The long-awaited report on the origins of Russiagate shows the intelligence community played fast and loose with the truth to build its case against candidate Donald Trump and inflate the specter of Russian election interference.
The report by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General (DOJ IG) “makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement following the report’s publication on Monday. Despite the clear efforts by a handful of malicious FBI officials to mislead the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, he continued, the “evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
While praising IG Michael Horowitz’s work, Barr made it clear he disagrees with its essential conclusion – that all the prerequisites were properly met in order to launch July 2016’s counterintelligence inquiry into purported Russian election meddling, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.”
Horowitz’s report analyzed the launch of Crossfire Hurricane through surveillance of four Trump campaign figures – Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn – “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating actives with the Government of Russia.”
The entire probe was based on nothing more than a “friendly foreign government” tip about Papadopoulos claiming to have heard from Russia about juicy information on Hillary Clinton. That claim, plus “the FBI’s ongoing cyber intrusion investigation of the July 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee,” provided all the justification needed to surveil the Trump campaign going forward, even though the FBI acknowledged there was little by way of probable cause to suggest Page, at least, was acting as a foreign agent.
Seventeen total errors and omissions were found in the FISA documentation for Page alone, and the FBI’s willingness to take the reporting of British spy Christopher Steele at face value in order to provide justification for surveilling Page – in total absence of any corroborating information in its files, and compounded by the omission of contradictory information – requires a sizable suspension of
The report highlights an internal conflict over the centrality of the unsubstantiated Steele dossier, which played a starring role in the Russiagate narrative despite its dubious provenance. It was even included in the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) used to brief then-President Barack Obama and candidate Trump, even as former CIA director John Brennan flatly denied having relied upon the dossier “in any way” in court filings, applications, or other procedures.
Former FBI director James Comey admitted to IG investigators that – contrary to Brennan’s denials – the dossier was in fact part of the “corpus of intelligence information” used to draft the ICA, despite “only limited corroboration of the source’s reporting” at best and a knowledge on the part of intelligence professionals that Steele’s reporting was likely politically motivated.
An FBI intel section chief claims the CIA viewed the dossier as nothing more than “internet rumor,” and the FBI’s own Validation Management Unit evaluated Steele in early 2017, finding his previous “criminal reporting” to be “minimally corroborated” and highlighting gaping inconsistencies in the current material. Apparently, this was not important enough information to pass along to the Crossfire Hurricane team.
Had the FBI listened to the entirety of the conversations it was recording, it might not have been able to keep up the charade of Page as a Russian agent, and the pile of glaring errors the IG found in the documentation for his FISA surveillance indicates a deliberate pattern of misrepresentation.
Though it exposed myriad errors in both the launch of Crossfire Hurricane and in the handling of the FISA warrant procedures, the IG report was held up by Comey as total vindication. The former FBI chief crowed that “there was no ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign” in a Washington Post op-ed that attempted to present the documented spying (electronic surveillance of Page, kept secret by the FBI), as necessary because Page had “a long relationship to Russia and a history of contacts with Russian intelligence.”
Recording conversations and using “the most sensitive and intrusive investigative techniques” is (as even the satirical website Babylon Bee pointed out) the dictionary definition of spying.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham held up the report as a cautionary tale about what happens when ideological zealots are permitted to run rampant in Washington. “The American people should be outraged and terrified by this abuse of power,” she told reporters.
“This should never happen to another presidential candidate or any American ever again.”
US Attorney John Durham, who is conducting a criminal investigation into the Trump probe, reacted to the IG report with a statement that he respectfully does “not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” Durham’s investigation is ongoing.