A senior Justice Department lawyer said a former British spy told him at a breakfast meeting two years ago that Russian intelligence believed it had Donald Trump “over a barrel,” multiple people familiar with the encounter claimed.
The lawyer, Bruce Ohr, also said he learned that a Trump campaign aide had met with higher-level Russian officials than the aide had acknowledged, the people said.
The previously unreported details of the July 30, 2016 breakfast with Christopher Steele, which Ohr described to lawmakers this week in a private interview, reveal an exchange of potentially explosive information about Trump between two men the president has relentlessly sought to discredit.
They add to the public understanding of those pivotal summer months as the FBI and intelligence community scrambled to untangle possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. And they reflect the concern of Steele, a longtime FBI informant whose Democratic-funded research into Trump ties to Russia was compiled into a dossier, that the Republican presidential candidate was possibly compromised and his urgent efforts to convey that anxiety to contacts at the FBI and Justice Department.
The people who discussed Ohr’s interview were not authorized to publicly discuss details of the closed session and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Among the things Ohr said he learned from Steele during the breakfast was that an unnamed former Russian intelligence official had communicated 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 was directly told that or had picked that up through his contacts, but the broader sentiment is echoed in Steele’s dossier.
Steele and Ohr, at the time of the election a senior official in the deputy attorney general’s office, had first met a decade earlier and bonded over a shared interest in international organized crime. They met several times during the presidential campaign, a relationship that has exposed both men and federal law enforcement more generally to partisan criticism, including from Trump.
Republicans contend the FBI relied excessively on the dossier during its investigation and to obtain a secret wiretap application on Trump campaign aide Carter Page. They also say Ohr went outside his job description and chain of command by meeting with Steele, including after his termination as a FBI source, and then relaying information to the FBI.
Trump this month proposed stripping Ohr, who until this year had been largely anonymous during his decades-long Justice Department career, of his security clearance and has asked “how the hell” he remains employed. He has called the Russia investigation a “witch hunt” and denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
The President and some of his supporters in Congress have also accused the FBI of launching the entire Russia counterintelligence investigation based on the dossier. But memos authored by Republicans and Democrats and declassified this year show the probe was triggered by information the U.S. government earlier received about the Russian contacts of then-Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.