Watch­dog re­port: FBI’s Rus­sia probe jus­ti­fied, no bias found

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - 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, de­spite “se­ri­ous per­for­mance fail­ures” up the bu­reau’s chain of com­mand, the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ter­nal watch­dog said in a highly an­tic­i­pated re­port Mon­day.

The find­ings un­der­cut Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s claim that he was the tar­get of a “witch hunt.”

Yet its nu­anced con­clu­sions deny a clear-cut vin­di­ca­tion for Trump’s sup­port­ers or crit­ics.

It re­jects the­o­ries and crit­i­cism spread by Trump and his sup­port­ers while also find­ing er­rors and mis­judg­ments likely to be ex­ploited by Repub­li­can al­lies as the pres­i­dent faces a prob­a­ble im­peach­ment vote this month.

Trump, in re­marks at the White House shortly af­ter the re­port’s re­lease, claimed that the re­port showed “an at­tempted over­throw and a lot of peo­ple were in on it.”

The pres­i­dent has re­peat­edly said he was more ea­ger for the re­port of John Durham, the hand­picked pros­e­cu­tor se­lected by At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr to con­duct a sep­a­rate re­view of the Rus­sia probe.

Barr re­jected the in­spec­tor gen­eral’s con­clu­sion that there was suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to open the 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. His re

marks were an un­usual twist in that the at­tor­ney gen­eral typ­i­cally does not take is­sue with an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion that clears a Jus­tice Depart­ment agency of se­ri­ous mis­con­duct.

In an in­ter­view with The As­so­ci­ated Press, FBI Direc­tor Chris Wray said the in­spec­tor gen­eral found prob­lems that are “un­ac­cept­able and un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive of who we are as an in­sti­tu­tion.” But he also noted that po­lit­i­cal bias did not taint the open­ing of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, or the steps that fol­lowed. He said the FBI is im­ple­ment­ing more than 40 cor­rec­tive ac­tions.

Durham, in a brief state­ment, said he has in­formed the in­spec­tor gen­eral that he also doesn’t agree with the con­clu­sion that the in­quiry was prop­erly opened, and sug­gested his own in­ves­ti­ga­tion would back up that as­ser­tion.

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. 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.”

But the re­port also found the bu­reau was jus­ti­fied in eaves­drop­ping on Page and that there was not doc­u­mented or tes­ti­mo­nial ev­i­dence of any po­lit­i­cal bias.

Repub­li­cans have long crit­i­cized the process since the FBI re­lied in part on op­po­si­tion re­search from a for­mer Bri­tish spy, Christo­pher Steele, whose work was fi­nanced by Democrats and the Clin­ton cam­paign, and that fact was not dis­closed to the judges who ap­proved the war­rant.

The watch­dog found that the FBI had over­stated the sig­nif­i­cance of Steele’s past work as an in­for­mant, omit­ted in­for­ma­tion about one of Steele’s sources who Steele had called a “boaster” and who Steele said the source “may en­gage in some em­bel­lish­ment.”

The re­port’s re­lease, com­ing the same day as a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee

im­peach­ment hear­ing cen­tered on the pres­i­dent’s in­ter­ac­tions with Ukraine, brought fresh at­ten­tion to the le­gal and po­lit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions that have en­tan­gled the White House from the mo­ment Trump took of­fice.

The FBI’s Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which was ul­ti­mately taken over by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, be­gan in July 2016 af­ter the FBI learned that a for­mer Trump cam­paign aide, Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, had been say­ing be­fore it was pub­licly known that Rus­sia had dirt on Demo­cratic op­po­nent Hil­lary Clin­ton in the form of stolen emails. Those emails, which were hacked from Demo­cratic email ac­counts by Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tives, were re­leased by Wik­iLeaks in the weeks be­fore the elec­tion in what U.S. of­fi­cials have said was an ef­fort to harm Clin­ton’s cam­paign and help Trump.

The re­port said the FBI was au­tho­rized to open the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to pro­tect against a na­tional se­cu­rity threat.

Months later, the FBI sought and re­ceived the Page war­rant. Of­fi­cials were con­cerned that Page was be­ing tar­geted for re­cruit­ment by the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment, though he has de­nied wrong­do­ing and has never been charged with a crime.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral also found that an FBI lawyer is sus­pected of al­ter­ing an email to make it ap­pear as if an of­fi­cial at an­other gov­ern­ment agency had said Page was not a source for that agency, even though he was.

Agents were con­cerned that if Page had worked as a source for an­other gov­ern­ment agency, they would’ve needed to tell the surveil­lance court about that, the re­port said, and tasked the lawyer with con­tact­ing the other agency to ob­tain ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion. But the lawyer “did not ac­cu­rately con­vey, and in fact al­tered, the in­for­ma­tion he re­ceived from the other agency,” the re­port said.

The lawyer is not iden­ti­fied by name in the re­port but peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion have iden­ti­fied him as Kevin Cli­ne­smith. The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s re­port says of­fi­cials no­ti­fied the at­tor­ney gen­eral and FBI direc­tor and pro­vided them with in­for­ma­tion about the al­tered email.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral con­ducted more than 170 in­ter­views in­volv­ing more than 100 wit­nesses, along with FBI agents and an­a­lysts.

EVAN VUCCI — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump speaks dur­ing a roundtable on school choice in the Cabi­net Room of the White House, Mon­day in Washington.

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