By The Editorial Board | The Wall Street Journal
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz in June 2018. PHOTO: MANUEL BALCE CENETA/ASSOCIATED PRESS
The Horowitz report confirms that the bureau deceived FISA judges with the Steele dossier.
The press corps is portraying Monday’s report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz as absolution for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but don’t believe it. The report relates a trail of terrible judgment and violations of process that should shock Americans who thought better of their premier law-enforcement agency.
Readers can look at the detailed executive summary and decide for themselves. But our own initial reading confirms the worst of what we feared about the bureau when it was run by James Comey. The FBI corrupted the secret court process for obtaining warrants to spy on former Trump aide Carter Page. And it did so by supplying the court with false information produced by Christopher Steele, an agent of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
What the Inspector General Report Says:
- The report confirms Obama officials abused their FISA power to trigger an investigation into Trump campaign officials.
- There was serious bias against Donald Trump inside the FBI/DOJ and many were willing to take action to impact Donald Trump’s electoral process.
- The IG report finds the Obama FBI made numerous “serious factual inaccuracies and omissions” in the FISA warrant application that authorized spying on former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
- The serious omissions undercut certain allegations in the applications.
- The relevant information about Carter Page was not shared with the appropriate officials prior to the application for the FISA warrant being submitted.
- Horowitz calls the FISA warrant, “Inaccurate, incomplete, and unsupported.”
- The report makes it clear that Obama’s FBI failed to meet the basic obligation to ensure the applications were “scrupulously accurate.”
- Horowitz called the errors “serious performance failures” by the agents working on the investigation and top officials at the FBI.
- The report confirms the Steele dossier – paid for by the Clinton campaign and the DNC – is a work of fantasy and was relied upon to apply for the FISA warrant to spy on Carter Page.
- Everyone can agree the FISA application was not handled well and that is indefensible.
- The IG is opening an addition investigation into how the FBI uses FISA warrants, how they apply and whether more protocol should be put in place to protect American citizens.
- Obama’s FBI and Intelligence Community had evidence of no collusion between President Trump and Russia in the fall of 2016 yet pursued spying warrants against the Trump campaign and perpetuated the collusion narrative anyway to undermine President Trump’s administration.
How can anyone, most of all civil libertarians, pass this off as no big deal? The absolution is supposedly that Mr. Horowitz concludes that the FBI decision to open a counter-intelligence probe against the Trump campaign in July 2016 “was sufficient to predicate the investigation” under current FBI rules.
Yet Mr. Horowitz also notes that these rules amount to a “low threshold for predication.” John Durham, the U.S. Attorney investigating these matters for Attorney General William Barr, said Monday he disagrees with Mr. Horowitz’s conclusions on predication, albeit without elaboration for now.
Mr. Horowitz confirms what the FBI had already leaked to friendly reporters, which is that the bureau’s alarm in July 2016 was triggered by a conversation that former Trump aide George Papadopoulos had with Australian Alexander Downer. But we learn for the first time that the FBI immediately ramped up its counter-intelligence probe to include four Trump campaign officials: Messrs. Page and Papadopoulos, then Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn.
The bureau quickly moved to a full-scale investigation it called Crossfire Hurricane. The FBI’s justification, as related to Mr. Horowitz, is that the risk of Russian disruption of the 2016 election was too great to ignore.
Yet the bureau never told anyone in the Trump campaign, or even Donald Trump, whom or what it was investigating so he could reduce the danger or distance himself from those advisers. The FBI was investigating the campaign but wouldn’t tell the candidate who would soon be elected.
The FBI abuses escalated when it was presented with the now infamous Steele dossier. Mr. Steele was hired by Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS, the oppo-research outfit hired by a law firm for the Clinton campaign. Mr. Horowitz confirms that the FBI then used the Steele dossier to trigger its application to the FISA court to spy on Mr. Page.
“We determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s election reporting on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order,” Mr. Horowitz says.
This confirms what Rep. Devin Nunes and House Republicans first disclosed in February 2018, which was denied by Rep. Adam Schiff and sneered at by the press at the time.
