A long-awaited Justice Department inspector general’s report examining the FBI’s investigation into possible coordination between President Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia rebuts some of conservatives’ most sensational allegations about the case — including that top FBI officials were motivated by political bias and illegally spied on Trump advisers — but finds serious faults in other areas.
The 434-page report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found the FBI had an “authorized purpose” when it initiated its investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane, into the Trump campaign, and rejected the assertion that the case was opened out of political animus or that informants were used in violation of FBI rules.
Key Finding: The report exonerated former bureau leaders of accusations by Trump and his allies that Trump was the victim of a politicized conspiracy to sabotage his campaign and his presidency.
It asserted, though, that as the probe went on, FBI officials repeatedly decided to emphasize damaging information they heard about Trump associates, and play down exculpatory evidence they found.
Conservatives and liberals alike claimed victory in the report — with Democrats saying it validated the Russia investigation while Republicans asserted it exposed serious wrongdoing.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said the inspector general had “completely demolished” some of conservatives’ assertions about the origins of the probe, though his investigators did find some problems.
“Clearly, there was a legitimate, factual basis; in fact the FBI had a moral imperative to begin this investigation,” Blumenthal said. In particular, he said the inspector general had rebutted claims that Trump campaign advisers were illegally surveilled or entrapped, or that political motive was “in any way a factor.”
In a statement, Attorney General William P. Barr disagreed with one of the inspector general’s key conclusions, saying the FBI launched an investigation of a presidential campaign “on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken. It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.” So, too, did Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, who Barr handpicked to conduct an investigation similar to that of Horowitz.
“Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Durham said in a statement. “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.”
Michael Bromwich, a lawyer for former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, noted the inspector general “found an ample factual basis for the launching of the Russia investigation,” and that those errors that were documented “took place at multiple layers below” McCabe.
“Mr. McCabe did not know about any of these issues and the report makes clear that there is no way he could have known unless someone specifically brought them to his attention,” Bromwich said. “The report makes clear that no one did.”
Aitan Goelman, a lawyer for former FBI deputy assistant director Peter Strzok, said, “This independent Department of Justice report confirms what everyone who has worked with Pete Strzok already knew — in 25 years of protecting our country, his personal opinions never impacted his work as an official of the FBI.”
“Those who recklessly deny this truth for political gain do a grave disservice,” he said.
Horowitz was particularly critical of applications the FBI made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, asserting those applications contained “significant inaccuracies and omissions” and that agents “failed to meet the basic obligation” to ensure the applications were “scrupulously accurate.”
He did not, however, conclude that the bureau’s applications to monitor Page should have been rejected.
The FBI also used informants to surreptitiously record conversations with Trump associates, including one person described in the report as “a high level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation.”
Agents used informants, also known as confidential human sources, “to interact and consensually record multiple conversations with (Carter) Page and (George) Papadopoulos,” the report said. Like Page, Papadopoulos was an adviser to the campaign.
While the inspector general concluded the FBI followed its procedures regarding investigations, it also recommended that in the future, such sensitive investigations involving major presidential campaigns be more closely supervised by the Justice Department.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the bureau accepts the findings and plans to make a host of changes, including to how they gather and submit information for surveillance applications.
“I have ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the Report’s recommendations,” Wray said. “Because our credibility and brand are central to fulfilling our mission, we are also making improvements beyond those recommended,” adding the FBI “will not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action if warranted at the completion of the required procedures for disciplinary review.”
Horowitz is scheduled to discuss his findings Wednesday during a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.