Throughout both the Mueller and the subsequent House Intelligence Committee investigations of Trump campaign and administration dealings with foreign governments, the president’s allies have relentlessly promoted a counter-narrative full of lurid conspiracy theories. They all date back to an alleged “deep state” plot in 2016 to keep Trump from becoming president by using allegations allegedly planted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to accuse his campaign of colluding with Russia.
A long-awaited Department of Justice report in response to these claims from Inspector General Michael Horowitz has largely exonerated the FBI of charges of political bias, while criticizing the reliance on the so-called Steele Dossier in the agency’s application for a wiretap on one key Trump operative, foreign-policy adviser Carter Page. Horowitz’s boss Attorney General William Barr is not happy about it, according to the Washington Examiner:
Attorney General William Barr disagrees with the Justice Department inspector general’s conclusion that the FBI had enough evidence to launch an investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016.
Barr has told colleagues that he is not convinced by the evidence that Inspector General Michael Horowitz compiled suggesting that the FBI’s investigation into alleged Russian collusion by the Trump campaign launched on reasonable foundations, according to the Washington Post.
Barr made clear his displeasure with Monday’s report almost as soon as it came out.
This reaction echoed one from John Durham, the U.S. Attorney from Connecticut tasked by Barr with leading a separate investigation of the entire Russia/Trump inquiry:
That’s pretty murky, but it’s murkiness that keeps conspiracy theories alive.
While Horowitz suggested that the wiretap on Page was not properly secured, he views that sideshow as irrelevant to the bigger investigation and does not think it represents some sort of coordinated effort to invent a scandal designed to damage Trump’s campaign, as Politico explains in its takeaways from the IG report:
A key accusation among Trump’s allies has been that the FBI predicated its investigation of Trump campaign officials Carter Page, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn on information the bureau received from British ex-spy Christopher Steele.
But Horowitz found that the Crossfire Hurricane team — the codename agents gave to the Russia inquiry — did not receive Steele’s election reporting materials until after the investigation had already been opened using information about Papadopoulos the team received from a foreign ally.
Horowitz also found that the decision to pursue an investigation was above the pay grades of the “FBI Lovebirds” Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the key figures in the right-wing counter-narrative whose emails to each other displayed hostility to Trump.
Instead, that job fell to Bill Priestap, the FBI’s counterintelligence division chief, whom the IG concluded used his “exercise of discretion in opening the investigation” and “was in compliance with Department and FBI policies.” The IG “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced his decision.”
Trump allies will naturally dwell on the report’s criticism of FBI gullibility regarding the Steele Dossier, and this general finding of insufficient oversight noted by the Washington Post:
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 A. 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 will appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee later this week to discuss his findings, and you can be sure Republicans will make every effort to link his criticisms of the pre-Trump Justice Department and FBI to the “witch hunt” they are alleging during impeachment proceedings currently in the hands of the House Judiciary Committee. But it looks like slim pickings for those claiming that candidate or President Trump is an innocent victim of partisan shenanigans.