The Obama’s Administration’s FISA Abuse Is a Massive Scandal

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) points to a FBI chain of command chart as he questions U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz (not pictured) during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2019. (Erin Scott/Reuters)
All of it was to keep open a “low threshold” counterintelligence investigation into the opposition party’s political campaign during an election.

Perhaps if Democrats would momentarily shelve their obsession with Donald Trump, they’d comprehend the staggering abuse of power they’re defending these days.

Because much of Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing with DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz was jaw-dropping. Horowitz’s testimony, in fact, sounded little like the media depiction of the IG report only the day before. Most major outlets had stressed that the IG had found no bias in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. But failing to uncover explicit instances of bias and exonerating the FBI aren’t the same thing.

Worse, most of the media had buried the lede. An honest headline would have read something like: “Obama’s FBI cooked up evidence to keep rickety investigation into Trump campaign going.”

From yesterday’s hearing:

Senator Ted Cruz: “A lawyer at the FBI creates fraudulent evidence, alters an email that is in turn used as the basis for a sworn statement to the court that the court relies on. Am I stating that accurately?”

Horowitz: “That’s correct.”

This isn’t a matter of “sloppiness,” as so many of the FBI’s defenders had insisted. A lawyer for the nation’s top law-enforcement agency, run by the Obama administration, concocted evidence and modified emails to use in warrant application, which was the “basis” of a sworn statement in court. All of it to keep open, during an election season, a “low threshold” counterintelligence investigation into the opposition party’s political campaign.

A person would need to suspend his disbelief to believe that a government lawyer would risk fabricating this kind evidence in such a sensitive case without any partisan intent. By any standard, though, it is corruption. As I noted in my piece yesterday, the FBI misled a FISA court that already hands out warrants at a 99.8 percent rate — in a case against Trump that Americans were assured was an absolute no-brainer.

Who oversaw the process? How many people saw these warrants? According to Horowitz, “managers and supervisors in the Crossfire Hurricane chain of command, including FBI senior officials who were briefed as the investigation progressed” all knew what was going on. No one said a word.

A flailing Senator Richard Blumenthal, forgetting the most vital rule of lawyering, tried to induce Horowitz to admit that warrants allowing the FBI to spy on one-time Trump aide Carter Page had actually yielded useful information:

Senator Blumenthal: “[FISAs] are renewed because they are producing useful information, correct?”

IG: “Or they should be producing useful information.”

Blumenthal: ”. . . they were producing useful information, correct?”

IG: “I’m not sure that’s entirely correct.”

What Horowitz did tell the Senate was that FISA warrants relied “entirely” on useless information found in the fictitious Steele dossier — a document that not only allegedly featured intelligence gleaned from foreign powers, but one that was paid for by the same political party running the DOJ and running against Trump. We know it yielded no beneficial information, because Crossfire Hurricane generated a total of zero convictions for criminal conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and dreaded Russians.

What the case has done is create an array of dangerous precedents. What, for instance, stops Republicans from cobbling together their own salacious “dossier,” sending it to friends in the executive branch and law enforcement, using it to obtain FISA warrants, leaking it to a compliant media, all while propelling an investigation that smears a bunch of their adversaries for political reasons?

Faith in the FBI?

Obama administration defenders such as Michael McFaul tell us that “Americans, not just Democrats, should be thankful that partisanship does not influence the FBI’s work.” Pardon my skepticism, but this was a case that featured FBI lawyers manufacturing evidence to spy on a political campaign. It featured FBI agents promising to “stop” the president. It featured top FBI leadership, the same people who have been lecturing us about patriotism and loyalty, lying to the American people.

Why didn’t CNN contributor Andrew McCabe — who “handpicked” the agents involved in crafting the FISA warrants before being fired from the FBI for misconduct — ever speak up about these abuses? In 2018, the former head of the FBI James Comey, said: “I have total confidence that the FISA process was followed and that the entire case was handled in a thoughtful, responsible way. . . . I think the notion that FISA was abused here is nonsense.” Was he lying?

Now if your argument is that FISA abuse such as this goes on all the time . . . well, that too is a huge scandal for the Obama administration and the FBI. Hopefully the Republicans will change their position on surveillance powers. Whether they do or do not, however, does not mitigate the harm of this scandal.

The institutional media? It treated anyone who cautioned about FISA abuse or the misuse of the dossier as conspiracy theorists. It has lost all credibility on the issue. It’s going to be impossible for them to walk back three years of misplaced journalistic certitude to honestly assess this scandal. But I have no doubt that if a Republican administration had snooped on a Democratic-party candidate utilizing fabricated evidence and a fantastical opposition file — put together by a one-time foreign agent, no less — it would be treated as one of the biggest political scandals of the era. For good reason.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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