By Masood Farivar
The release of a long-awaited report on the FBI’s investigation of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign has exposed deep fissures within the administration over the origins of the probe, pitting Trump and Attorney General William Barr against FBI Director Christopher Wray and the Justice Department’s watchdog.
The 417-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded that while the FBI legitimately opened the probe of suspected ties between the Trump campaign and Russia with no political animus toward Trump, some of its lower-level investigators made numerous mistakes during the surveillance of a former campaign aide.
Although intended to get to the bottom of a politically divisive investigation that has consumed much of Trump’s presidency, the IG’s findings did little to alter Trump’s long-held view that the FBI was out to get him.
With Trump and Barr attacking the FBI, the Justice Department is at war with itself, a phenomenon that experts say could destroy morale and discourage people from joining the nation’s premier law enforcement agency.
Trump’s grievance with the FBI dates to the earliest days of his presidency, when news emerged that the bureau was investigating whether his campaign had colluded with Russia to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Wiretapping, spying alleged
The president has since repeatedly attacked the investigation as a “witch hunt,” alleging the FBI tapped Trump Tower in New York and planted a spy inside his campaign as part of a conspiracy to bring him down.
Last month, he said during an appearance on the “Fox & Friends” television program that the IG report would reveal “the biggest scandal in the history of our country,” showing that the purported attempt to prevent him from winning the 2016 election reached the highest levels of the Obama administration.
The inspector general found no evidence of such a “deep state” conspiracy. However, Horowitz identified 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s four separate applications to obtain court authorization to monitor former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Among them, he found that the FBI failed to disclose to the court that Page had been an “operational contact” for the CIA. But Horowitz wrote that political considerations did not influence the opening of the investigation.
The finding failed to reassure Trump, who asserted that the report confirmed an “attempted overthrow” of the government far worse than he had thought possible.
“This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow, and a lot of people were in on it,” Trump told reporters on Monday.
Trump’s most pointed criticism came after Wray said he accepted the report’s finding that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” and an “adequate factual predication” to open the investigation.
“I don’t know what report the current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but I’m sure it wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted on Monday. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”
Barr, whose critical views of the FBI investigation mirror Trump’s, said in a statement he did not agree with the IG’s conclusion that the FBI had a legitimate reason to open the investigation.
In a subsequent television interview and an appearance at a gathering of business leaders in Washington, Barr eviscerated the FBI for continuing the investigation well into Trump’s presidency, even after the case collapsed.
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said in an interview with NBC. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
When Barr took the helm of the Justice Department in February, many predicted the upright, Republican establishment lawyer would restore faith in the Justice Department after the turbulent tenure of his predecessor, former Senator Jeff Sessions.
But Barr has emerged as one of Trump’s biggest defenders, echoing the president’s assertion about “spying” on his campaign and ordering a separate internal probe into the origins of the Russia investigation.
That has invited Democratic criticism that the attorney general acts more like the president’s personal lawyer than the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Barr has dismissed the characterization.
The backbiting and carping over the Russia investigation was on full display Wednesday during a daylong hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, echoed Trump’s criticism, blasting the investigation as a “massive criminal conspiracy,” while rejecting the IG’s finding that there was no political bias.
“I think Democrats and Republicans are willing to make sure this never happens again,” Graham said. “If you open up a counterintelligence investigation on a presidential campaign in the future, there needs to be more checks and balances.”
Democrats said the report validated the Russia investigation, and instead blasted the attorney general for criticizing the FBI.
“It’s extraordinary that the attorney general continues to make unsupported attacks on the agency that he’s responsible for leading,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.