There is not now and has never been a secret conspiracy in the Justice Department to bring down Donald Trump. Everyone isn’t as obsessed with Trump as Trump is. A new report from The New York Times out this weekend confirms as much.
The piece explains that the Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr, who Trump has targeted time and time again, worked on a classified effort to turn prominent, wealthy Russians into information sources for U.S. authorities. These efforts — which involved the infamous former British spy Christopher Steele — began well before Trump ever announced his intent to run for the presidency.
Trump has criticized Ohr for his relationship with Steele, claiming it as evidence that the Justice Department is biased against him. Steele, after all, produced an infamous dossier of allegations against Trump and his associates outlining an alleged plan for the Trump team to collude with the Russians to rig the 2016 U.S. elections. Ohr and Steele’s relationship, however, is grounded in serious law enforcement goals, not the conspiratorial fantasy world Trump’s lost in.
One of those who Ohr and Steele targeted was Oleg Deripaska, who’s been in the news at times throughout the duration of the Russia scandal in part because of his past business relationship with disgraced former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Steele helped set up a meeting between Deripaska and U.S. authorities in 2015, at which the U.S. pitched the idea of Deripaska providing information about Russian organized crime in exchange for various forms of legal help.
Deripaska rejected the offer, rebuffing U.S. perceptions of the relationship of Russian organized crime to the Russian government.
The next time authorities reached out to Deripaska was a year later, when FBI agents showed up unannounced at his doorstep to ask about Paul Manafort. Deripaska again rebuffed U.S. authorities, claiming their theories about connections of the Trump team to Russia — including through Paul Manafort — were “preposterous.”
For the record, although the charges don’t specifically condemn the Trump team as having colluded with Russia to tilt the election, Manafort was recently convicted of massive financial fraud and is facing a second trial in D.C. this month over his secret work for pro-Putin interests.
Trump has denounced the whole Russia investigation as a witch hunt, but it just gets harder and harder for him to do that.
Among his many targets, Ohr has been reassigned away from his past positions in the wake of scrutiny of his involvement with Steele. At a mid-2016 meeting, Steele presented Ohr with information about his infamous dossier, but Ohr did not relay anything that kickstarted an investigation. The Russia investigation was already in motion. It was just a conversation.
The officials who relayed info about his and Steele’s collaboration on efforts to flip prominent, powerful Russian businessmen explained that they did not want to let “Mr. Trump and his allies… use the program’s secrecy as a screen with which they could cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.”
Trump may continue to attack the investigation — but the facts are out there.
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