So much for the conspiracy theories.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Monday released the long-awaited 434-page report on FBI surveillance tied to the 2016 presidential election and although there will invariably be all manner of belabored attempts to explain how it bolsters the GOP narrative, the bottom line is that it did not uncover bias in the Russia probe. There was no bombshell implicating the “deep state” in any illegal plot, and the IG found the FBI probe into Donald Trump’s associates was justified.
Crossfire Hurricane – as the investigation was known – had an “authorized purpose”, Horowitz declared.
That said, he certainly doesn’t paint a flattering picture of the “serious” mistakes made in the surveillance of Carter Page. To wit, from the report:
We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams; on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations; after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI; even though the information sought through the use of FISA authority related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign; and even though those involved with the investigation knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny. We believe this circumstance reflects a failure not just but those who prepared the FISA applications, but also by the managers and supervisors in the Crossfire Hurricane chain of command, including FBI senior officials who were briefed as the investigation progressed.
Horowitz took particular issue with reliance on the infamous Steele dossier.
“As the FBI obtained additional information raising significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting, the FBI failed to reassess the Steele reporting relied upon in the FISA applications, and did not fully advise” the DOJ, the report says, before noting the following:
We do not speculate whether the correction of any particular misstatement or omissions, or some combination thereof, would have resulted in a different outcome. Nevertheless, the department’s decision-makers and the court should have been given complete and accurate information so that they could meaningfully evaluate probable cause before authorizing the surveillance of a US person associated with a presidential campaign.
As Politico points out, “Steele cooperated with the inspector general investigation throughout the summer, and sat for more than 16 hours of interviews in London and by Skype”.
And while he was “able to review the portions of the report that mention him prior to its release”, he was apparently blindsided on Sunday when a staffer in the IG’s office informed him that “details about him had been newly declassified and would be included in the report”. He was not given an opportunity to review those details.
Here are some of the key passages on the “authorized purpose” bit:
We also concluded that, under the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potent ial to impact constitutionally protected activity.
Additionally, given the low threshold for predication in the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, we concluded that t he FFG information, provided by a government the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) deems trustworthy, and describing a first-hand account from an FFG employee of a conversation with Papadopoulos, was sufficient to predicate the investigation. This information provided the FBI with an articulable factual basis that, if true, reasonably indicated activity constituting either a federal crime or a t hreat to national security, or both, may have occurred or may be occurring. For simi lar reasons, as we detail in Chapter Three, we concluded that the quantum of information articulated by the FBI to open the individual investigations on Papadopoulos, Page, Flynn, and Manafort in August 2016 was sufficient to satisfy the low threshold established by the Department and the FBI.
Trump and some of his supporters were hoping to use the report – which is, at base, an effort to examine whether protocol was followed in obtaining and renewing surveillance warrants – to bolster bombastic claims that the Trump campaign was illegally surveilled by a nefarious cabal of bad actors including Barack Obama.
“I.G. report out tomorrow. That will be the big story!” Trump shrieked, in a Sunday tweet.
On Saturday, though, he adopted a more subdued tone when speaking to reporters at the White House. “I’m looking forward to seeing the IG report”, Trump said. “And I look forward very much to seeing what happens with the Durham report, maybe even more importantly”.
That suggested the president knew the IG examination wasn’t likely to deliver the kind of bombshell he needed to validate the myriad allegations he’s hurled at America’s law enforcement and intelligence apparatus over the past two years, during which time the president has sought to hollow out the FBI just as he has the State department.
The Durham probe is being overseen by William Barr, who is playing a supporting role in the effort to dig up “evidence” to support Trump’s claims. Barr went on a literal world tour earlier this year seeking information in conjunction with the Durham probe, which has morphed into an actual criminal investigation, according to sources.
Devin Nunes also appeared to downplay the IG report over the weekend while speaking to Fox. “He’s only looking at FISA abuse. All of that evidence needs to be sent to Durham”, Nunes said. “What’s ultimately going to be the key is what Durham finds in looking at this entire debacle, which is targeting a political campaign by the FBI and the Department of Justice”.
Only that’s not what Horowitz – a former federal prosecutor nominated by Obama – found. He found some incompetence in the FISA process and maybe even some deliberate skirting of the rules, but he did not find a politically-motivated conspiracy orchestrated by any “deep state”.
In case it’s not clear enough by now, that’s because no such conspiracy exists. The only conspiracy that existed was that conducted by the Kremlin and Wikileaks, a conclusion which is beyond doubt, unless you’re Alex Jones or Devin Nunes or Donald Trump.
Horowitz will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week to chat with lawmakers about the review, which spanned nearly two years.
For his part, William Barr will almost surely suggest that the FBI’s decision to launch the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s associates was not, as Horowitz found, justified by the facts.
Back in April, while testifying on Capitol Hill about his planned “counter-witch hunt”, Barr tacitly accused Obama of wrongdoing. “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal”, Barr told lawmakers. It was a remarkable statement, in that it suggested the nation’s top law enforcement official believed that somehow, an FBI counterintelligence investigation conducted to protect the United States from the malign influence of a hostile foreign power is akin to illegal “spying”.
“The report’s findings and recommendations represent constructive criticism that will make us stronger as an organization”, FBI Director Christopher Wray said, in letter to Horowitz.
You can read the executive summary of the report for yourself below.