‘Trump’s time will come and go, but I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) The legally authorized spying by the nation’s premier law-enforcement operation, the FBI, on American citizens and a major political campaign—which ultimately cascaded into a two-year effort to impeach the president of the United States—was predicated entirely on a drunken conversation that a hotel employee overheard in a bar, which the source later disavowed as a joke.
That was the message that Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz sought to drive home during a hearing Wednesday before the committee on the FBI’s surveillance of the Trump campaign and subsequent investigation of the president.
“Trump’s time will come and go, but I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again,” Graham said in his opening statement. “Because what happened here is not a few irregularities. What happened is the system failed.”
Graham sought to counter a misleading effort in the media to spin the report’s conclusion as “everything OK, low-level people kind of got off track” in what partisans on the Left have repeatedly insisted was an otherwise lawful and unbiased procedure.
“If that’s what you get out of this report, you clearly didn’t read it,” Graham said. “If that’s your takeaway, that this thing was lawfully predicated, and that’s the main point, you missed the entire report.”
The FBI ‘Resistance’
Graham laid out what is now, to some, a familiar tale of corruption involving several high-ranking FBI officials who had an undeniable personal grudge against President Donald Trump and a determination to “right” what their warped perspectives saw as the FBI’s culpability in electing him.
Revisiting the shocking text exchanges of biased FBI agent Peter Strzok—hand-picked by then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to be the “front line” of the investigation—and McCabe’s attorney, Lisa Page—who also happened to be Strzok’s mistress—Graham said he hoped they were not indicative of the entire intelligence community.
“Is this the best of the best?” he asked. “Are these people normal representatives of the Department of Justice and the FBI? I hope you will say no, because I believe it to be no—and if I believed otherwise, I would be depressed.”
He outlined the many ways in which those with tremendous investigative authority during the Obama administration knowingly omitted or altered crucial information in their applications to obtain warrants through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Graham also introduced a relatively unknown character, FBI line attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who despite his low FBI ranking, had a central part in the process.
Clinesmith, who had publicly tweeted “Viva le Resistance” after Trump’s election, later altered an email from CIA officials to indicate that Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was not a CIA informant even though he was.
“What are the odds that this guy might do something wrong?” Graham asked.
In a nod to Democrats’ efforts to downplay the Horowitz hearing and Republican concerns as conspiracies, Graham added, “Would you have to be part of a right-wing conspiracy to predict in the future maybe this guy would get off-script?”
The Dubious Dossier
Ultimately, Clinesmith’s deception and a litany of other serious abuses—most notably their reliance on the debunked Steele dossier—helped to bolster the FBI’s efforts, which otherwise would have failed to obtain and renew the FISA wiretapping warrants.
“Without this dossier they go nowhere,” Graham said. “With it, they’re off to the races.”
Graham also said the FBI had omitted the fact that in their interview with the primary source of the dossier’s most shocking claims—a Moscow hotel employee who had provided innuendo to dossier author Christopher Steele about an alleged Trump sex act—the source had repudiated Steele’s report as false.
“They were word of mouth and hearsay, conversations had with friends over beers,” Graham said, referring back to Horowitz’s findings.
He condemned the FBI’s reliance on Steele, who had demonstrated a clear anti-Trump bias, been fired as an FBI source for attempting to shop his dossier to media outlets and ultimately landed at an opposition-research firm being commissioned by the Clinton campaign.
Because of the shocking and sensitive nature of the probe, Graham said, the FBI and the FISA court should have conducted more due-diligence instead of less to vet Steele, which would easily have determined the dossier’s allegations that Trump had been compromised by Russia were unreliable.
“If you read this document, the first thing you would think of is they got something on Donald Trump,” he said. “It is stunning, it is damning and it is salacious—and it’s a bunch of crap.”
Graham and Horowitz both said that substantive changes to the secretive FISA process for counterintelligence probes were necessary in the wake of the findings.
“I know a lot about what’s going on out there to hurt us, and there are real threats,” Graham said.
“…I’d hate to lose the ability of the FISA court to operate at a time probably when we need it the most,” he continued, “but after your report, I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there’s fundamental reform.”
Much of the emphasis of the ongoing Justice Department probes into the FBI misconduct has focused on accountability of the bad actors involved, such as Strzok, Page, McCabe and then-FBI Director James Comey.
Only Clinesmith was deemed to have acted criminally in Horowitz’s investigation and referred for prosecution.
However, both Graham and Horowitz noted that the investigation’s narrow focus on the FISA process belied the seriousness of the FBI misconduct.
Horowitz’s widely reported conclusion that then-Assistant Counterintelligence Director Bill Priestap—who approved the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump—acted appropriately in doing so ignored the fact that the threshold for launching such an investigation was surprisingly low, with very little oversight from the Justice Department.
Graham noted the distinction that a counterintelligence investigation is unique in that regard as opposed to criminal investigations, which require substantially more scrutiny.
That is because the mission of a counterintelligence investigation is to protect Americans from foreign influence, he said.
However, the FBI’s top decision-makers, in this case, “were on a mission, not to protect Trump but to … protect all of us ‘smelly’ people from Trump,” he added, making reference to one of Strzok’s offensive anti-Trump text messages to Page.
Graham underscored the need to put aside the politicization surrounding the investigation since the flaws identified in the FISA process and the FBI’s lack of oversight could easily swing both ways.
“We can’t write this off as being just about one man or one event,” he said. “We’ve gotta understand how off the rails the system got. … I think Democrats and Republicans are willing to make sure this never happens again.”