‘It’s a horrible thing that took place and it should never happen to another president…’
(Liberty Headlines) Leakers within the intelligence community have sought to get in front of a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the Obama-era FBI’s use of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump campaign.
The DOJ’s internal watchdog will release the highly anticipated report Monday, but some key narratives that have emerged—largely through left-wing media outlets that were cozy with the intelligence agencies—seek to downplay the findings.
Already, news has emerged that some of those involved in the FISA warrant application process have been referred for possible criminal prosecution. But indications are that key players like former FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, couterespionage agent Peter Strzok and his lover, attorney Lisa Page, will remain unscathed.
President Donald Trump and his supporters maintain that the Russia investigation—which relied on the phony Steele dossier commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign—was illegitimate and tainted by political bias from the FBI leaders.
However, the report, as described by anonymous sources familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. It began in secret during Trump’s 2016 presidential run and was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered on Democrats’ allegations that he pressed Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden.
That scandal was initiated the day after Mueller’s testimony in the House put to rest the hopes of Trump’s partisan adversaries that the Russia investigation would yield salient grounds for impeachment.
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff pledged at the time to continue seeking dirt, and shortly thereafter House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler asserted that impeachment hearings already were underway, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted at the time that she would not proceed without a bipartisan consensus.
The release of Horowitz’s internal review is unlikely to quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation. It’s also not the last word on that investigation. A separate internal investigation continues, overseen by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr and led a U.S. attorney, John Durham.
Trump said last week that he expected Horowitz’s report to be “devastating,” but said the “big report” would come from John Durham, the U.S. attorney appointed by Barr to examine how intelligence was gathered in the early days of the Russia investigation. Durham’s investigation is criminal in nature, and Republicans may look to it to uncover wrongdoing that the inspector general wasn’t examining.
The president told reporters Saturday that he was waiting for the chance to see Horowitz’s report and that he looked forward “very much to seeing what happens with the Durham report, maybe even more importantly, because it’s a horrible thing that took place and it should never happen to another president.”
It is unclear how Barr, a strong defender of Trump, will respond to Horowitz’s findings. He has told Congress that he believed “spying” on the Trump campaign did occur and has raised public questions about whether the counterintelligence investigation was done correctly.
The report is not expected to undo Mueller’s findings or call into question his conclusion that Russia interfered in that election in order to benefit the Trump campaign and that Russians had repeated contacts with Trump associates.
Notwithstanding, Mueller concluded there was no evidence—despite ongoing assertions to the contrary from Pelosi and others on the Left—that the Trump campaign invited or welcomed these overtures.
Many contend that the U.S. government’s own interference in the campaign to benefit Hillary Clinton—in addition to Democrats’ own likely collusion with foreign governments including Russia and Ukraine—was just as egregious and that the emphasis on pro-Trump messaging is a canard, intended to deflect away from those efforts.
The FBI opened its investigation in July 2016 after receiving information from an Australian diplomat that a former Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been told before it was publicly known that Russia had dirt on the Clinton campaign in the form of thousands of stolen emails.
Prosecutors allege that Papadopoulos learned about the stolen emails during a conversation in London with a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud.
By that point, the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, an act that a private security firm—and ultimately U.S. intelligence agencies—attributed to Russia.
In addition to outsourcing its forensic analysis, the FBI officials suspiciously made the decision to destroy much of the evidence afterward, although Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that he believed the Crowdstrike security firm may have preserved the server in Ukraine.
The inspector general’s investigation, which began in early 2018, focuses in part on the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
The FBI applied in the fall of 2016 for a FISA warrant to monitor Page’s communications, with officials expressing concern that he may have been targeted for recruitment by the Russian government.
Page was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
The warrant was renewed several times, including during the Trump administration when several of the corrupt Obama holdovers remained in their positions of authority, actively seeking to undermine the new president.
In pursuing the warrant, the Justice Department referred to the notorious Steele dossier innuendo as “reliable” from previous dealings with him. Though officials told the court that they suspected the research was aimed at discrediting the Trump campaign, they did not reveal that the work had been paid for by Democrats, according to documents released last year.
The report also examined the interactions that senior Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr had with Steele, whom he had met years earlier through a shared professional interest in countering Russian organized crime. Ohr passed along to the FBI information that he had received from Steele but did not alert his Justice Department bosses to those conversations.
Ohr has since been a regular target of Trump’s ire, in part because his wife worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS, the political research firm that hired Steele for the investigation.
This is the latest in a series of reports that Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor and an Obama appointee to the watchdog role, has released on FBI actions in politically charged investigations.
Last year, he criticized Comey for a news conference announcing the conclusion of the Clinton email investigation, and for then alerting Congress months later that it had been effectively reopened. In that report, too, Horowitz did not find that Comey’s actions had been guided by partisan bias.
The inspector general also referred former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for potential criminal prosecution after concluding that McCabe had misled his office about his involvement in a news media disclosure. No charges have been brought to date.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press