The Morning Jolt

White House

U.S. Attorney John Durham Scrutinizes How the Trump-Campaign Probe Began

Former FBI director James Comey speaks about his book during an onstage interview with Axios Executive Editor Mike Allen at George Washington University. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The Horowitz report isn’t quite the vindication of the FBI that James Comey wants you to think it is, the president is on the verge of two big policy wins, and some easily overlooked developments in the world of politics.

Don’t Let Anyone Fool You. Horowitz Painted an Ugly Picture of the FBI.

As those of you who read last month’s gargantuan profile know, U.S. attorney John Durham, the man Attorney General William Barr appointed to probe the start of the investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016, almost never issues public statements. He never does interviews. He never writes op-eds. He has given one public speech in his career. He does just about all of his talking in the courtroom.

Thus, people sit up and take notice when the notoriously tight-lipped Durham issues a written statement like this, immediately after the release of a report from Department of Justice’s inspector general about the FBI’s earliest moves investigating the Trump campaign:

I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff.  However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.  Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.  Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.

Some people may read the above and say, “Ah-ha! He’s going to indict some people who Inspector General Michael Horowitz let off the hook!” That’s not certain, but Durham certainly appears to be leaving that door open.

Horowitz seemed to want to split the baby like King Solomon yesterday, declaring that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had had an “authorized purpose” for launching the investigation known as “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” ahead of the 2016 election; Trump’s claim that the investigation was a partisan “witch hunt” was a wild exaggeration at best and an unfair smear of law enforcement at worst. But Horowitz faulted the agency for including “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its application to the FISA court to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. (I think you can tell a great deal about someone about how quickly they can hand-wave away a law-enforcement official putting wrong information in the equivalent of a warrant for wiretapping.)

FBI Director Christopher Wray also seemed eager to embrace the “we didn’t engage in any conspiracy or a partisan witch hunt, but mistakes were made, and we’re eager to take our slap on the wrist and showcase how we’ll never do it again” attitude:

The report concludes that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation and related investigations of certain individuals were opened in 2016 for an authorized purpose and with adequate factual predication. The report also details instances in which certain FBI personnel, at times during the 2016-2017 period reviewed by the OIG, did not comply with existing policies, neglected to exercise appropriate diligence, or otherwise failed to meet the standard of conduct that the FBI expects of its employees — and that our country expects of the FBI. We are vested with significant authorities, and it is our obligation as public servants to ensure that these authorities are exercised with objectivity and integrity. Anything less falls short of the FBI’s duty to the American people.

The Horowitz report instantly turned into another Rorschach test of the Trump era. If you’re on the left side of the spectrum, you’re concurring with former FBI Director James Comey who declared, “There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign. Although it took two years, the truth is finally out.”

If you’re on the right side of the spectrum, you’re probably concurring with law professor Jonathan Turley, who concludes, “Horowitz finds a litany of false and even falsified representations used to continue the secret investigation targeting the Trump campaign and its associates.”

It would be nice if those who worried about politicization of the Department of Justice by any party could recognize the trouble indicated by the Horowitz report. Assume that the FBI hears the rumors of Trump working with Russia, determines they’re credible enough to start an investigation, and all of that is on the up-and-up, as the IG report indicates. What makes that investigation stop? What would they need to see to conclude, “Okay, this is a false trail. We’re going down a rabbit hole here. We need to stop this so that we don’t look like an extension of the incumbent party digging for dirt on the opposition party.”?

(As I note on NR’s homepage today, one of the reasons those with authority and power are supposed to avoid situations that create the appearance of a conflict of interest is that it helps prevent actual conflicts of interest! President Trump will ask, with some justification, why it’s a problem for his children to work out deals with foreign governments and entities if Hunter Biden was allowed to serve on the Burisma board and strike deals with Chinese investors.)

Those of us with long memories will recall that on January 29, 2018, Adam Schiff and the minority members of the House Intelligence Committee issued an official memo that purportedly “corrected the record” and declared, “FBI and DOJ officials did not ‘abuse’ the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) process, omit material information, or subvert this vital tool to spy on the Trump campaign.”

The Horowitz report concluded, “We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods Procedures. These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to OI and failing to flag important issues for discussion. While we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents who assisted OI in preparing the applications, or the agents and supervisors who performed the Woods Procedures, we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified.”

Schiff’s memo also concluded that “the FBI viewed Steele’s reporting and sources as reliable and verifiable.” The Horowitz investigation lays out quite a bit of evidence that the Bureau had good reasons to be more skeptical:

We determined that prior to and during the pendency of the FISAs the FBI was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page contained in the election reporting and relied on in the FISA applications, and was only able to confirm the accuracy of a limited number of circumstantial facts, most of which were in the public domain, such as the dates that Page traveled to Russia, the timing of events, and the occupational positions of individuals referenced in the reports.

. . . We found that the FBI’s interviews of Steele, the Primary Sub-source, and a second sub-source, and other investigative activity, revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s description of information in his election reports.

According to the Supervisory Intel Analyst, the FBI ultimately determined that some of the allegations contained in Steele’s election reporting were inaccurate, such as the allegation that [Paul] Manafort used Page as an intermediary and that Michael Cohen had traveled to Prague for meetings with representatives of the Kremlin.

As we described earlier in our analysis, the FBI failed to notify 01, which was working on the Carter Page FISA applications, of the potentially serious problems identified with Steele’s election reporting that arose as early as January 2017 through the efforts described above. As previously stated, we believe it was the obligation of the agents who were aware of this information to ensure that 01 and the decision-makers had the opportunity to consider it, both for their own assessment of probable cause and for consideration of whether to include the information in the applications so that the FISC received a complete and accurate recitation of the relevant facts.

So perhaps the investigation was opened “for an authorized purpose and with adequate factual predication,” but once it was opened, the FBI personnel working the case didn’t seem all that worried about an inability to verify what they were being told and didn’t feel any need to tell the FISA judges that they couldn’t verify it. In any other circumstance, civil libertarians would be throwing a fit. Because it involves Trump and his associates, a lot of people who ought to know better are shrugging and concluding they had it coming.

And as you see above, congressional Democrats who are usually watching like hawks for signs of law enforcement abusing their powers or not respecting the rights of the accused turned into spin doctors for the FBI in this case. Gripe about Devin Nunes all you want, Adam Schiff is every bit the partisan and shades the truth just as much. He just does so in a calmer and smoother manner.

Finally, Some Good News

This is going to be a weird day for the Trump presidency, with the unveiling of two formal articles of impeachment, but also a big win on one of the president’s most contentious issues: President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are on the verge of announcing a deal on the new North American trade pact, handing the president a major political victory amid impeachment proceedings and giving moderate Democrats a legislative accomplishment they can sell back home.

The deal remains unofficial until Tuesday, when the top trade officials from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are expected to meet in Mexico City for an afternoon ceremony. Pelosi is also holding off on making a public announcement until she has briefed her caucus on the policy details of the pact, which replaces the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

But wait, that’s not all . . .

Finally, Some Good News, Part Two

Score one for Ivanka Trump’s signature issue:

The Trump administration and congressional Democrats reached a tentative deal late last week to provide all federal employees with paid family leave, marking a culmination of years of advocacy on the issue.

According to a congressional source familiar with negotiations, the White House agreed to support the provision as part of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, in exchange for Democrats’ acquiescence on the establishment of the U.S. Space Force as an independent branch of the armed services.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Emma Thompson has no choice but to fly; two House seats in North Carolina that the GOP now has to worry about; and a spotlight on one of the big advantages of National Review being a relatively small, independent media company.

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