Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz debunked key conspiracy theories alleging that the Trump campaign was undermined by an attempted “deep state” coup in his report released on Monday.
Horowitz began investigating allegations of political bias in the FBI’s decision to open its Trump-Russia investigation amid widespread allegations of the same from President Trump and his allies.
But the DOJ watchdog instead found that the investigation was justified, and systematically found evidence to demolish the conspiracy theories most often put forth by the White House. Horowitz did find errors in how the FBI handled FISA applications, and in its communications and evaluation of Christopher Steele, author of a controversial and unverified dossier on alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian government in the 2016 election.
Below are five “deep state” conspiracy theories discredited by the Horowitz report.
1. The FBI investigated Trump to damage his candidacy
The report resoundingly concludes that the FBI opened the investigation after receiving a report from the Australian government about George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign staffer, had drunkenly claimed to the Australian ambassador to the UK that the Russian government was offering “dirt” on Clinton to the Trump campaign.
That wine-soaked meeting — and the information that came out during it — is what led to the investigation’s beginning, and not partisan political bias among FBI officials.
The President and his allies have spent years arguing that the FBI and subsequent special counsel investigation were the product of “angry Democrats” who were upset at Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 presidential election. Those concerns, in part, animated the start of Horowitz probe.
But the watchdog found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,” or that any information apart from that provided by the Australian government was used to open the probe in July 2016.
Horowitz added that because the investigation itself was politically sensitive — it concerned the activities of a major presidential campaign — the government should set in place policies “so that Department leadership can consider these issues from the outset.” But, crucially, Horowitz determined that the probe itself was justified.
2. FBI officials involved in the probe were anti-Trump
Much has been made of text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. The pair expressed opposition to the President and dismay at his election in a series of text messages, a fact that has been whipped up into evidence of an anti-Trump conspiracy by the Republican party.
Trump allies have used the texts to suggest that the entire FBI probe is an expression of anti-Trump bias, and constitutes an effort by Clinton supporters in the government to take down the President.
But Horowitz unearthed text messages from other, unnamed FBI agents working on the investigation who managed to support the current President while also working on an investigation, professionally, that undermined him, politically.
One pair of agents who were handling a source involved in the Trump campaign exulted over the President’s victory in a Nov. 9, 2016 exchange.
“I saw a lot of scared MFers on … [my way to work] this morning. Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha,” one agent wrote. “LOL,” the other replied.
“Come January I’m going to just get a big bowl of popcorn and sit back and watch,” the first agent wrote.
“That’s hilarious,” the other, unnamed FBI official replied.
3. Obama officials denied Trump ‘defensive briefings’ to damage him
Horowitz found that the FBI’s official in charge of counterintelligence, Bill Priestap, declined to offer the Trump campaign a defensive briefing because the agency had not determined who in the campaign may have been working with the Russians.
Trump allies have long argued that the lack of a “defensive briefing” left the campaign in a uniquely vulnerable spot, less able to respond to co-opting by the Russian government.
Priestap told the inspector general that he did not want to provide a briefing in part out of a fear that someone on the campaign who was working with the Russians could have changed their “tactics” or “otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth.”
4. The investigation was based on the ‘Steele dossier’
One long-held argument has been that the “Steele dossier” served as the basis for the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
Horowitz did find that information provided by the dossier’s author Christopher Steele played a partial, but not whole, role in certain FISA warrant applications submitted in the course of the probe.
But the DOJ watchdog established that the investigation itself began weeks before the FBI received information from Steele.
“FBI officials involved in opening the investigation had reason to believe that Russia may have been connected to the Wikileaks disclosures that occurred earlier in July 2016, and were aware of information regarding Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections,” the report reads. “These officials, though, did not become aware of Steele’s election reporting until weeks later and we therefore determined that Steele’s reports played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening.”
5. The FBI ‘infiltrated’ the Trump campaign
The report reveals that the FBI had multiple “confidential human sources” who were either in the Trump campaign itself or were somehow in its orbit.
The President’s allies have claimed that the FBI and, by extension, the Obama administration “infiltrated” his campaign as part of a bid to undermine the Trump presidency.
But Horowitz wrote in the report that even though the FBI had access to informants in the campaign, it did not use them.
Rather, the report states, the FBI agents involved were aware of the political sensitivity of their assignment, and limited the lengths to which they were willing to go in handling these unnamed sources involved in the Trump campaign.
“We found no evidence that this CHS ever reported any information collected from a meeting with Trump or a Trump campaign event,” Horowitz wrote, using the abbreviation for “confidential human source.”
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