A highly anticipated Justice Department review of the origins of the federal investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia found no direct evidence of political bias in the launching of the probe, but identified an embarrassing slew of inaccuracies and omissions by the FBI that marred requests for court-ordered surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser.
The report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz also revealed for the first time that the FBI used a confidential source to approach an unidentified high-level Trump campaign official in September 2016 who was never the subject of any investigation. The approach revealed nothing of value to the probe, the review found.
Horowitz’s review did not find any indication that the FBI planted anyone in the campaign, as President Donald Trump has claimed, but it does bolster concerns that campaign officials were repeatedly the focus of outreach by “confidential human sources” seeking to establish whether the campaign was colluding with Russia.
The president has also sought to downplay expectations, saying repeatedly that he was more eager for the report of John Durham, the hand-picked prosecutor selected by Attorney General William Barr to conduct a separate review of the Russia probe.
Barr rejected the inspector general’s conclusion that there was sufficient evidence to open the investigation.
“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.
The inspector general identified 17 “significant inaccuracies or omissions” in applications for a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and subsequent warrant renewals. The errors, the watchdog said, resulted in “applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.”
But the report also found the bureau was justified in eavesdropping on Page and that there was not documented or testimonial evidence of any political bias.
Republicans have long criticized the process since the FBI relied in part on opposition research from a former British spy, Christopher Steele, whose work was financed by Democrats and the Clinton campaign, and that fact was not disclosed to the judges who approved the warrant.
The watchdog found that the FBI had overstated the significance of Steele’s past work as an informant, omitted information about one of Steele’s sources who Steele had called a “boaster” and who Steele said the source “may engage in some embellishment.”
The report’s release, coming the same day as a House Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing centered 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.
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 Hillary Clinton in the form of stolen emails. Those emails, which were hacked from Democratic email accounts by Russian intelligence operatives, were released by WikiLeaks in the weeks before the election in what U.S. officials have said was an effort to harm Clinton’s campaign and help Trump.
The report says the FBI was authorized to open the investigation about the basis for opening the investigation to protect against a national security threat.
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 crime.
Statement by Attorney General William P. Barr on the Inspector General’s Report of the Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation
Attorney General William P. Barr issued the following statement:
“Nothing is more important than the credibility and integrity of the FBI and the Department of Justice. That is why we must hold our investigators and prosecutors to the highest ethical and professional standards. The Inspector General’s investigation has provided critical transparency and accountability, and his work is a credit to the Department of Justice. I would like to thank the Inspector General and his team.
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. It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration. In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source. The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.
FISA is an essential tool for the protection of the safety of the American people. The Department of Justice and the FBI are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to rectify the abuses that occurred and to ensure the integrity of the FISA process going forward.
No one is more dismayed about the handling of these FISA applications than Director Wray. I have full confidence in Director Wray and his team at the FBI, as well as the thousands of dedicated line agents who work tirelessly to protect our country. I thank the Director for the comprehensive set of proposed reforms he is announcing today, and I look forward to working with him to implement these and any other appropriate measures.
With respect to DOJ personnel discussed in the report, the Department will follow all appropriate processes and procedures, including as to any potential disciplinary action.”