Report backs FBI probe
Watchdog review finds agency’s Trump-Russia investigation justified
WASHINGTON — The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and did not act with political bias, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog declared Monday, undercutting President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that he has merely been the target of a “witch hunt.”
The report rejected theories and criticism spread by Trump and his supporters, though it also found “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command that are likely to be cited by Republican allies as the president faces a probable impeachment vote this month. The review by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI was authorized to open the investigation to protect against a potential national security threat. Information compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, a focus of Republican criticism, “played no role in the Crossfire Hurricane opening,” the report said, using the name the FBI gave its investigation.
And the report ruled out political bias in the decision to investigate ties between the Trump
campaign and Russia, a frequent contention by Trump.
But the inspector general identified 17 “significant inaccuracies or omissions” in applications for a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and subsequent warrant renewals, although it also found the bureau was justified in eavesdropping on Page. The errors, the watchdog said, resulted in “applications that made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case.”
Some of that information came from Steele. The watchdog found that the FBI had overstated the significance of Steele's past work as an informant, omitted information about one of his sources whom Steele had called a “boaster” and who Steele said “may engage in some embellishment.”
Republicans have long criticized the process since the FBI relied in part on opposition research from Steele, whose work was financed by Democrats and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and that fact was not disclosed to the judges who approved the FISA warrant.
The report's release brought fresh attention to the legal and political investigations that have entangled the White House from the moment Trump took office.
Political divisions were evident in responses to the report.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it makes clear that the basis for the FBI's investigation was “valid and without political bias.”
Trump, in remarks at the White House, claimed it showed “an attempted overthrow and a lot of people were in on it.”
Trump has repeatedly said he is more eager for the report of John Durham, the prosecutor selected by Attorney General William Barr to conduct a separate review of the Russia probe.
Barr and Durham both rejected the inspector general's conclusion that there was sufficient evidence to open the FBI investigation.
“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 in a statement.
Durham said he had informed the inspector general that he also didn't agree with the conclusion that the inquiry was properly opened and suggested his own investigation would back up his disagreement.
In an interview with The Associated Press, FBI Director Chris Wray noted the report's conclusion that political bias did not taint the opening of the investigation or the steps that followed. But Wray said the inspector general found problems that are “unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution.” The FBI is implementing more than 40 corrective actions, he said.