When the White House announced on Wednesday that Donald Trump had revoked former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance, it became clear that he was the first target of the president’s political vendetta, but not necessarily the last.
“As part of this review,” Trump’s statement added, “I am evaluating action with respect to the following individuals: James Clapper, James Comey, Michael Hayden, Sally Yates, Susan Rice, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.”
For much of the country, the least familiar name on Trump’s enemies list was that last one. Nevertheless, the president has been tweeting about Bruce Ohr quite a bit – four times just since this past weekend – and Trump got pretty worked up about him during a brief Q&A with reporters on the White House South Lawn this morning.
“That whole situation is a rigged witch hunt. It’s a totally rigged deal. They should be looking at the other side. They should be looking at all the people that got fired by them. All of the people that got fired. They should be looking at Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie for dealing with, by the way, indirectly, Russians. […]
“I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace. I suspect I’ll be taking [his security clearance] away very quickly. I think that Bruce Ohr is a disgrace, with his wife, Nellie. For him to be in the Justice Department, and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace.”
In light of a rant like that, it’s tempting to think Ohr is a figure of enormous significance – and yet, most Americans would probably respond to Trump’s little trade by asking, “Who?”
So let’s flesh this out a bit. A private research firm called Fusion GPS worked with Christopher Steele during the 2016 campaign to assemble a dossier on Trump’s Russian connections. The result was a report popularly known as the Steele “dossier.”
As much of the country now knows, the document includes a wide variety of provocative details, but to date, nothing from the dossier has been disproven. The White House and its allies frequently assert that the report has been “discredited,” but in reality, it has not.
Bruce Ohr, a current Justice Department official, is married to Nellie Ohr, a consultant who reportedly worked for Fusion GPS on Trump-related research.
At this point, the story gets a little complicated because some of the relevant players are interconnected. Bruce Ohr and Steele apparently knew each other years ago, and Bruce Ohr also knew Glenn Simpson, who helped create Fusion GPS. The connections make for entertaining fodder for conspiracy theorists.
But when Trump said “what he did … is a disgrace,” it’s not at all clear what, if anything, Ohr did wrong. A Washington Post analysis added this week, “As yet, there is little evidence to support Trump’s contention that Ohr helped Steele find dirt on Trump.”
But the president isn’t exactly an evidence kind of guy, and Ohr – the only current official on Trump’s enemies list – appears likely to lose his security clearance very soon, for reasons that only make sense to the guy who’s eager to punish him.