Law & the Courts

DOJ IG Report Finds Russia Probe Wasn’t Politically Motivated But Suffered from ‘Serious Performance Failures’

U.S. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. September 18, 2019. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report Monday detailing his office’s probe into the origins of the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

The long-awaited report concluded that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” for launching the investigation, known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane,” ahead of the 2016 election — contradicting President Trump and his allies, who routinely cast the entire investigation as a partisan “witch hunt” — but nevertheless faulted the agency for including “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its application to the FISA court to surveil Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page.

Horowitz “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations” into Page, former Trump-campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, former national-security adviser Mike Flynn, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, according to the 476-page report.

The investigation did, however, identify “at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications and many errors in the Woods Procedures” which dictate the relevant information that must be shared with the FISA court when the FBI applies for a surveillance warrant.

“These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to [the National Security Division’s Office of Intelligence] and failing to flag important issues for discussion,” Horowitz said.

The report confirms that the FBI relied heavily on information gathered by former British spy Christopher Steele in its FISA application to surveil Page, but neglected to inform the court that Steele gathered the intelligence while working for the research firm Fusion GPS, which had been contracted by the Clinton campaign to produce opposition research on Trump.

In addition to concealing the partisan nature of Steele’s findings, the FBI also failed to independently corroborate the information included in his dossier, which had largely been sourced from Russian nationals whom Steele had never met with personally. The report also found that CIA officials dismissed the Steele dossier’s central allegation that the Kremlin was leveraging blackmail over Trump as an “internet rumor” and “expressed concern about using the Steele election reporting in the text of the [January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment into Russia’s election interference].”

Democrats have long sought to downplay the importance of the unverified Steele dossier in the face of Republican criticism of the investigation’s origins by suggesting that the intelligence was just one minor piece in a broader case that justified surveillance of Page. Horowitz undercut this claim, writing in the report that the dossier “played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision” to apply for the warrant in the first place.

The FBI also omitted from the warrant application, and three subsequent renewal applications, certain potentially exculpatory statements Page made to another FBI source, including his denial that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russia through WikiLeaks or any other channel, and his claim that he had “literally never met” campaign chairman Paul Manafort — a denial that, if shared with the court, would have disrupted the prevailing theory that Manafort was the middleman between Page and Russia.

The bureau also neglected to inform the court that Page had served as a source for the CIA from 2008 to 2013 and had been given a “positive assessment.”

Trump and his allies have invoked FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok’s involvement in the Russia probe as evidence of its irredeemably partisan nature. Page and Strzok, who were romantically involved at the time, were fired from Operation Crossfire Hurricane after their anti-Trump text message exchanges were revealed.

However, the report concluded “that while Strzok was directly involved in the decisions to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four individual cases, he was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters” and also “found that, while Lisa Page attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations, she did not play a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane or the four individual cases.”

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