People With Expertise in Russian Organized Crime Are Trump’s ‘Deep State’

The latest person to be targeted in Trump’s ongoing battle with the so-called “deep state” is Bruce Ohr, who works in the criminal division at the Justice Department and is an expert in Russian organized crime. Trump has tweeted about Ohr more than a dozen times this month, including unhinged rants like this:

Why is Ohr the latest target for the president and his enablers? This week, he was interviewed by the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees behind closed doors and it is obvious that some people who were present have been leaking information to the press about what he said. According to the Associated Press, Ohr told members of congress about a breakfast meeting he had with Christopher Steele, former British MI6 officer who is the author of the dossier, on July 30, 2016.

Among the things Ohr said he learned from Steele during the breakfast was that an unnamed former Russian intelligence official had said that Russian intelligence believed “they had Trump over a barrel,” according to people familiar with the meeting. It was not clear from Ohr’s interview whether Steele had been directly told that or had picked that up through his contacts, but the broader sentiment is echoed in Steele’s research dossier…

Ohr also told Congress that Steele told him that Page, a Trump campaign aide who traveled to Moscow that same month and whose ties to Russia attracted FBI scrutiny, had met with more senior Russian officials than he had acknowledged meeting with.

Included in the Steele dossier and later confirmed in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Page met with members of Russia’s presidential administration and the head of investor relations at the Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft during his trip to Moscow in July 2016. But the report that Russian intelligence believed “they had Trump over a barrel” is pretty explosive without providing much back-up.

It is interesting to contrast what sources told AP about Ohr’s testimony to what Trump’s most consistent enabler at the Wall Street JournalKimberley Strassel, heard from her Republican sources on the committees.

Strassel: “[The Committees] discovered that Mr. Ohr had numerous interactions of his own with Fusion chief Glenn Simpson and dossier author Christopher Steele, and that he passed on information from these talks to the bureau.”

AP: “In the interview, Ohr acknowledged that he had not told superiors in his office, including Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, about his meetings with Steele because he considered the information inflammatory raw source material.”

Strassel: “Congressional sources tell me that Mr. Ohr revealed Tuesday that he verbally warned the FBI that its source had a credibility problem, alerting the bureau to Mr. Steele’s leanings and motives.”

AP: “Ohr told lawmakers he could not vouch for the accuracy of Steele’s information but has said he considered him a reliable FBI informant who delivered credible and actionable intelligence…”

Either Strassel’s sources didn’t tell her about the “over a barrel” comment or she chose to not include it in her analysis. Either way, it is clear that Republicans are in total spin mode about Ohr’s testimony and Strassel is happy to accommodate. None of this strikes me as terribly significant, which means that it fails to answer the question of why Trump is targeting Ohr for demonization.

The answer is more likely to come from the kind of pattern Natasha Bertrand documents.

Bruce Ohr. Lisa Page. Andrew Weissmann. Andrew McCabe. President Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked these FBI and Justice Department officials as dishonest “Democrats” engaged in a partisan “witch hunt” led by the special counsel determined to tie his campaign to Russia. But Trump’s attacks have also served to highlight another thread among these officials and others who have investigated his campaign: their extensive experience in probing money laundering and organized crime, particularly as they pertain to Russia.

To the list at the beginning of that paragraph, we can add the name Christopher Steele, who has known Bruce Ohr since 2007 when he who provided intelligence on Russia to the State Department and the FBI’s Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force.

The pattern we see developing is that when Donald Trump talks about the “deep state” that is out to get him, he’s actually referring to two groups of people: (1) anyone involved with the Trump-Russia investigation, and (2) anyone with deep knowledge about Russian organized crime. Could it be that there is a link between the two?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.