(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper ordered the FBI to conduct a search within 60 days for records of communications with former British spy and dossier author Christopher Steele post-dating Steele’s service as an FBI confidential source. In ordering the supplemental search for records, Judge Cooper held:
[T]he potential for illuminating the FBI’s activities is not too difficult to discern. Communications post-dating Steele’s time as an informant might reveal a great deal about why the FBI developed him as a CHS [confidential human source], his performance as a CHS, and why the FBI opted to terminate its relationship with him. Those records might either bolster or weaken Steele’s credibility as a source. That information, in turn, could provide a basis on which to evaluate the FBI’s performance of its law-enforcement duties, including its judgment in selecting and relying on confidential sources, especially in connection with such a politically sensitive subject. Of course, the records Judicial Watch speculates about might not even exist—and even if they do, they may not reveal anything significant about the FBI’s operations. But that they might do so makes them a matter of potential public interest.
The court ruling came in the Judicial Watch Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for records of communications and payments between the FBI, Christopher Steele and his private firm, Orbis Business Intelligence (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice) (No. 1:17-cv-00916)). The lawsuit seeks:
- All records of communications between any official, employee, or representative of the FBI and Mr. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer and the owner of the private firm Orbis Business Intelligence.
- All records related to the proposed, planned, or actual payment of any funds to Mr. Steele and/or Orbis Business Intelligence.
- All records produced in preparation for, during, or pursuant to any meetings or telephonic conversations between any official, employee, or representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mr. Christopher Steele and/or any employee or representative of Orbis Business Intelligence.
The court initially ruled in favor of a DOJ “Glomar” response to Judicial Watch’s March 8, 2017, FOIA request stating that it could “neither confirm nor deny the existence of records responsive to [Judicial Watch’s] request.” On March 26, 2018, subsequent to the declassification of records revealing Steele’s role as an FBI informant and his firing by the FBI in November 2016, the court reopened the case at Judicial Watch’s request. The FBI, however, continued refusing to search for records post-dating Steele’s dismissal, contending that any records discovered would be exempt from disclosure on privacy grounds.
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Cooper held that, on balance, any privacy interests Steele may have in keeping the documents secret are outweighed by the public’s interest in disclosure:
Steele’s privacy interests are far different from those courts usually consider under Exemption 7(C), where disclosure would make public for the first time an individual’s affiliation with law enforcement, whether as agent, cooperator, or target… The balance therefore tilts in favor of disclosure. Accordingly, the Court will order the FBI to conduct a search for records post-dating Steele’s service as a confidential source.
“The court was right to turn aside the FBI’s fake concerns for Clinton spy Christopher Steele’s privacy and order the agency to search for more records on its use of Steele and his Dossier to target President Trump,” stated Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “That the FBI is still protecting Christopher Steele and the Clinton spy ring at Fusion GPS should tell you there is much more corruption to be exposed in the coup efforts against President Trump.”
Documents previously produced in this lawsuit show that the FBI paid Steele at least 11 times during the 2016 presidential campaign and then fired him for leaking.
Judicial Watch also uncovered smoking gun documents showing that former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr remained in regular contact with Steele after Steele was terminated by the FBI in November 2016 for revealing to the media his position as an FBI confidential informant.
Through another FOIA lawsuit, Judicial Watch obtained emails of Bruce Ohr discussing information obtained through his wife Nellie, which he passed on to the FBI. The information contained anti-Trump dossier materials, including a spreadsheet that tries to link President Trump to dozens of Russians. These Justice Department documents also contain Russia-related emails sent from Nellie Ohr to high-ranking DOJ official Lisa Holtyn during the period Ohr worked with anti-Trump firm Fusion GPS, which contracted with Steele to create the Trump Dossier. Holtyn at the time was a top aide to Bruce Ohr.
Judicial later acquired FBI 302 interview forms of Bruce Ohr’s reporting information he received from Steele to his FBI handlers.
Judicial Watch additionally uncovered documents from the U.S. Department of State revealing that State Department “Special Coordinator for Libya” Jonathan Winer played a key role in facilitating Steele’s access to other top government officials and prominent international business executives.