December 11, 2019

Inspector General’s Report

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

“The U.S. Justice Department’s internal watchdog said on Monday that it found numerous errors but no evidence of political bias by the FBI when it opened an investigation into contacts between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia in 2016.” Reuters

Read the full report here. Department of Justice

On Monday, US Attorney John Durham, who is currently conducting a criminal investigation into the origin of the Russia investigation, stated, “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… 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.” Department of Justice

See past issues

From the Left

The left sees the report as evidence refuting the claims that the Russia investigation was a “witch hunt” and that the FBI was biased against Trump.

Former FBI Director James Comey writes, “On Monday, we learned from a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, that the allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense. There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign… Most important, Horowitz’s report found that the investigation was opened and conducted according to the rules, finding no ‘evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced [the] decision’ to start it or how to run it.”
James Comey, Washington Post

“Was the investigation into claims of Russian interference a ‘hoax,’ as Trump and his allies have long claimed? No, Horowitz found. By the summer of 2016, U.S. intelligence agencies already knew that Russian hackers had breached Democratic Party servers with cyberattacks. FBI agents also received word from an Australian diplomat that George Papadopoulos, a low-ranking Trump campaign aide, claimed he had been approached by a purported Russian intermediary with offers of political dirt on Clinton. Those factors and others gave agents the minimal basis they needed under FBI policy to open an investigation.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

Some posit that “The conclusion that the predication standard was satisfied comes as no surprise. The standard is low, and deliberately so. While this standard prevents the FBI from opening an investigation on a whim or for an improper personal or political purpose, it allows probes to begin on even the slightest indication of a threat to public safety or national security. A higher standard would handcuff the FBI from completing its mission to protect and defend the American people…

“When predication indicates a threat to public safety or national security, the FBI has a duty to investigate. That duty applies even when the stakes are high, and the target is a powerful person in government. For the FBI to ignore such a threat would be to shirk its responsibilities, and instead leave our nation at risk.”
Barbara McQuade, USA Today

Others argue that “there are important systemic problems with the FBI and the way that the U.S. government approves invasive surveillance techniques on American citizens… the Clinton Foundation investigation began—and this is no joke—with an anti-Hillary book paid for by the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. If the FBI is making errors in seeking permission to surveil current or former advisers to a presidential campaign, the most politically sensitive kind of investigation, it suggests that there are many more flawed applications to be found in operations where the investigations are not nearly so delicate. The process for seeking permission to spy on American citizens suspected of being foreign agents should be more adversarial than it is, if only to keep the government honest.”
Adam Serwer, The Atlantic

“The investigation was not an investigation of the Trump campaign. It was four investigations of individuals—Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn—associated with the campaign but about whom there was specific reason for concern. In other words, investigators were not spying on the Trump campaign. They had concerns about specific people and their relationship with Russia, just as the FBI has always said… Page has a right to be pissed off. The inspector general has, after all, concluded that serious errors took place in seeking Page’s surveillance orders. But that’s about as far as it goes. The errors were not political. They were not part of some coup. And in any event, the Page FISA applications did not end up being all that important.”
Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare Blog

No one spied on the Trump campaign. The Steele dossier did not set off the Russia investigation. Two FBI employees, FBI attorney Lisa Page and FBI agent Peter Strzok, were not decision-makers and did not taint the investigation. In short, the panoply of screwy accusations meant to smear the FBI was false… Horowitz deserves credit for sticking to the facts and resisting what must have been intense pressure to go along with an administration bent on sustaining blatantly false conspiracy theories.”
Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right sees the report as evidence of extensive improper behavior by the FBI, especially the reliance on the Steele dossier to obtain warrants against Carter Page.

From the Right

The right sees the report as evidence of extensive improper behavior by the FBI, especially the reliance on the Steele dossier to obtain warrants against Carter Page.

