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Justice Dep’t Watchdog Defends Russia Probe Report in Senate

The Senate took up the Justice Department’s internal watchdog report on the origins of the Russia investigation Wednesday, with Democrats and Republicans unpacking diametric takes on the inspector general’s findings. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate took up the Justice Department’s internal watchdog report on the origins of the Russia investigation Wednesday, with Democrats and Republicans unpacking diametric takes on the inspector general’s findings.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that his internal probe found no evidence of political bias impacting the investigation, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane and opened in July 2016. Former special counsel Robert Mueller in 2017 took over the investigation that President Donald Trump has long called a “witch hunt.”

Ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said the report makes clear the investigation into Russian interference and the Trump campaign was based on facts and not bias.

“This was not a politically motivated investigation,” Feinstein said. “There is no deep state.”

But Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., in opening remarks that ran over 40 minutes, said the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign.

“And imagine ladies and gentleman,” Graham said, “If they can do this to the candidate for the president of the United States, what could they do to you?”

Attorney General Bill Barr came out with a statement Monday sharply critical of Horowitz’s report, compiled after 19 months of reviewing over 1 million documents and interviewing over 100 witnesses.

“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,” Barr said.

But Horowitz said his team stands by their report.

“I didn’t take the IG job to be popular and not have my feelings hurt,” he told the committee.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-N.Y., asked Horowitz if he found evidence that the FBI intervened in the 2016 election.

“We did not reach that conclusion,” the inspector general testified.

But Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., called on the inspector general to investigate Barr’s foreign trips seeking evidence to back the claim that “deep state” actors in the U.S. coordinated with officials abroad to undermine the Trump campaign.

“You have the power and the duty to investigate misconduct committed by the attorney general of the United States, who is doing the bidding of the president to undermine our intelligence community,” Harris said.

But Horowitz and his team did uncover 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” across the four applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

“It would be like getting a lab report from the FBI, the fingerprints don’t match and the agent says they do. That’s how bad this is,” Graham said. Hours later the senator told the committee “poor Carter Page.”

Asked by Blumenthal if he agreed with the Republican characterizations of the FBI’s conduct as “grotesque abuses of power,” Horowitz said: “We did not reach a conclusion like that so I wouldn’t agree with that.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Horowitz if the errors were only in warrants to surveil Page.

“That is correct,” Horowitz said.

Leahy added: “I am not trying to minimize the FBI’s mistakes here, but keep it in context.”


Members of both parties called it inexcusable that an FBI agent doctored a FISA application. The report found the agent edited the initial application noting Christopher Steele, author of the salacious Steele dossier, was a direct source to state that Steele was not.

Stopping short of doctored, Horowitz said the agent altered the application.

“They had no evidence to support that and when they flipped it they had no evidence to support that either,” he said.

The Steele dossier surfaced in questions from the majority of Republican senators. But Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Horowitz for his conclusion on the infamous dossier, a private intelligence report compiled during the 2016 campaign by the former MI6 agent.

“In terms of the initiation of the investigation it had no impact,” Horowitz said. “No impact, it was not known to the team that opened the investigation when they opened it.”

Graham, an ardent Trump supporter, read off text messages between former FBI attorney Lisa Page and former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, claiming the two were central to launching Crossfire Hurricane.

But Horowitz said top FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap opened the investigation.

“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that indicated political bias or improper motivation influenced his decision,” he said.

The report also uncovered text messages between FBI agents who supported Trump. “Hahaha. Shit just got real,” texted a handling agent for a confidential human source the day after the 2016 election.

“I saw a lot of scared MFers on [my way to work] this morning. Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha,” the agent texted a co-handling agent.

Horowitz said his team did not refer agents for performance failure simply because they expressed support for a candidate.

Trump has long accused former President Barack Obama of “McCarthyism” wiretapping in Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But Horowitz said his team “didn’t find any evidence the FBI had tapped any other phone or anything else other than the FISA we addressed.”

The inspector general repeatedly told the hotly divided Senate panel that the FBI had legitimate authorization to open the investigation.

But Republicans repeatedly accused the bureau of undercutting the Trump campaign by not briefing them on the investigation.

“It may have started out lawfully but it came off the rails quick,” Graham said.

The report states Priestap opted not to alert the Trump campaign because unlike the Hillary Clinton campaign -- briefed on the investigation into the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails -- the Trump advisers were suspects in the FBI investigation.

Graham took aim at that conclusion: “Under the guise of protecting the campaign from Russian influence, they never lift a finger to protect the campaign.”

Horowitz made clear he is deeply concerned about the FBI process in obtaining warrants. Asked if his report vindicated former FBI Director James Comey, the inspector general said: “You know, I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this FISA.”

Horowitz testified for more than five hours on the findings of his 434-page report. In closing remarks, Graham said it does not matter that the inspector general concluded the FBI properly opened the Russia investigation.

Graham called the probe a criminal conspiracy to doctor evidence and defraud the courts.

“After it was opened it became a nightmare,” he said.

The chairman said he will place the same trust he gave Horowitz in Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, tapped by Barr to conduct a separate internal probe on possible corrupt influence in the FBI’s investigation.

Categories / Government, National, Politics

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