Re­port backs FBI probe

Watch­dog re­view finds agency’s Trump-Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion jus­ti­fied

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael Bal­samo and Eric Tucker

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.

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