The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, on Monday released a report of his investigation into the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe.
It was a sweeping inquiry; according to the report, Horowitz’s team examined more than 1 million documents and conducted 170 interviews with more than 100 witnesses.
Here are the main findings:
The FBI had an “authorized purpose” to launch the Russia investigation.
The FBI did not use the so-called Steele dossier to start the probe.
The unverified dossier, which was compiled by the former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, has been at the center of Republican allegations about the investigation. Specifically, they accused the FBI of using uncorroborated and anonymously sourced information to justify starting the Russia probe.
Horowitz found that FBI investigators didn’t get Steele’s dossier until after the investigation had been launched.
The bureau’s use of confidential informants complied with the rules.
There is no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations” into the Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.
Manafort was under investigation over allegations of money laundering before the FBI launched the Russia investigation.
There were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the Page Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application, and FBI agents “failed to meet the basic obligation” to make sure the applications were “scrupulously accurate.”
“We do not speculate whether the correction of any particular misstatement or omissions, or some combination thereof, would have resulted in a different outcome,” the report said. “Nevertheless, the department’s decision makers and the court should have been given complete and accurate information so that they could meaningfully evaluate probable cause before authorizing the surveillance of a US person associated with a presidential campaign.”
The first Page FISA application had “seven significant inaccuracies and omissions.”
The application’s omissions included “information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page.”
That information included the fact that Page “had been approved as an ‘operational contact’ for the other agency from 2008 to 2013,” and that Page had told the agency about his contacts with “certain Russian intelligence officers.”
Horowitz found that an FBI lawyer doctored an email from the other agency by adding the words, “not a source,” which led an FBI supervisor to sign off on the third FISA warrant renewal for Page.
There is no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page.”
Steele called the allegation that he was biased against Trump “ridiculous.” In fact, according to the report, Steele said he was “favorably disposed” to the Trump family before he began his research on the dossier “because he had visited a Trump family member at Trump Tower and had ‘been friendly'” with that person for years.
Steele “described their relationship as ‘personal’ and said that he once gifted a family tartan from Scotland to the family member.”
Multiple media outlets reported that the family member described in the report is first daughter Ivanka Trump, whom Steele first met in 2007 in London.
The report uncovered several pro-Trump text messages exchanged between two FBI employees on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump won the election.
“Trump!” a handling agent said in a text message to a co-handling agent. “Hahaha. S— just got real,” the co-handling agent replied.
“Yes it did,” the first agent said. The second responded, “I saw a lot of scared MFers on … [my way to work] this morning. Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha.”
The report’s release was highly anticipated by both Democrats and Republicans, and both sides seized on different findings to bolster their talking points.
“Clearly, there was a legitimate, factual basis; in fact the FBI had a moral imperative to begin this investigation,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told The Washington Post. He pointed specifically to Horowitz’s report finding that political motivation was not “in any way a factor” in launching the probe.
Republicans, meanwhile, latched onto Horowitz’s finding that there were irregularities in the Page FISA application.
The report “is deeply disturbing,” GOP Rep. Mark Meadows tweeted. “Some former FBI and DOJ officials are about to have some serious explaining to do.”
Attorney General William Barr, who has been critical of the Russia probe and defended Trump since taking office this year, also put out a statement.
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” the statement said.
The Russia investigation, spearheaded first by former FBI Director James Comey, and later by the special counsel Robert Mueller, found that President Donald Trump’s campaign enthusiastically welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election, but there was not sufficient evidence to bring a conspiracy charge against anyone on the campaign.
It also found over 10 instances in which Trump tried to obstruct justice in the investigation but that he was largely unsuccessful because his own staff refused to carry out his orders. Mueller declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether to charge Trump, citing a 1973 Office of Legal Counsel memo that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed Horowitz to launch an internal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe after Trump and his allies accused the FBI of acting improperly when it sought a warrant to surveil Page during and after the election. The president also alleged that the FBI “spied” on his campaign, dubbing the purported scandal “Spygate.”
Barr, according to The Washington Post, has told associates he disagrees with one of Horowitz’s main findings: The FBI had sufficient evidence in July 2016 to justify launching the Russia investigation. He hasn’t been convinced by Horowitz’s findings, The Post said.
Barr has drawn sharp backlash from Democrats and legal experts who have said he functions more as the president’s personal defense attorney than as the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. Indeed, he alleged months before Horowitz’s report was released that the FBI improperly spied on Trump’s campaign, a claim that led to discord and a drop in morale within the rank-and-file at the bureau.
He also overruled Mueller with respect to his obstruction findings and cleared the president of wrongdoing before the public or Congress had a chance to see the special counsel’s full report.
But the president and his allies have cheered Barr on, particularly as he embarks on a separate, broader internal investigation with US Attorney John Durham into the roots of the Russia inquiry.
There’s no sign so far that they’ve uncovered any incriminating evidence. The Washington Post reported that Durham also asked Horowitz if he’d obtained evidence that Joseph Mifsud, a shadowy Maltese professor who told Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, was secretly a Western intelligence asset.
Horowitz said he had no information to support that theory, which has been widely popular in right-wing circles.