The press corps is portraying Monday’s report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz as absolution for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but don’t believe it. The report relates a trail of terrible judgment and violations of process that should shock Americans who thought better of their premier law-enforcement agency.
Readers can look at the detailed executive summary and decide for themselves. But our own initial reading confirms the worst of what we feared about the bureau when it was run by James Comey. The FBI corrupted the secret court process for obtaining warrants to spy on former Trump aide Carter Page. And it did so by supplying the court with false information produced by Christopher Steele, an agent of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
How can anyone, most of all civil libertarians, pass this off as no big deal? The absolution is supposedly that Mr. Horowitz concludes that the FBI decision to open a counter-intelligence probe against the Trump campaign in July 2016 “was sufficient to predicate the investigation” under current FBI rules.
Yet Mr. Horowitz also notes that these rules amount to a “low threshold for predication.” John Durham, the U.S. Attorney investigating these matters for Attorney General William Barr, said Monday he disagrees with Mr. Horowitz’s conclusions on predication, albeit without elaboration for now. Mr. Horowitz confirms what the FBI had already leaked to friendly reporters, which is that the bureau’s alarm in July 2016 was triggered by a conversation that former Trump aide George Papadopoulos had with Australian Alexander Downer. But we learn for the first time that the FBI immediately ramped up its counter-intelligence probe to include four Trump campaign officials: Messrs. Page and Papadopoulos, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency Michael Flynn.
The bureau quickly moved to a full-scale investigation it called Crossfire Hurricane. The FBI’s justification, as related to Mr. Horowitz, is that the risk of Russian disruption of the 2016 election was too great to ignore.
Yet the bureau never told anyone in the Trump campaign, or even Donald Trump, whom or what it was investigating so he could reduce the danger or distance himself from those advisers. The FBI was investigating the campaign but wouldn’t tell the candidate who would soon be elected.
The FBI abuses escalated when it was presented with the now infamous Steele dossier. Mr. Steele was hired by Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS, the oppo-research outfit hired by a law firm for the Clinton campaign. Mr. Horowitz confirms that the FBI then used the Steele dossier to trigger its application to the FISA court to spy on Mr. Page. Mr. Horowitz also finds that the FBI told the FISA court that Mr. Steele was credible without having tried to confirm the details or verify his sources. Mr. Horowitz found no fewer than seven key “errors or omissions” in the FBI’s original FISA application, and 10 more in the three subsequent applications.
The omissions include the stunner that Mr. Page had been working as an “operational contact” for what Mr. Horowitz calls another U.S. agency from 2008-2013. Mr. Page has said this is the CIA, which Mr. Horowitz doesn’t confirm, though he does say that Mr. Page was reporting on his Russian contacts, which the agency deemed credible.
In other words, the FBI was using Mr. Page’s Russian contacts as evidence against him to the FISA court even as the other agency considered his reports on those Russians to be helpful to the U.S. Mr. Horowitz says the FBI never disclosed this information to the FISA judges.
Democrats and the press are making much of Mr. Horowitz’s conclusion that he “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation” influenced FBI decisions. But his report does show that political bias was conveyed to the FISA court from the Clinton campaign via the Steele dossier through the FBI.
Even if you buy the “no bias” line, all of this had major political consequences. Fusion GPS used its media contacts to spread word of the Steele dossier’s accusations, and news of the FBI’s use of that dossier became a media hook to suggest the accusations were credible. The Horowitz report should not be the end of this tawdry tale. Whether or not there are prosecutions, Messrs. Barr and Durham should release the entire FISA record to the public. The GOP Senate also needs to call the FISA judges to tell their story under oath.
The FISA process was established in the 1970s as a check on FBI abuse, though we and others warned that it would hurt accountability instead. So it has played out in this case. The U.S. doesn’t need a process that uses Article III judges as political cover to justify abusive wiretaps on innocent Americans, much less on presidential campaigns.
—The Wall Street Journal