By Gregg Re, Catherine Herridge
Published May 15, 2019
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec and Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr discussed new allegations concerning the Trump campaign's Russia connections that were sourced to British ex-spy Christopher Steele, according to documents made public Wednesday.
The previous month, in October 2016, Kavalec had met with Steele and documented his political motivations in writing -- particularly that Steele's client was "keen" to see his anti-Trump materials "come to light" prior to the election. Kavelec forwarded her written notes, in which she also pointed out that some of Steele's claims were apparently false, to a senior FBI executive.
Despite Kavalec's concerns, the FBI used Steele's information to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant targeting former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page just weeks later. The warrant application did not clearly state that the dossier's creation was funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The email correspondence between Ohr and Kavalec highlighted Steele's influence in the DOJ and State Department even as concerns about his reliability mounted, and shed new light on a pivotal period in federal authorities' probe of the Trump team.
The documents were unearthed this week as part of a transparency lawsuit by the group Judicial Watch.
On Nov. 21, 2016, Kavalec began by thanking Ohr for stopping by to discuss the OCDETF (Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force), then added: "Regarding the person I mentioned, Simon Kukes, below are a couple of links to the story I mentioned."
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The first was a Mother Jones piece entitled, "A Major Russian-American Oil Magnate Is Putting Big Money Behind Trump’s Campaign." The second was an OpenSecrets article, "Russian-born oil magnate gives big to Trump Victory."
The articles reported that Russian-American oil magnate Simon Grigorievich Kukes had donated $150,000 to the Trump campaign and a related committee, his first donations in a federal election campaign.
"On this campaign donation story, I just wondered what, assuming this is true, the original source of the funding might have been," Kevalec wrote, noting that State Department colleague Tom Firestone had previously introduced her to Kukes personally.
Ohr responded: "Thank you for taking the time to meet with us. I really hope we can get something going here." Ohr did not specify exactly what he meant.
"This is very interesting -- I may have heard about him from Tom Firestone as well, but I can't recall for certain," Ohr continued. "We will take another look at this. Thanks again, and I look forward to seeing everyone at the next meeting."
In a follow-up email, Kevalec said she was "re-looking" at her notes from her October 2016 meeting with Steele, whose anti-Trump views are now widely known.
“I see Chris [Steele] said [Simon] Kukes has [sic] some connection to Serge Millian," Kevalec wrote to Ohr. Millian is a Russian businessman and a purported source for the Steele dossier.
The Hill's John Solomon first reported details of Kevalec's meeting with Steele, which Fox News later confirmed. On Nov. 1, 2016, the FBI fired Steele as a source, citing his leaks to the news media.
But the FBI had already relied on much of Steele’s work to pursue a FISA warrant against Page in October 2016. And emails previously uncovered by Judicial Watch revealed that Ohr remained in regular contact with Steele even after he was fired by the FBI as a source -- effectively providing Steele a back channel to reach the FBI and Justice Department.
According to Kevalec's notes, Steele told her of “a technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election" and acknowledged that he wanted his allegations publicized in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
Steele also told Kevalec that “payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami," according to Kevalec's notes. Kevalec quickly debunked Steele's assertion, writing in her memo: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
Fox News reported earlier this year that Ohr's own meetings with Steele in 2016 were shared by Ohr with his expansive circle of contacts inside the department -- including senior FBI leadership and officials later assigned to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Additionally, Bruce Ohr's wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS, the research group that commissioned the dossier. Nellie Ohr conducted extensive opposition research on Trump family members and campaign aides while working there, according to a transcript of her closed-door interview with Congress released earlier this year.
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Her tenure at Fusion GPS lasted from October 2015 to September 2016.
Nellie Ohr also testified that when she was hired by the firm’s co-founder Glenn Simpson, he was aware that her husband was a high-level Justice Department official.