Chuck Ross, DCNF
- Christopher Steele was working on the Trump dossier at the same time he was lobbying DOJ official Bruce Ohr on behalf of a Russian oligarch linked to Putin.
- Newly revealed emails show Steele thought the U.S. government should grant visas to Deripaska, who had been barred from traveling to the U.S.
- Steele asked Ohr to “keep an eye” on Deripaska’s visa case.
At the same time Christopher Steele was compiling a dossier accusing the Trump campaign of colluding with the Russian government, the former British spy was lobbying Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr on behalf of a Russian oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The connection between Steele and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, is laid out in emails the Justice Department recently provided Congress.
The emails show that Steele, a former British spy, advocated for Deripaska in negotiations over his visa status with the U.S. government. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, had been blocked from traveling to the U.S. in 2006 because of suspected ties to Russian mobsters. Deripaska hired an American lawyer named Adam Waldman in 2009 to lobby the U.S. government to obtain a visa for the billionaire.
The Washington Examiner detailed the exchanges, which show Steele discussing Deripaska with Ohr, the former No. 4 official at the Justice Department.
Steele’s relationship with Deripaska has been one of the more bizarre aspects of the dossier saga, mainly because it raises the possibility that the Putin-connected businessman was a source for the salacious document. Steele’s unverified 35-page dossier relies heavily on information from anonymous Kremlin insiders who claimed that the Russian government was colluding with the Trump campaign to defeat Hillary Clinton.
“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 a Jan. 12, 2016, email to Ohr, according to The Examiner.
Steele claimed that Deripaska had been “encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening.”
“A positive development it seems,” Steele added.
Steele emailed Ohr again on Feb. 8, 2016, to say that Deripaska had been granted a visa to travel to the U.S. later that month. He also made a request of Ohr in the email.
“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,” he wrote.
Ohr said that “to the extent I can I will keep an eye on the situation.”
In a Feb. 21, 2016, email Steele said he was circulating reporting that he had done on Deripaska that suggested the oligarch was not a “tool” of the Kremlin.
“We reckon therefore that the forthcoming [Deripaska] contact represents a good opportunity for the [U.S. Government],” said Steele.
Links between the Steele and Deripaska began to emerge earlier in 2018 after Republican lawmakers began inquiring about a possible relationship between the two.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has pressed Steele, Waldman and a London-based lawyer named Paul Hauser about Steele’s possible links to Deripaska.
FBI Director Christopher Wray was also asked about the relationship during a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Feb. 13.
“Do you know if Christopher Steele worked for Oleg Deripaska?” Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton asked Wray.
“That’s not something I can answer,” Wray replied, adding added that “there might be more” that he could say in a classified setting.
It is still not clear whether Steele was working for Deripaska or interested in his visa status for other reasons.
Steele’s support for Deripaska would seem to undercut one of Trump critics’ theories about possible collusion: that Deripaska conspired with Paul Manafort.
Deripaska’s business ties to the longtime Republican political operative have come under intense scrutiny from Democrats and the media, leading to some speculation that Manafort and Deripaska may have colluded during the 2016 presidential campaign.
In one July 7, 2016, email, Manafort told a Ukraine-based associate that he would be willing to provide briefings about the campaign to Deripaska.
“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote to his associate, Konstantin Kilimnik.
At the time, Manafort and Deripaska were in a dispute over a failed business deal involving Ukrainian cable companies.
Manafort is currently on trial in Virginia for tax evasion and money laundering related to his political work in Ukraine.
Steele and Ohr maintained contact throughout the presidential campaign and beyond, according to Ohr’s emails.
On July 1, 2016, Steele reached out to Ohr in hopes of discussing “our favourite business tycoon!” It is unclear if Steele was referring to Deripaska or Donald Trump. Steele met with Ohr and his wife, a Russia expert named Nellie Ohr, on July 30, 2016, at a Washington, D.C., hotel.
Nellie Ohr also happened to work at the time for Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Steele.
Bruce Ohr and Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson also appear to have had contact prior to the election. Simpson emailed Ohr on Aug. 22, 2016, asking to speak by phone.
It is not clear whether the two spoke, but Simpson did not disclose that contact when he discussed Ohr during a Nov. 14, 2017, deposition before the House Intelligence Committee.
During that interview, Simpson said he met with Ohr for coffee after the election to discuss the Trump investigation. Simpson did not tell the House panel that Ohr’s wife worked for Fusion GPS.
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