Review of FBI's surveillance of Trump campaign aide doesn't 'vindicate anybody,' inspector general says
President Donald Trump says the Inspector General report on the FBI's Russia probe reveals an attempted government "overthrow". AP Domestic
WASHINGTON — The federal surveillance process was “not used appropriately” during the wiretapping of a former Trump campaign aide, voluminous report on the early stages of the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference in 2016.
The report identified more than a dozen errors in the FBI's applications to monitor Page, including omissions and inaccuracies. However, Horowitz concluded the FBI was legally justified in launching the counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign.
His report debunked claims by President Donald Trump and his allies that political bias played a role in the FBI’s decision to investigate members of his campaign for possible coordination with Russia.
A new blow to the FBI: Watchdog report details dysfunction, missteps in wiretap of Trump aide
Attorney General William Barr remains unconvinced that the Russia investigation was justified. Barr is overseeing a parallel inquiry into the origins of the Russia probe. He picked Connecticut’s chief federal prosecutor, John Durham, to lead that investigation.
During Wednesday's hearing, Horowitz said he and Durham met before the report was released and talked about the FBI’s decision to open the investigation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked Horowitz if Barr or Durham has presented him with anything that convinced him the Russia investigation was not justified.
"No," Horowitz said.
Since the report was unveiled Monday, Republicans and Democrats have declared victory.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the committee chairman, said the mistakes Horowitz found are not just “a few irregularities,” but a systemic failure in which Justice Department officials “took the law in their own hands.”
Some of the problems "are earth-shattering," Graham said. "Some of them should scare the hell out of us."
Feinstein, the committee’s ranking member, criticized Barr.
“It’s really extraordinary that the (attorney general) continues to make unsupported attacks to the agency that he is responsible (for) leading,” Feinstein said. “It’s time to move on from the false claims of political bias.”
Horowitz launched his review in March 2018, in response to requests from Republican lawmakers. He examined the FBI's decision in the summer of 2016 to launch Crossfire Hurricane, which later became known as the Russia probe. Special Counsel Robert Mueller eventually took it over.
Specifically, the inspector general looked at the FBI's applications to wiretap Page, as well as its decision to investigate other campaign aides and Trump associates.
The inspector general also examined the FBI's relationship with Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who was hired by Fusion GPS, a research firm working for then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Steele, who was an FBI source for years, ed the infamous "dossier" alleging ties between Trump and Russia.
The FBI relied on Steele's research about Page's activities in Moscow to convince judges to approve and renew applications to wiretap him. But Horowitz's report said Steele's research "played no role" in the broader decision to open the Russia probe, which began months before the FBI started monitoring Page.
The surveillance of Page continued from 2016 to 2017, even after the FBI gathered information that weakened its justification for the wiretap.
Among the most common errors was the omission of important information, including some that contradicted investigators' suspicions, the report said.
For example, in its wiretap applications, the FBI didn't note Page's denials that he had talked to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin about lifting sanctions against Russia and giving the Trump campaign damaging information about Clinton.
And the FBI omitted information about Steele: that he had previously exercised "poor judgement," he had a history of pursuing people "with political risk but no intelligence value," and that he did not want Trump to become president, the report said.
Horowitz's report said a former FBI lawyer who helped prepare the wiretap applications allegedly altered an email used to justify Page's surveillance. That person has been referred for possible criminal investigation.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has said the bureau accepts the inspector general’s findings. He said in a letter to Horowitz that the FBI will make "concrete changes" so its surveillance process is "more stringent and less susceptible to mistake or inaccuracy."
Horowitz’s office has started an audit of the FBI’s compliance with rules requiring accuracy when asking for permission to use wiretaps like the one used on Page.
Horowitz told senators the surveillance process needs to be fixed "from top to bottom."