IG Report Finds 17 Significant Errors & Omissions by FBI in Trump Campaign Surveillance, But No Political Bias
How do you feel about the IG's report into the conduct of operation Crossfire Hurricane?
Justice Dept. Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Monday released his report into alleged surveillance abuse against Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign by the Obama administration. The individuals surveilled under the operation known as “Crossfire Hurricane” included George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn. Here’s a look at some of its key findings:
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decision to open the four individual investigations.”
The IG report found that FBI leadership supported relying on Christopher Steele’s reporting to surveil Carter Page despite concerns raised that:
“Steele may have been hired by someone associated with presidential candidate Clinton or the DNC, and that the foreign intelligence to be collected through the FISA order would probably not be worth the “risk” of being criticized later for collecting communications of someone (Carter Page) who was “politically sensitive.” According to McCabe, the FBI “felt strongly” that the FISA application should move forward because the team believed they had to get to the bottom of what they considered to be a potentially serious threat to national security, even if the FBI would later be criticized for taking such action.”
The report also found that while FBI Agent Peter Strzok was directly involved in the decision to begin the surveillance, it was ultimately made by his supervisor in consultation with then-FBI Director James Comey, then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and then-General Counsel James Baker. Strzok was later dismissed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and fired from the FBI following the revelation of anti-Trump text messages vowing to stop Trump from becoming president. While DOJ lawyer Lisa Page, who engaged in those texts with Strzok as they carried on an extramarital affair, was involved in the meetings she played no role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane.
“Our review found that FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are “scrupulously accurate.””
The IG found “seven significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s initial application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to surveil Carter Page:
- The FBI omitted information obtained from another federal agency that had a prior relationship with Carter Page and had approved him as an “operational contact” and that he had provided the agency with information about his prior contacts with Russian intelligence officers.
- It included a characterization of previous reporting by Christopher Steele as “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings”, which overstated the significance of it and wasn’t approved by Steele’s handling agent. (Steele’s opposition research dossier on Trump was relied upon by the FBI in part to justify the surveillance).
- The FBI omitted information about the reliability of a key Steele sub-source whom Steele himself told the Crossfire Hurricane team was a “boaster” and an “egoist” who “may engage in some embellishment”.
- The application incorrectly asserted that Steele didn’t provide information to the press that was used in a Yahoo News article and had only shared his opposition research with the FBI and Fusion GPS (the client he produced the dossier for).
- The application omitted Papadopoulous’ consensually monitored statements to the FBI denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or outside groups like WikiLeaks regarding the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails.
- The application omitted Page’s consensually monitored statements to the FBI that he had “literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort, which if true were in tension with claims that Page was participating in a conspiracy with Russia by acting as an intermediary for Manafort on the campaign’s behalf.
- The application included Page’s consensually monitored statements to the FBI that the agency believed supported its theory that he was a Russian agent, but omitted other statements he made that, if true, contradicted claims he’d met with Russians about the Clinton emails.
The above inaccuracies and omissions were included in all three FISA renewal applications, and the IG found 10 additional significant errors in the renewal applications, including:
- Omitted information from people who had professional contacts with Steele who said that while he didn’t have a history of reporting in bad faith, he “didn’t always exercise great judgment” and “pursued people with political risk but no intelligence value”.
- Omitted information obtained that Steele’s reporting was going to the Clinton presidential campaign, that Steele was being paid by Glenn Simpson to discuss his report with the media, and that Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President”.
- That the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to update its description of Steele after information providing greater clarity about the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting became available, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the Democratic National Committee.
- A failure to correct the assertion that the FBI didn’t believe Steele provided information to the media after Steele made a court filing admitting to his interactions with the media.
- Omitted an FBI source validation report that found Steele suitable for continued operation but that his past contributions to the FBI criminal program were “minimally corroborated”.
- Omitted statements made by Steele’s primary sub-source, who the FBI found credible, made statements “raising significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications”, such as that there was “nothing bad” about communications between the Kremlin and the Trump team and that they hadn’t reported Page met with Russians.
- Omitted Page’s prior relationship with another agency despite being reminded that agency, and the DOJ’s Office of General Counsel altered an email from that agency so that it stated Page was “not a source”, which the FBI relied upon in its final renewal application.
- Omitted Papadopoulous’ statements denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the DNC email hack.
- Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials that he supplied Papadopoulous with information Papadopoulous shared with a friendly foreign government that the Trump campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia.
- Omitted information indicating that Page played no role in the Republican platform change regarding Russia’s annexation of Ukraine as alleged, which was inconsistent with a factual assertion relied upon to support probable cause in all four FISA applications.
Inspector General Horowitz will testify about his report before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 10am EST.
AG Barr & U.S. Attorney Durham Respond
Attorney General William Barr released a statement in response to the release of the IG’s report, which read in part:
“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. It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory. Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration. In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source. The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.”
U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is leading a criminal probe into the conduct of this surveillance, released a rare statement saying that he doesn’t agree with some of the IG’s findings:
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff. However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S. Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr / Creative Commons)
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