READ: DOJ IG Finds There Was Sufficient Evidence To Launch Russia Probe

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December 9, 2019 1:07 p.m.
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The Justice Department Inspector General’s office released its widely anticipated report on the origins of the Russia probe Monday. The report found, in part, that the FBI’s investigation into members of President Trump’s 2016 campaign was proper and any political bias on the part of FBI employees did not influence the launch of the investigation.

The report also finds, however, that there were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the application to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a finding that was surfaced in the media in recent days. At least one low-level FBI lawyer was pushed out of the bureau after it was found that the lawyer might have altered a document related to the court’s approval of the surveillance request. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz also found there was some information omitted from the FBI’s application to renew its surveillance of Page.

Some key takeaways:

Sufficient evidence to launch the probe, no political bias

Democrats and non-partisans will likely cheer the main takeaway from the report — that the probe was not launched as part of a “deep state” political attack on President Trump. Conservatives have for months seized on alleged evidence of an anti-Trump bias within the FBI to bolster the claim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s eventual takeover of the Russia investigation was a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

The decision to open the probe, which was dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” within the FBI was made in “compliance with Department and FBI policies, and we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the decision to launch the investigation, the report said.

Horowitz found that the two key former FBI officials who have been used as fodder for “deep state” allegations from the right — Lisa Page and Peter Strzok — actually had limited roles in the launch of the probe. Page “attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations,” but didn’t “play a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane or the four individual” surveillance cases, which included Carter Page, as well as George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Strzok was more “directly involved” in the launch of probe, but he was not the “sole, or even the highest-level decision maker as to any of those matters.”

While the report finds the probe was launched properly, Horowitz recommends that in the future, sensitive investigations of this nature, especially those that involve the surveillance of members of a presidential campaign, should be more closely monitored by top officials at the Justice Department.

Infamous Christopher Steele dossier didn’t play a role in the launch of the probe

While the widely unverified dossier put together by former British spy Christopher Steele has been used as a boogeyman of the right to propel “deep state” conspiracies about the launch of the Russia probe, the DOJ IG report finds that the dossier — with salacious claims about President Trump and Russia — was not even part of the initial opening of the investigation.

“Although not mentioned in the EC (Electronic Communication), at the time, 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. 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,” the report said.

Significant errors in monitoring Page, but ‘no improper motivation’

Horowitz was fairly critical of the FBI’s handling of the application to surveil Carter Page, laying out several errors and omissions made in the application process.

“That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI … raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process,” the report said. “There was a failure of not only the operational team, but also of the managers and supervisors, including senior officials, in the chain of command.”

The infamous Steele dossier did play a “central and essential” role in the decision to pursue FISA surveillance of Page, but it was used in addition to other evidence.

“The OGC (Office of General Counsel) unit chief told us that she thought probable cause was a ‘close call’ when the team first proposed seeking a FISA in mid-August and separately when she discussed the idea with 01 around the same time. She said that it was the Steele reporting received in September, concerning Page’s alleged activities with Russian officials in the summer of 2016, that ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause that Page was acting in concert with Russian officials,” Horowitz wrote.

However, both Page and Strzok are cleared again by Horowitz in his assessment of what went into the monitoring of Carter Page. While both were involved in the FISA application process for Carter Page, Horowitz concludes there was no political bias in the decision to surveil the then-foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

“Testimonial and documentary evidence we reviewed established that Strzok and Lisa Page played no role in the substantive preparation or approval of any of the four FISA applications, including the Woods process. We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page,” he said.

Ivanka Trump was “friendly” with Christopher Steele

Steele was ultimately dropped as a confidential source in November 2016 after admitting that he had been a source for a Mother Jones article about his role in helping the U.S. probe contacts between Trump and Russia, Horowitz said. However, the report revealed that Steele also told OIG investigators that assertions that he had a bias against the Trump family were “ridiculous” because he “visited a Trump family member at Trump Tower and ‘been friendly’ with [the family member] for some years. He described their relationship as ‘personal’ and said that he once gifted a family tartan from Scotland to the family member.”

ABC News was first to report that that “family member” is first daughter and Trump senior adviser Ivanka Trump. The two reportedly communicated occasionally from 2007 to 2015.

FBI thought Trump campaign was too compromised to give defensive briefings

While discussing the conclusion that the probe was opened properly, Horowitz noted that each senior FBI official involved in making the decision “told us the information warranted opening it,” specifically when looked at along with the FBI’s ongoing probe into the hack of the DNC’s emails. This section of the executive summary stood out:

“(Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director E.W.) Priestap stated that he considered whether the FBI should conduct defensive briefings for the Trump campaign but ultimately decided that providing such briefings created the risk that ‘if someone on the campaign was engaged with the Russians, he/she would very likely change his/her tactics and/or otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth,'” the report said. “We did not identify any Department or FBI policy t hat applied to this decision and therefore determined that the decision was a judgment call that Department and FBI policy leaves to the discretion of FBI officials.”

Read the full, 400-plus page report below:

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