Mr. Horowitz also finds that the FBI told the FISA court that Mr. Steele was credible without having tried to confirm the details or verify his sources. Mr. Horowitz found no fewer than seven key “errors or omissions” in the FBI’s original FISA application, and 10 more in the three subsequent applications. The latter were especially egregious because they ignored information that the FBI’s own Crossfire Hurricane team had later gathered that cast doubt on the Steele claims.
The omissions include the stunner that Mr. Page had been working as an “operational contact” for what Mr. Horowitz calls another U.S. agency from 2008-2013. Mr. Page has said this is the CIA, which Mr. Horowitz doesn’t confirm, though he does say that Mr. Page was reporting on his Russian contacts, which the agency deemed credible.
In other words, the FBI was using Mr. Page’s Russian contacts as evidence against him to the FISA court even as the other agency considered his reports on those Russians to be helpful to the U.S. Mr. Horowitz says the FBI never disclosed this information to the FISA judges.
“Much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications that were used to support probable cause and, in some instances, resulted in inaccurate information being included in the [FISA] applications,” the report says. This is the Inspector General’s bland way of saying that the FBI deceived four FISA judges.
Democrats and the press are making much of Mr. Horowitz’s conclusion that he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced FBI decisions. But his report does show that political bias was conveyed to the FISA court from the Clinton campaign via the Steele dossier through the FBI.
It was conveyed by Bruce Ohr, a senior Justice Department official whose wife, Nellie Ohr, worked for Fusion GPS. Mr. Horowitz may not have found a memo with the words “let’s get Trump,” but his evidence shows that getting Mr. Trump was the goal of Mr. Steele and Fusion GPS. Mr. Ohr met 13 times with the FBI to discuss the Steele findings.
Even if you buy the “no bias” line, all of this had major political consequences. Fusion GPS used its media contacts to spread word of the Steele dossier’s accusations, and news of the FBI’s use of that dossier became a media hook to suggest the accusations were credible. This became another part of the false Russia collusion narrative played up by the press and the likes of former CIA director John Brennan.
Mr. Horowitz says Crossfire Hurricane investigators never verified any of the Steele dossier allegations against Mr. Page. Even a year after the first FISA warrant, in September 2017, the report says the FBI had only “corroborated limited information in the Steele election reporting.” Robert Mueller later spent two years looking for proof of collusion and found nothing, while the Trump Presidency was besieged.
The Horowitz report should not be the end of this tawdry tale. Whether or not there are prosecutions, Messrs. Barr and Durham should release the entire FISA record to the public. The GOP Senate also needs to call the FISA judges to tell their story under oath.
The FISA process was established in the 1970s as a check on FBI abuse, though we and others warned that it would hurt accountability instead. So it has played out in this case. The U.S. doesn’t need a process that uses Article III judges as political cover to justify abusive wiretaps on innocent Americans, much less on presidential campaigns.
Horowitz report is damning for the FBI and unsettling for the rest of us
BY JONATHAN TURLEY | The Hill
The analysis of the report by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz greatly depends, as is often the case, on which cable news channel you watch. Indeed, many people might be excused for concluding that Horowitz spent 476 pages to primarily conclude one thing, which is that the Justice Department acted within its guidelines in starting its investigation into the 2016 campaign of President Trump.
Horowitz did say that the original decision to investigate was within the discretionary standard of the Justice Department. That standard for the predication of an investigation is low, simply requiring “articulable facts.” He said that, since this is a low discretionary standard, he cannot say it was inappropriate to start. United States Attorney John Durham, who is heading the parallel investigation at the Justice Department, took the unusual step to issue a statement that he did not believe the evidence supported that conclusion at the very beginning of the investigation.
Attorney General William Barr also issued a statement disagreeing with the threshold statement. In fact, the Justice Department has a standard that requires the least intrusive means of investigating such entities as presidential campaigns, particularly when it comes to campaigns of the opposing party. That threshold finding is then followed by the remainder of the report, which is highly damaging and unsettling. Horowitz finds a litany of false and even falsified representations used to continue the secret investigation targeting the Trump campaign and its associates.
This is akin to reviewing the Titanic and saying that the captain was not unreasonable in starting the voyage. The question is what occurred when the icebergs began appearing. Horowitz says that investigative icebergs appeared rather early on, and the Justice Department not only failed to report that to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court but removed evidence that its investigation was on a collision course with the facts.
