Washington: The FBI’s decision in 2016 to open an investigation into suspected Russian meddling in the elections was not driven by political bias, but agents made “fundamental and serious errors” in surveillance of one of Donald Trump’s advisers, according to a report released by the Department of Justice.
The FBI had an “authorized purpose” in launching the probe, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in the 434-page document, Efe news reported.
Horowitz looked specifically at mistakes and omissions in the applications FBI agents and other DoJ officials made to federal judges in pursuit of a warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page, who was advising the Trump campaign on foreign policy.
That type of warrant is issued under the terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), enacted in 1978 following revelations about widespread warrantless surveillance of Americans by US intelligence agencies.
A FISA court authorized surveillance of Page in October 2016. The permit was renewed three times in the first six months of 2017.
“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams; on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations; after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI; even though the information sought through the use of FISA authority related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign; and even though those involved with the investigation knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny,” Horowitz wrote.
Trump, currently battling a move by Democrats in Congress to impeach him for putting pressure on the government of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, had been saying for months that the IG’s report would show the FBI probe was politically motivated.
In his first public reaction to Horowitz’s report, Trump said the findings were “far worse than I ever thought possible.” The actions of the FBI and DoJ represented “an attempted overthrow” of the government, the president said during an event at the White House.
Democrats offered a far different interpretation of the document.
“The IG’s report shows that the investigation … was not politically motivated and that officials acted appropriately in opening the investigation,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a joint statement.
“While the IG identified some problems with the FISA applications by lower level individuals, the IG ‘did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct,'” Nadler and Maloney said.
Attorney General William Barr took issue with Horowitz’s conclusion that bias played no part in the FBI investigation.
“The Inspector General’s report now 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,” Barr said in a statement.
Also demurring from Horowitz’s conclusion was John Durham, the veteran federal prosecutor named by Barr to lead a broader investigation of all aspects of Russiagate.
“Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the US and outside of the US,” Durham said.
“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,” Durham said.