FBI Investigation of Trump Campaign Justified But Flawed, Agency Watchdog Says

December 13, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee today Dec 11, 2019 during a hearing about his report regarding the actions of the FBI investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election at Hart Senate Building in Washington D.C. (Lenin Nolly/Sipa USA/TNS)

WASHINGTON — The FBI was justified in investigating the Trump 2016 presidential campaign’s alleged ties to the Russian government but the investigation was deeply flawed, the Justice Department’s inspector general told Congress Wednesday.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his 417-page report on the FBI investigation.

He disagreed with President Donald Trump’s assertions the investigation was “politically motivated” but when asked if the report vindicated former FBI Director James Comey, he stated it did not “vindicate” anyone.

Horowitz’s main complaint about the investigation was the information FBI agents gathered to obtain a warrant for surveillance of Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. His report listed 17 failures by the FBI.

Page was suspected of cooperating with Russian agents to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.

Horowitz said the agents sought information from unreliable sources and did not check it adequately. They also failed to share information among different FBI teams participating in the investigation, he said.

On one occasion, a lawyer working with the FBI altered an email to hide information that might have helped exonerate the aide, Horowitz’s report said.

As a result, the federal court that gave permission for eavesdropping on Page was misled about the facts, Horowitz said.

The federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorizes the FBI to use enhanced surveillance techniques on persons suspected of working with foreign intelligence agencies. The FBI must present evidence to a court that meets a standard of “probable cause” to believe the suspects are violating the law.

Page later was cleared of criminal wrongdoing. However, other Trump associates faced prosecution.

They included campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Mike Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

The inspector general’s report did not dispute whether the men were prosecuted properly, only that the FBI investigation “had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.” 

“Is it off the charts bad?” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, asked during a Senate hearing Tuesday.

“It’s pretty bad,” Horowitz replied.

The inspector general’s staff reviewed about a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses. 

“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,” Horowitz said in his testimony.

FBI officials said they would comply with recommendations in the report by instituting 40 changes to their investigative procedures. One of the recommendations was that the Justice Department require the FBI to seek high-level approval before it investigates major political campaigns. 

“The FBI has some work to do, and we are committed to building on the lessons we learn today to make sure that we can do better tomorrow,” an FBI statement said.

President Trump and his Republican allies described the FBI investigation as a “witch hunt” intended to destroy him politically.

Among those allies was U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who told NBC News in a report broadcast Tuesday, “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. I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”

He disagreed with the Justice Department inspector general’s report and said he would launch a separate internal investigation.

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