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IG Report: No Political Bias But ‘Significant Problems’ In FBI Investigation Of Trump Campaign

The inspector general for the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, has released his report on the origins of the Russia investigation and the FISA applications for surveillance of Carter Page. As expected, the report found that the investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” was opened in good faith and that the surveillance of Page was carried out with a valid probable cause. Although the inspector general did not find a conspiracy biased against Donald Trump, he did find that there were 17 errors or omissions by the FBI in the four Page FISA applications.

In the report, which is available online here, the IG team found that Crossfire Hurricane was opened on July 31, 2016 and was based entirely upon information from a friendly foreign government (FFG) that detailed George Papadopoulos’ claims that “the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).”

“We did not find information in FBI or Department ECs, emails, or other documents, or through witness testimony, indicating that any information other than the FFG information was relied upon to predicate the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the report states.

The investigation found “that, under the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.”

“Additionally,” the report continues, “given the low threshold for predication in the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, we concluded that the FFG information, provided by a government the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) deems trustworthy, and describing a first-hand account from an FFG employee of a conversation with Papadopoulos, was sufficient to predicate the investigation.”

The report cites Bill Priestap, then the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division (CD) Assistant Director, who said that the FBI considered notifying the Trump campaign that some of its staffers could be compromised. Priestap told the IG that he decided against the notification because “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 IG determined that this was a judgment call that was not addressed by FBI policy.

With respect to allegations of political bias in opening the investigation, the IG report says, “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations.” Specifically, Lisa Page did not play a role in opening any of the investigations. While Peter Strzok was involved in the investigations, the report points out that Strzok “was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.” The decision to open the investigation was “reached by consensus after multiple days of discussions and meetings that included Strzok and other leadership in CD, the FBI Deputy Director, the FBI General Counsel, and a FBI Deputy General Counsel.”

Regarding Christopher Steele, the IG found that the FBI use of Steele was based on five factors. These included “(1) Steele’s prior work as an intelligence professional for [the FBI]; (2) his expertise on Russia; (3) his record as an FBI CHS [confidential human source]; ( 4) the assessment of Steele’s handling agent that Steele was reliable and had provided helpful information to the FBI in the past; and (5) the themes of Steele’s reporting were consistent with the FBI’s knowledge at the time of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections.”

The report found that “the FBI’s decision to rely upon Steele’s election reporting to help establish probable cause that Page was an agent of Russia was a judgment reached initially by the case agents on the Crossfire Hurricane team. We further determined that FBI officials at every level concurred with this judgment, from the OGC attorneys assigned to the investigation to senior CD officials, then General Counsel James Baker, then Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and then Director James Comey.”

However, the IG found that “FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are ‘scrupulously accurate.’” The report identifies “seven significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the first FISA application. These include:

1. Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application;

2. Included a source characterization statement asserting that Steele’s prior reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” which overstated the significance of Steele’s past reporting and was not approved by Steele’s handling agent, as required by the Woods Procedures

[safeguards against abuse that went into effect in 2001]

;

3. Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) [redacted]

4. Asserted that the FBI had assessed that Steele did not directly provide to the press information in the September 23 Yahoo News article based on the premise that Steele had told the FBI that he only shared his election-related research with the FBI and Fusion GPS, his client; this premise was incorrect and contradicted by documentation in the Woods File- Steele had told the FBI that he also gave his information to the State Department;

5. Omitted Papadopoulos’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like Wikileaks in the release of emails;

6. Omitted Page’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in August 2016 that Page had “literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort and that Manafort had not responded to any of Page’s emails; if true, those statements were in tension with claims in Report 95 that Page was participating in a conspiracy with Russia by acting as an intermediary for Manafort on behalf of the Trump campaign; and

7. Included Page’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in October 2016 that the FBI believed supported its theory that Page was an agent of Russia but omitted other statements Page made that were inconsistent with its theory, including denying having met with Sechin and Divyekin, or even knowing who Divyekin was; if true, those statements contradicted the claims in Report 94 that Page had met secretly with Sechin and Divyekin about future cooperation with Russia and shared derogatory information about candidate Clinton.

