Judicial Watch: State Department Handler for Steele Used Personal Email to Push Reports
‘Flipping to the high side will result in delays’ – Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, Paul Jones
(Washington, DC) Judicial Watch and The Daily Caller News Foundation today released 11 pages of State Department documents revealing a discussion about the use of private email to transmit potentially sensitive information from Christopher Steele, the author of the Clinton-funded, anti-Trump dossier.
Judicial Watch obtained the documents in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed on April 25, 2018, on behalf of itself and the Daily Caller News Foundation against the State Department after it failed to respond to three separate FOIA requests (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:18-cv- 00968)). The lawsuit seeks:
- All records of communications between State Department officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, on the one hand, and British National Christopher Steele and/or employees or contractors of Steele’s company, Orbis Business Intelligence, on the other hand.
- All records and/or memoranda provided by Christopher Steele and/or his firm Orbis Business Intelligence or by others acting on Steele’s/Orbis’s behalf to State Department officials.
- Any and all records in the custody of the State Department related to the provision of documents to British national Christopher Steele and/or his firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, or the receipt of documents from Steele or his firm. Time period is January 20, 2009 through the present.
- All records created in 2016 by Jonathan M. Winer relating to research compiled by Christopher Steele.
On December 8, 2014, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Paul Jones suggests to Special Coordinator for Libya Jonathan Winer that he “flip” reports from Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence, to a more secure email system, “given our ongoing concerns about security of opennet …”
Jones added, “We just want to be sure we don’t inadvertently undermine a very good source of info or worse.” Winer responds, “Flipping to the high side will result in delays whenever the reporting takes place and I am out of the office, which includes weekends plus when I am overseas…”
Then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland replies, “Let’s do high side.”
Winer replies that he would, “have [his assistant] Nina Miller send them to you on my behalf high side … I will send them to her from my non-State email account, not copying myself. She will then send them to us. You know who they are coming from, so even high side from here I will just refer to them as ‘O Reports,’ and strip out any other identifying information as to sourcing.”
On February 9, 2016, a heavily redacted email exchange with the subject, “Urgent — [redacted]” begins with an email from Justin Siberell, former-Principal Deputy Coordinator of the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau to multiple senior State Department officials including Winer. In this exchange, Siberell mentions that they are “meeting later today with OSD/SOLIC [redacted].” OSD/SOLIC is the office run by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict.
Siberell notes that the “DOD will work on press guidance and a strategic messaging plan that will be cleared with/through State,” which implies that it is a matter of public relations concern.
Later in the redacted discussion, Winer changes the distribution list and writes, “For this group only – [redacted]”. Secretary John Kerry’s Chief of Staff Jonathan Finer responds, “As Jonathan predicted [redacted].”
One of the other recipients, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Europe, John Heffern, then forwards the entire exchange to two colleagues, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Europe, Conrad Tribble and then-Office Director for Western European Affairs, Robin Quinville saying, “Do not circulate widely.”
Tribble replies the next day asking Heffern and Quinville, “Anything further on this? No real action for EUR [State Department’s Bureau of Europe and Eurasian Affairs] yet, but obviously of some concern.”
“The Obama State Department’s handling of the Steele dossier remains one of the great mysteries of the Russia probe. We still do not have all the answers about how the State Department used opposition research collected by a foreign spy regarding President Trump and his campaign. These documents, obtained through our lawsuit filed together with Judicial Watch, raise further questions about what exactly went on at Foggy Bottom,” said Neil Patel, publisher and CEO of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“No wonder Jonathan Winer, Steele’s ally at the State Department, refused to talk to the DOJ IG, he seems to have circumvented the rules in pushing Steele’s unreliable reports to his Obama State Department colleagues,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “Our lawsuits have documented that the Obama-Kerry State Department was a hotbed of anti-Trump activity. AG Barr and US Attorney Durham would do well to focus like a laser on the State Department.”
Recently, Judicial Watch released 146 pages of documents revealing that Steele had an extensive and close working relationship dating back to May of 2014 with high-ranking Obama State Department officials including Winer and Nuland. Judicial Watch also uncovered documents showing that less than a month before the presidential inauguration Winer had a 10-minute phone call with Alexey Vladimirovich Skosyrev, the “political chief” at the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC.
In July 2019, Judicial Watch released 84 pages of documents revealing an email exchange between Nuland and Winer, discussing a “face-to-face” meeting on a “Russian matter” in New York in September 2016.
In June 2019 Judicial Watch released 41 pages of documents from the State Department revealing that Winer played a key role in facilitating Steele’s access to other top government officials and prominent international business executives. Winer was even approached by a movie producer about making a movie about the Russiagate targeting of President Trump.
In May 2019, Judicial Watch’s FOIA lawsuit produced information from the DOJ showing a conversation between former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Kavalec and Bruce Ohr, discussing the targeting of Donald Trump with Steele dossier material. In discussing a meeting with the potential source for a Mother Jones article accusing the Trump campaign of taking money from a Russian-American oil magnate, as well as Steele’s connection to that source, Kavalec emails Ohr citing the accusatory Mother Jones article. Ohr says, “I really hope we can get something going here.”
Also, Judicial Watch obtained an email revealing that Nellie Ohr, wife of Bruce Ohr, informed him that she was deleting emails sent from his DOJ email account. The full email exchange is between Bruce Ohr, Lisa Holtyn, Nellie Ohr, and Stefan Bress, a first secretary at the German Embassy, and is part of 339 pages of heavily redacted records from the U.S. Department of Justice.
In March 2019, Judicial Watch uncovered emails from Bruce Ohr showing that he remained in regular contact with former British spy and Fusion GPS contractor Steele after Steele was terminated by the FBI in November 2016 for revealing to the media his position as an FBI confidential informant. The records show that Ohr served as a go-between for Steele by passing along information to “his colleagues” on matters relating to Steele’s activities. Ohr also set up meetings with Steele, regularly talked to him on the telephone and provided him assistance in dealing with situations Steele was confronting with the media.