The investigation was largely based on a May 2016 conversation between Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London. Papadopolous reportedly said he heard that Russia had thousands of emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That was viewed as revealing possible prior knowledge of the WikiLeaks release two months later, which was then used to open four investigations targeting the campaign and Trump associates.
Notably, Democrats and the media lambasted Trump for saying the Justice Department had been “spying” on his campaign, and many said it was just an investigation into figures like Carter Page. Horowitz describes poorly founded investigations that included undercover FBI agents and a variety of different sources. What they really discovered is the main point of the Horowitz report.
From the outset, the Justice Department failed to interview several key individuals or vet critical information and sources in the Steele dossier. Justice Department officials insisted to Horowitz that they choose not to interview campaign officials because they were unsure if the campaign was compromised and did not want to tip off the Russians.
However, the inspector general report says the Russians were directly told about the allegations repeatedly by then CIA Director John Brennan and, ultimately, President Obama. So the Russians were informed, but no one contacted the Trump campaign so as not to inform the Russians? Meanwhile, the allegations quickly fell apart. Horowitz details how all of the evidence proved exculpatory of any collusion or conspiracy with the Russians.
Even worse, another agency that appears to be the CIA told the FBI that Page was actually working for the agency in Russia as an “operational contact” gathering intelligence. The FBI was told this repeatedly, yet it never reported it to the FISA court approving the secret investigation of Page. His claim to have worked with the federal government was widely dismissed.
Worse yet, Horowitz found that investigators and the Justice Department concluded there was no probable cause on Page to support its FISA investigation. That is when there was an intervention from the top of the FBI, ordering investigators to look at the Steele dossier funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign instead.
Who told investigators to turn to the dossier? Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired over his conduct in the investigation after earlier internal investigations. Horowitz contradicts the media claim that the dossier was just a small part of the case presented to the FISA court. He finds that it was essential to seeking FISA warrants. Horowitz also finds no sharing of information with FISA judges that undermined the credibility of the dossier or Christopher Steele himself.
Surprisingly little effort was made to fully investigate the dossier when McCabe directed investigators to it, yet investigators soon learned that critical facts reported to the FISA court were false. FISA judges were told that a Yahoo News article was an independent corroboration of the Steele dossier, but Horowitz confirms that Steele was the source of that article. Therefore, Steele was used to corroborate Steele on allegations that were later deemed unfounded.
The report also said that Steele was viewed as reliable and was used as a source in prior cases, yet Horowitz found no support for that and, in fact, found that the past representations of Steele were flagged as unreliable. His veracity was not the only questionable thing unveiled in the report. Steele relied on a character who, Horowitz determined, had a dubious reputation and may have been under investigation as a possible double agent for Russia. Other instances were also clearly misrepresented.
The source relied on by Steele was presented as conveying damaging information on Trump. When this source was interviewed, he said he had no direct information and was conveying bar talk. He denied telling other details to Steele. This was all known to the Justice Department, but it still asked for warrant renewals from the FISA court without correcting the record or revealing exculpatory information discovered by investigators. That included the failure to tell the court that Page was working with the CIA.
Finally, Horowitz found that an FBI lawyer doctored a critical email to hide the fact that Page was really working for us and not the Russians.
Despite this shockingly damning report, much of the media is reporting only that Horowitz did not find it unreasonable to start the investigation, and ignoring a litany of false representations and falsifications of evidence to keep the secret investigation going. Nothing was found to support any of those allegations, and special counsel Robert Mueller also confirmed there was no support for collusion and conspiracy allegations repeated continuously for two years by many experts and members of Congress.
In other words, when the Titanic set sail, there was no reason for it not to. Then there was that fateful iceberg. Like the crew of the Titanic, the FBI knew investigative icebergs floated around its Russia investigation, but not only did it not reduce speed, it actively suppressed the countervailing reports. Despite the many conflicts to its FISA application and renewals, the FBI leadership, including McCabe, plowed ahead into the darkness.
Jonathan Turley is the chair of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a Republican witness in House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Follow him @JonathanTurley.