“None of these inaccuracies and omissions were brought to the attention of OI before the last FISA application was filed in June 2017,” the IG found. “Consequently, these failures were repeated in all three renewal applications.”

There were three subsequent FISA applications that contained an additional 10 errors. These errors were:

8. Omitted the fact that Steele’s Primary Subsource, who the FBI found credible, had made statements in January 2017 raising significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications, including, for example, that he/she had no discussion with Person 1 concerning WikiLeaks and there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and the Trump team, and that he/she did not report to Steele in July 2016 that Page had met with Sechin;

9. Omitted Page’s prior relationship with another US. government agency, despite being reminded by the other agency in June 2017, prior to the filing of the final renewal application, about Page’s past status with that other agency; instead of including this information in the final renewal application, the OGC Attorney altered an email from the other agency so that the email stated that Page was “not a source” for the other agency, which the FBI affiant relied upon in signing the final renewal application;

10. Omitted information from persons who previously had professional contacts with Steele or had direct knowledge of his work-related performance, including statements that Steele had no history of reporting in bad faith but “[d]emonstrates lack of self-awareness, poor judgment,” “pursued people with political risk but no intelligence value,” “didn’t always exercise great judgment,” and it was “not clear what he would have done to validate” his reporting;

11. Omitted information obtained from Ohr about Steele and his election reporting, including that (1) Steele’s reporting was going to Clinton’s presidential campaign and others, (2) Simpson was paying Steele to discuss his reporting with the media, and (3) Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the US. President”;

12. Failed to update the description of Steele after information became known to the Crossfire Hurricane team, from Ohr and others, that provided greater clarity on the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the DNC;

13. Failed to correct the assertion in the first FISA application that the FBI did not believe that Steele directly provided information to the reporter who wrote the September 23 Yahoo News article, even though there was no information in the Woods File to support this claim and even after certain Crossfire Hurricane officials learned in 2017, before the third renewal application, of an admission that Steele made in a court filing about his interactions with the news media in the late summer and early fall of 2016;

14. Omitted the finding from a FBI source validation report that Steele was suitable for continued operation but that his past contributions to the FBI’s criminal program had been ” minimally  corroborated,” and instead continued to assert in the source characterization statement that Steele’s prior reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings”;

15. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack;

16. Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials to the FBI that he supplied Papadopoulos with the information Papadopoulos shared with the FFG (suggesting that the campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia); and

17. Omitted information indicating that Page played no role in the Republican platform change on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine as alleged in the Report 95, which was inconsistent with a factual assertion relied upon to support a probable cause in all four FISA applications.

While the 17 errors “represent serious performance failures by the supervisory and non-supervisory  agents with responsibility over the FISA applications” in the eyes of the IG, the report further states, “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents who assisted OI in preparing the applications, or the agents and supervisors who performed the Woods Procedures.” Nevertheless, the IG was not satisfied with explanations for the errors and omissions and believed that “case agents may have improperly substituted their own judgments in place of the judgment of OI [Office of Intelligence]” or the FISA court.

Regarding Bruce Ohr, who met separately with Steele, the IG “concluded that the federal ethics rules did not require Ohr to obtain Department ethics counsel approval before engaging with the FBI in connection with the Crossfire Hurricane matter because of Nellie Ohr’s prior work for Fusion GPS. However, we found that, given the factual circumstances that existed, and the appearance that they created, Ohr displayed a lapse in judgment by not availing himself of the process described in the ethics rules to consult with the Department ethics official about his involvement in the investigation.”

While any significant error in such a high-profile investigation is troubling, the 17 errors and omissions identified by the inspector general are cause for concern. However, rather than a Deep State conspiracy, the IG report identified “an absence of sufficient policies to ensure appropriate Department oversight” as the probable cause of the problems with the FBI’s handling of the case. Despite years of claims to the contrary, the investigation “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” in the investigations of Trump campaign aides. That should be cause for celebration.

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