Former Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has repeatedly downplayed her role in the spread of Christopher Steele’s anti-Trump dossier. Long-awaited evidence emerged last week showing Nuland was more involved in the dossier than she has let on – and in particular, more than she admitted under oath before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
At a June 2018 hearing, Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr asked Nuland what she knew about an October 2016 briefing Steele had given at the State Department and whether she had any role in it.
“I did not,” Nuland responded. “I actively chose not to be part of that briefing.”
In February of last year, she told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that in 2016, Steele “passed two to four pages of short points of what he was finding and our immediate reaction to that was, this is not in our purview” but rather a matter for the FBI.
Nuland, who had been the Obama administration’s top Russia hand, told much the same story in a February 2018 interview with Politico magazine. Nuland said that when she had heard about the dossier in the summer of 2016, she wanted nothing to do with it: “This is about U.S. politics, and not the work of — not the business of the State Department, and certainly not the business of a career employee who is subject to the Hatch Act, which requires that you stay out of politics. So,” Nuland said, “my advice to those who were interfacing with [Christopher Steele] was that he should get this information to the FBI, and that they could evaluate whether they thought it was credible.”
But we now know Nuland did not take her own advice.
Steele’s stories would indeed get to the FBI, but the bureau soon revoked his status as a “confidential human source” when he and his boss, Glenn Simpson, were found to be flogging the dossier to the press.
And yet Steele stayed connected to the FBI. His friend Bruce Ohr, one of the top officials at the Justice Department, became a go-between. Ohr would talk with Steele and then stop by the J. Edgar Hoover Building to recount their conversations to the bureau. Summaries of that information were written down by FBI agents in what are called “302” memos. Judicial Watch has succeeded in clawing heavily redacted copies of those memos into the open through Freedom of Information Act requests. The memos show that though Steele compiled the dossier, the most active promoter of Steele’s product was his paymaster, Fusion GPS head Glenn Simpson. Which is why Chairman Burr may have been missing a key part of the puzzle when he focused on asking Nuland about her contacts with Steele.
That becomes clear in a 302 memo of an FBI interview with Ohr from Nov. 22, 2016 – just weeks after Donald Trump won the presidential election. Ohr recounted to the FBI a crucial piece of information he had learned from Steele. As the agents wrote it down, “OHR knew Glen [sic] Simpson and others were talking to Victoria Nuland at the U.S. State Department.”
For all her talk of staying away from partisan political propaganda – of being a career federal employee subject to the Hatch Act – Nuland was having conversations with the opposition researcher on the Clinton campaign’s payroll. How many times did Nuland listen to Simpson pitch Steele’s material? What did she do with the spurious information? Who were the “others” Bruce Ohr said Nuland was talking to about the dossier? Senator Burr’s Intel committee could recall the witness to give her a chance to amend or correct her testimony, since its investigation into the Russia affair is not yet finished.
The Nuland revelation goes hand in hand with other information contained in the 302s. The reports show just how active Simpson was in working his relationship with Ohr – whose wife, Nellie, was on Simpson’s Fusion GPS payroll. According to a Dec. 19, 2016, FBI memo, “OHR had breakfast at Peet's Coffee, 11th and E St. NW, Washington, D.C. with Glenn Simpson at 10:00 A.M. on December 10, 2016. During breakfast Simpson provided OHR with an 8GB Verbatim USB micro digital media drive (thumb drive).” Ohr passed that drive on to the FBI, and its contents have not been publicly disclosed.
A Jan. 31, 2017, FBI memo states, “On January 20, 2017, OHR received an e-mail from Glen Simpson asking OHR to contact Simpson. OHR subsequently contacted Simpson telephonically.”
Come May, it was through Ohr that Simpson, under increasing congressional scrutiny, informed the FBI that he would be “lawyering up.”
Though Simpson has long been recognized as a central player in Russiagate, there is still much to learn about his work as procurer, paymaster, and promoter of conspiracy theories. The Ohr 302s are mostly redacted, the content hidden for now. At some point that material will be disclosed, and when it is, the public will learn even more about how Simpson – with the help of powerful government officials such as Victoria Nuland and Bruce Ohr – helped to catalyze a national crisis.