Watchdog:FBI Justified in Russia Probe 12/10 06:18
The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the
Trump presidential campaign and Russia and did not act with political bias,
the Justice Department's internal watchdog declared, undercutting President
Donald Trump's repeated claims that he has been the target of a "witch hunt."
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into
ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and did not act with
political bias, the Justice Department's internal watchdog declared,
undercutting President Donald Trump's repeated claims that he has been the
target of a "witch hunt."
The long-awaited report, issued Monday, rejected theories and criticism
spread by Trump and his supporters, though it also found "serious performance
failures" up the bureau's chain of command that Republicans are citing as
evidence that Trump was targeted by an unfair investigation.
The affirmation of the investigation's legitimacy, balanced by criticism of
the way it was conducted, ensured that partisan battles would persist over one
of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history. Another review
of the origins of the probe continues, and the prosecutor picked by Attorney
General William Barr to lead that effort hinted Monday he'll take a harder view
of the FBI's actions.
Monday's review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz knocked down multiple
lines of attack against the Russia investigation, finding that it was properly
opened and that law enforcement leaders were not motivated by political bias.
Contrary to the claims of Trump and other critics, it said that opposition
research compiled by an ex-British spy named Christopher Steele had no bearing
on the decision to open the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane. And it
rejected allegations that a former Trump campaign aide at the center of the
probe was set up by the FBI.
It found that the FBI had an "authorized purpose" when it opened its
investigation in July 2016 into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating
with Russia to tip the election in his favor. The report said the FBI had cause
to investigate a potential national security threat.
FBI Director Chris Wray, in an interview with The Associated Press, noted
that the report did not find political bias but did find problems that are
"unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution."
The FBI is implementing more than 40 actions aimed at fixing some of the
bureau's most fundamental operations, such as applying for surveillance
warrants and interacting with confidential sources.
Those changes are in response to some of the report's criticisms. They
largely centered on how agents and prosecutors set about eavesdropping on a
former Trump campaign aide who they said they feared was being targeted for
Russian government recruitment.
The inspector general identified 17 "significant inaccuracies or omissions"
in applications for a warrant and later renewals from the secretive Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of former Trump
campaign adviser Carter Page.
The report also details that the FBI used an informant to set up and record
a September 2016 meeting with a high-level Trump campaign official. The
official wasn't identified by name, but was not a subject of the Russia
investigation, the report said. While the information collected wasn't used
during the Russia probe, it does lend support to the assertions by Trump and
Barr that the Trump campaign was spied upon.
The report said the errors resulted in "applications that made it appear
that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually
the case." The watchdog found that the FBI had overstated the significance of
Steele's past work as an informant and omitted information about one of his
sources who he said "may engage in some embellishment."
Republicans have long criticized the process since the FBI relied in part on
opposition research from Steele, whose work was financed by Democrats and
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and that fact was not disclosed to the
judges who approved the warrant.
Though the surveillance has been central to Republican objections about the
investigation, the eavesdropping was not necessarily central to the probe
itself --- which had been underway for months before the warrant was sought.
The report's release, coming as a House Judiciary Committee impeachment
hearing centers on the president's interactions with Ukraine, brought fresh
attention to the legal and political investigations that have entangled the
White House from the moment Trump took office.
Political divisions were evident in responses to the report.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it makes clear that the basis
for the FBI's investigation was "valid and without political bias." Trump, in
remarks at the White House, claimed it showed "an attempted overthrow and a lot
of people were in on it."
The president has repeatedly said he is more eager for the report of John
Durham, the prosecutor Barr selected to investigate how intelligence was
gathered. Both Barr and Durham issued statements rejecting the inspector
general's conclusion that there was sufficient evidence to open the FBI
investigation. The attorney general's reaction was especially unusual in that
the head of the Justice Department typically would not take issue with an
internal investigation that clears a department agency of serious misconduct.
"The Inspector General's report now makes clear that the FBI launched an
intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of
suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,"
Barr said in a statement.
Durham, in a brief statement, said he had informed the inspector general
that he also didn't agree with the conclusion that the inquiry was properly
opened, and suggested his own investigation would back up his disagreement.
The FBI's Russia investigation, which was ultimately taken over by special
counsel Robert Mueller, began in July 2016 after the FBI learned that a former
Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, had been saying before it was
publicly known that Russia had dirt on Democratic opponent Clinton in the form
of stolen emails. Those emails, which were hacked from Democratic email
accounts by Russian intelligence, were released by WikiLeaks before the
election in what U.S. officials have said was an effort to harm Clinton's
campaign and help Trump.
The report concluded that that revelation was a sufficient basis for opening
the investigation and it knocked down claims by Papadopoulos that he had been
set up by the FBI or that the professor who told him about the hacked emails
was an FBI informant.
Months later, the FBI sought and received the Page warrant. Officials were
concerned that Page was being targeted for recruitment by the Russian
government, though he has denied wrongdoing and has never been charged with a
The inspector general also found that an FBI lawyer is suspected of altering
an email to make it appear that an official at another government agency had
said Page was not a source for that agency, even though he was.
Agents were concerned that if Page had worked as a source for another
government agency, the FBI would have needed to tell the surveillance court
about that, the report said, and contacted the other agency to obtain
additional information. But the FBI lawyer "did not accurately convey, and in
fact altered, the information he received from the other agency.
The lawyer is not identified by name in the report, but people familiar with
the situation have said he is Kevin Clinesmith. The inspector general's report
said officials notified the attorney general and FBI director and provided them
with information about the altered email.
The inspector general conducted more than 170 interviews involving more than