Democrats: Republicans ‘cherry-picked’ Russia probe documents to quiz U.S. official

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats on Friday accused Republicans of “cherry-picking” and leaking portions of text messages and emails between a U.S. law enforcement official and a former British spy who investigated then-businessman Donald Trump‘s ties to the Russian government.

Two lawmakers made the charge in a letter to the Republican chairmen of the U.S. House of Representatives judiciary and government oversight panels, which on Tuesday questioned Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr about his ties with former MI6 officer Christopher Steele.

The letter was the latest salvo in a fight between the political parties as Republicans have criticized the propriety of the FBI‘s probe of ties between Moscow and Trump aides and whether they coordinated during the 2016 U.S. election campaign.

The Democratic lawmakers said Republicans appeared to have violated House rules because they failed to share the communications between Ohr and Steele in 2016 and 2017 with the minority party. The materials were not among 800,000 pages of documents provided by the Justice Department to their panels, they said.

Steele assembled a dossier on Trump for research firm Fusion GPS, which was hired by Democratic Party lawyers and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton‘s campaign. Trump supporters accuse Ohr of cooperating with Steele on the dossier that outlined Russian financial ties and salacious personal details.

By the time the FBI received the dossier the agency had already started its probe of Russian interference in the campaign, which the Kremlin denies.

Two sources familiar with the dossier told Reuters on condition of anonymity that Ohr had no role in its compilation. Ohr’s lawyer did not immediately return a request for comment on Friday.

The communications between Ohr and Steele were marked “law enforcement sensitive” because they related “to a confidential human source,” the Democratic lawmakers said.

In questioning Ohr, lawmakers Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler said, Republicans were selective about his communications with Steele to create “a highly misleading narrative with factually inaccurate interpretations and conjecture” that they were discussing Trump.

As an example, they said, Republicans read a portion of an email in which Steele wrote that he wanted to speak with Ohr about “our favorite business tycoon.”

Republicans assumed they were discussing Trump, but Ohr answered that the “business tycoon” was Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, the two Democrats said.

Deripaska is a former business associate of Paul Manafort, who was convicted this month of financial wrongdoing charges related to his work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine that predated a stint as Trump‘s campaign manager.

A spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte did not respond to requests for comment.

Trump calls investigations of Russia ties “a rigged witch hunt.” He has also singled out Bruce Ohr, saying he was a “disgrace” and that he would revoke his security clearance.

Another Republican point of protest is that Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, had worked as a subcontractor for Fusion. The Ohrs are experts on Russian organized crime, which is how they came in contact with Fusion and Steele.

Cummings and Nadler said it appeared the texts and emails were given to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI).

Amanda Gonzalez, spokeswoman for Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, responded in an email that as a member of the HPSCI, Gowdy “has never once shared these documents with a single individual outside of HPSCI.”

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; editing by John Walcott and Grant McCool)