Republicans release transcript, push back on Trump probes

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans on Friday released the transcript of an interview with a Justice Department official linked to the early days of the Russia investigation, renewing their efforts to raise questions about the origins of the special counsel’s probe and pushing back on the sweeping new investigations Democrats have launched into President Donald Trump.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, released the transcript of a private interview with Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who was in contact with a former British spy hired to investigate potential ties between Trump and Russia as the investigation got its start in 2016.

Collins said there would be more transcripts to come — though didn’t specify which ones — as special counsel Robert Mueller begins to wrap up the Russia probe.

The move is the latest example of Republicans’ attempts to push back against the investigations, which Trump has called “presidential harassment.” Republicans have slammed the Democrats’ new probes, saying they are an overreach and a continuation of what they say was anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department.

Collins said Republicans are going to tell the story “on how we got here,” adding that “if you ever lose context of where you come from, you lose context of what the answer may be.”

The Democratic chairman of the Judiciary panel, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, announced Monday that the committee was sending 81 document requests to people linked to Trump and that the panel would launch a broad investigation of the president’s political, business and personal dealings. That followed announcements of similar investigations from the House intelligence committee and its oversight panel.

Ohr was a key figure in an investigation launched by Republicans in 2017 that looked at whether officials in the Justice Department were biased or conspired against Trump as he campaigned for the presidency. Ohr is a longtime Justice Department official who attracted scrutiny in part because of his wife’s job at a political research firm that hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele, to investigate Trump’s Russian ties.

Ohr himself was a longtime contact of Steele, and told members of Congress that he passed along certain information that Steele gave to FBI and Justice Department officials who, in 2016, were investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the election.

According to the transcript, as The Associated Press reported in August, Ohr told lawmakers how Steele had revealed to him that Russian intelligence believed it had Trump “over a barrel,” suggesting a possibility of compromising information.

The information Steele gathered for his research was compiled into a dossier. Collins said Friday that he remained concerned that the dossier, which he said included “unverified” and “salacious” details, was later used by the FBI to apply for and receive a secret warrant to monitor the communications of a Trump campaign aide, Carter Page.

Democrats have maintained throughout the GOP investigation in 2017 and 2018 that it was merely a distraction from Mueller’s investigation — and closed it promptly when they won the majority.

Neither Nadler nor the chairman of the oversight panel, Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, commented on Collins’ release of the Ohr transcript. Other Democrats on the panel said Friday that they support transparency but view the release as an effort to undermine Mueller.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said the panel has “very serious matters” to investigate. “They are basically posting graffiti with all of these sideshow escapades,” Raskin said of Republicans.