Justice Department Inspector General Horowitz cites FBI missteps in investigation of Trump adviser.
WASHINGTON — Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified Wednesday that he was concerned the FBI did not reevaluate whether to continue investigating a former Trump campaign adviser as agents failed to uncover evidence of wrongdoing in late 2016, and the FBI’s missteps in that case might indicate a broader problem.
Testifying at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Horowitz criticized how the FBI handled its probe of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, asserting that agents used inaccurate information to obtain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders to surveil Page, even as they discussed among themselves that the investigation was coming up empty.
While Horowitz said he did not see evidence of those problems “infecting” the rest of the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election, he asserted he was so alarmed that he launched a broader review of the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
“The concern here is this is such a high profile, important case,” Horowitz testified. “If it happened here, is this indicative of a wider problem?”
The hearing is the second time Horowitz has discussed his assessment of the FBI’s 2016 investigation of the Trump campaign. As with his last appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his remarks offered fodder for Democrats and Republicans to validate their divergent views of the politically sensitive probe, which was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Horowitz said that the bureau was justified in opening the politically sensitive investigation, though he noted the threshold for doing so was low. He also said he found no evidence of political bias affecting the inquiry.
But Horowitz said, too, that as the investigation went along and the FBI applied to surreptitiously monitor Page, the bureau included “significant inaccuracies” and omitted important information in its bids to do so. He said he found evidence that agents discussed “not finding anything with regards” to Page, but pressed ahead anyway, instead of reassessing whether the probe was worthwhile.
“We’ve got agents talking with one another about why is Page even a subject anymore,” Horowitz said.
That assertion is important, as Republicans have suggested even if the FBI’s investigation was opened legitimately, it should have been shut down long before Mueller was appointed.
Sen. Ron Johnson, RWis., chair of the Homeland Security Committee, said in his opening statement he believes the inspector general report shows that the FBI’s Russia investigation should have been shut down “within the first few months of 2017.” Instead, he said, the Trump administration was “was tormented for over two years ... all based on a false narrative.”
The probe was opened in the summer of 2016; Mueller submitted his final report to the attorney general in March.
Under questioning from Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Horowitz noted he found no evidence that the missteps in the Page case sullied the FBI’s other work.
The FBI’s opening of the umbrella investigation involving the Trump campaign was based not on Page, but a different Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, whose boasts to an Australian government official about the Russians potentially having dirt on Hillary Clinton sparked the bureau’s interest.
Horowitz said he was unable to get satisfactory explanations for some of the FBI’s misconduct, and certain witnesses only agreed to cooperate late in the investigation.
Conservatives have also noted that Horowitz’s report is not the last word. Attorney General William Barr tapped the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, U.S. Attorney John Durham, to do a similar review of the Russia case.
Michael Horowitz is sworn in before testifying before a Senate panel Wednesday.