How many ‘missteps’ does it take for an FBI investigation to be considered improper?… According to IG Michael Horowitz, the magic number lies somewhere north of 17. That’s the number of ‘serious performance failures’ uncovered by his investigation into the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants obtained by the FBI in connection with former Trump campaign aide Carter Page — who, in the end, was never charged with any crime…

“As it turns out, all the factual errors and missing exculpatory information in the misleading FISA-warrant applications happened to skew in the same, convenient, direction. And while Horowitz couldn’t uncover evidence of any ‘intentional misconduct,’ he also couldn’t get any ‘satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified’... Let’s not forget that these agents felt the need to deceive a FISA court that already rubber-stamps basically anything they want. Since 1979, the court has rejected under .04 percent of all surveillance applications.”
David Harsanyi, National Review

“Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, as he explains, is bound to assume good faith unless given ‘documentary or testimonial evidence’ otherwise. Yet he has compiled a factually damning report… Mr. Horowitz is not a criminal investigator. He lacks subpoena power, much less mind-reading power. If somebody was thinking, ‘This Steele material looks bogus but let’s use it anyway;’ he would not expect to find documentary and testimonial proof of it. And which file drawer should he search for documentary and testimonial evidence that the country would have been better served by a wiser, more circumspect FBI leadership, one less influenced by a manifest belief that Mr. Trump was unfit and Mrs. Clinton was certain to be the next president?”
Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., Wall Street Journal

“The IG’s report raises alarming questions regarding the level of discernment of those within the FBI. If a Democratic campaign had been the target of spying, would those in the FBI have treated the salacious (and frankly, ridiculous) dossier with more scrutiny? If they knew the allegations against Carter Page were increasingly suspect, why did they continue to file a FISA renewal, not once but THREE more times? The FBI should be forced to answer these questions… It should be deeply unsettling that a figure funded by the Democratic Party was able to peddle falsities to the FBI that were then used to justify spying on their political opponents.”
Erielle Davidson, The Federalist

“The [Steele] dossier's tales were taken seriously by officials in the highest ranks of the FBI — then-director James Comey and top deputy Andrew McCabe. In January 2017, Comey briefed President-elect Trump on the dossier's most sensational allegations. The briefing provided a hook for some news organizations to tell the public of the dossier's existence, and then, days later, publish the entire document. The reporting did terrible damage to a new president as he took office… The report makes clear the dossier never had even a shred of credibility. Steele had no firsthand knowledge of anything in the document. He got all his information secondhand or thirdhand from sources who themselves heard things secondhand or thirdhand.”
Byron York, Washington Examiner

“FBI investigations require a fairly low threshold for approval. But the FBI is also dutybound to close investigations once an investigative theory has been disproven, or when exculpatory evidence comes to light. That didn’t happen here…

“[It bears stressing that Horowitz] cannot compel any witness outside of DOJ to cooperate or be interviewed. This is not the case with U.S. Attorney John Durham, tasked by the attorney general to review the origins of the Russia investigation… The most likely reason why Durham took such an unprecedented step in announcing his investigation’s findings to date is that they contradict the inspector general's findings on bias. When the dust is settled on Durham's investigation, backed by the subpoena power that Horowitz lacks, the Trump opponents celebrating the Horowitz findings may find themselves with an egg or two on their faces.”
James Gagliano, Washington Examiner

“If a dozen drones or missiles can do the kind of damage to the world economy as did those fired on Saturday—shutting down about 6 percent of world oil production—imagine what a U.S.-Iran-Saudi war would do to the world economy. In recent decades, the U.S. has sold the Saudis hundreds of billions of dollars of military equipment. Did our weapons sales carry a guarantee that we will also come and fight alongside the kingdom if it gets into a war with its neighbors?… the nation does not want another war. How we avoid it, however, is becoming difficult to see. John Bolton may be gone from the West Wing, but his soul is marching on.”
Patrick Buchanan, The American Conservative

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

The findings “undercut the government's position that FISA courts are a sufficient guardian of Americans' civil liberties, and that the FBI is capable of responsibly exercising the vast powers granted to it. No one should feel confident that a court would block the FBI from engaging in surveillance, even if the information was flawed or faulty… Trump and his supporters were dead wrong to attribute to malice what is better explained by stupidity. But the latter is no less troubling, and it would be terrific if the media would spend more time holding the G-men's feet to the fire. It would also be terrific if Republicans could channel their momentary frustration about government surveillance programs into some sort of sustained pushback against civil liberty violations.”
Robby Soave, Reason

“The investigators working Crossfire Hurricane well understood they were charged with a Sensitive Investigative Matter—one destined to draw a level of scrutiny unprecedented in the history of FISA.  Under the circumstances, you might expect them to operate with especially scrupulous exactitude.  If the Horowitz report reflects what we find when we start turning over rocks under those conditions, what kind of errors and omissions might we expect to uncover in the case files of FISA targets less likely to inspire congressional hearings?  It’s past time to find out.”
Julian Sanchez, Just Security

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