "Thanks Chris! This is extremely interesting. I hope we can follow up in the next few weeks as you suggest."

Steele was eager to see Ohr face to face. On March 17, Steele wrote a brief note asking if Ohr had any update on plans to visit Europe "in the near term where we could meet up." Ohr said he did not and asked if Steele would like to set up a call. It is not clear whether a call took place.

There are no emails for more than three months after March 17. Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. "I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business," Steele wrote to Ohr, "but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!" Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Ohr's phone log for July 7 notes, "Call with Chris Steele" from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. eastern time.

(A caution here: It is possible the "favourite business tycoon" could be Deripaska, or perhaps even someone else, and not Trump. But no one referred to Deripaska in that way anywhere else in the communications. Also, Steele made it clear the "tycoon" subject was separate from other business. And July 1 was just before Steele met with the FBI with the first installment of the Trump dossier. So it appears reasonable, given Steele's well-known obsession with Trump, and unless information emerges otherwise, to see the "favourite business tycoon" as Trump.)

On the morning of Friday, July 29, Steele wrote to say that he would "be in DC at short notice on business" later that day and Saturday. He asked if Ohr and wife Nellie were free for breakfast on Saturday morning. They were, and agreed to meet for breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington.

Ohr's log of contacts with Steele lists a meeting with Steele on July 30. Steele finished installments of the dossier on July 19 and 26.

On Aug. 22, Ohr received an email from Simpson with the subject line "Can u ring." There was no message beyond a phone number. Ohr's log lists some sort of contact - it's not specified what - with Simpson on Aug. 22.

Steele finished an installment of the dossier on Aug. 22.

Steele dated three installments of the dossier on Sept. 14. On Sept. 16, Steele wrote Ohr to say that he would be back in Washington soon "on business of mutual interest." Ohr said he would be out of town Sept. 19-21. On Sept. 21, Steele wrote to say he was in Washington and was "keen to meet up with you." The two agreed to have breakfast on Sept. 23. Meeting on that date would be "more useful," Steele said, "after my scheduled meetings" the day before. It's not clear what those scheduled meetings were. Ohr's log lists a meeting with Steele on Sept. 23.

On October 18, Steele emailed Ohr at 6:51 a.m. with a pressing matter. "If you are in Washington today, I have something quite urgent I would like to discuss with you, preferably by Skype (even before work if you can)." Steele wrote. Ohr suggested they do it immediately. "Thanks Bruce. 2 mins," Steele replied. Ohr's log lists a call with Steele on Oct. 18.

There is no note on what they discussed. But a few hours later, still on Oct. 18, Steele emailed Ohr again, and the subject was related to Deripaska. "Further to our Skypecon earlier today," Steele wrote, Hauser had asked Steele to forward to Ohr information about a dispute between the government of Ukraine and RUSAL, Deripaska's aluminum company. "Naturally, he [Hauser] wants to protect the client's [Deripaska's] interests and reputation," Steele wrote. "I pass it on for what it's worth."

After another few hours had passed, Ohr asked if Steele had time for a Skype call. Steele said, let's do it now. Ohr's log lists calls with Steele on Oct. 18 and 19.

Steele finished dossier installments on Oct. 18, 19, and 20. The installment on Oct. 18 was the infamous Russians-offer-Carter-Page-millions-of-dollars allegation, and the ones on Oct. 19 and 20 concerned Manafort's alleged role in an alleged collusion scheme.

On Nov. 21, other players entered the conversation. Ohr received an an email from Kathleen Kavalec, a deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of European Affairs in the State Department. (Kavalec is now President Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Albania.) Kavalec sent Ohr information on Simon Kukes, a Russian-born executive who contributed more than $250,000 to Trump-supporting organizations after Trump won the Republican nomination. Kavalec said she met Kukes around 2014, when "Tom Firestone brought him in," a reference to former Justice Department official Thomas Firestone, now a partner at the Washington law firm BakerHostetler. Kavalec also linked to a Mother Jones article about Kukes.

Ohr responded by saying, "I may have heard about him from Tom Firestone as well, but I can't recall for certain." Then Kavalec answered by saying she was "just re-looking at my notes from my convo with Chris Steele" and that "I see that Chris said Kukes has some connection to Serge Millian, an emigre who is identified by FT as head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce." [In the book Russian Roulette, authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn wrote that Millian claimed to have some sort of business relationship with the Trump organization - which the Trumps denied. More importantly, Millian went on to become Steele's source for the infamous "golden showers" allegation that Donald Trump had engaged in a kinky sex scene in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.]

Ohr's phone log indicates that he called Simpson on Dec. 8 to set up a meeting for coffee the next day, Dec. 9.

There is not another email until Dec. 11. Simpson sent Nellie Ohr a link to an article in the left-wing ThinkProgress headlined, "Why has the NRA been cozying up to Russia?" The article focused on now-indicted Russian agent Maria Butina and Russian Alexander Torshin. Nellie Ohr responded, "Thank you!" to which Simpson, the next day, answered, "Please ring if you can." Nellie Ohr forwarded the Simpson message to Bruce Ohr, saying, "I assume Glenn means you not me."

Ohr's phone log on Dec. 13 said, "Glenn Simpson. Some more news. Yesterday 9:27 a.m. Spoke with him."

Steele dated a dossier installment Dec. 13.

On Jan. 20, 2017, inauguration day, Bruce Ohr received an email from Simpson that said simply, "Can you call me please?"

The emails raise a clear question of whether Steele was working, directly or indirectly, with Oleg Deripaska at the same time Steele was compiling the dossier - and whether the Justice Department, along with Simpson and Fusion GPS, was part of the project. Given Deripaska's place in the Russian power structure, what that means in the big picture is unclear.

On Feb. 9 of this year, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley wrote a letter to Hauser, the London lawyer, and asked, "Is it the case that Mr. Steele, through you, works or has worked on behalf of Mr. Deripaska or businesses associated with him?"

Hauser refused to answer, claiming such information was privileged. But he added: "I can confirm that neither my firm nor I was involved in the commissioning of, preparation of or payment for the so-called 'Steele Dossier.' I am not aware of any involvement by Mr. Deripaska in commissioning, preparing or paying for that document."

On Feb. 14, at an open hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican Sen. Tom Cotton asked FBI Director Christopher Wray about Deripaska.

"Is it fair to call him a Putin-linked Russian oligarch?" asked Cotton.

"Well, I'll leave that characterization to others, and certainly not in this setting," Wray said.

"Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, last week sent a letter to a London-based lawyer who represents Mr. Deripaska," Cotton continued, "and asked if Christopher Steele was employed, either directly or indirectly, by Oleg Deripaska at the time he was writing the so-called Steele dossier. Do you know if Christopher Steele worked for Oleg Deripaska?'

"That's not something I can answer," Wray said.

"Could we discuss it in a classified setting?"

"There might be more we could say there," Wray answered.

The newly-released Ohr-Steele-Simpson emails are just one part of the dossier story. But if nothing else, they show that there is still much for the public to learn about the complex and far-reaching effort behind it.