IG report says FBI justified in starting Russia probe; Barr disagrees

No sooner had Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his much-anticipated report on the origins of the Russia probe, finding as expected that the FBI was justified in beginning an investigation of the Trump campaign, than Attorney General William Barr put out a statement publicly disagreeing with the findings.

While Horowitz skewered the FBI for sloppiness and errors in the FISA application to spy on Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page, the report said "We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions" to start the Russia probe.

Barr immediately took issue with the report’s result. “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,” said Barr, even while praising Horowitz’s work.

And U.S. Attorney Durham broke with Justice Department protocol to not comment on an investigation while underway to say, “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."

The IG report said the Steele dossier was not the basis of the FBI investigation into Russian interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign – dubbed Crossfire Hurricane. Investigators did not obtain Christopher Steele’s research until they had already began their probe after an Australian diplomat reported that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had claimed Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But the bureau did use parts of the dossier in its application for a FISA warrant to put Page under surveillance. And it called out investigators for numerous errors.

"That so many basic and fundamental errors were made on four FISA applications by three separate, hand-picked teams, on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command's management and supervision of the FISA process," the report said.

Horowitz said he would look into how FISA warrants for spying on Americans are obtained and recommended the bureau create new guidelines for looking into presidential campaigns.

Saying he accepted “the report's findings and embraces the need for thoughtful, meaningful remedial action,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said he has “ordered more than 40 corrective steps to address the report's recommendations."

Wray said the FBI will change how it applies for national security warrants and how it manages confidential human sources.

Wray said the agency is "vested with significant authorities, and it is our obligation as public servants to ensure that these authorities are exercised with objectivity and integrity."

Senate Intelligence Committee Co-Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., hailed the report in a tweet as confirming the “FBI was justified in opening an investigation that uncovered criminal activity by the President's campaign manager, national security adviser and other aides."  

Warner noted, "It was never a witch hunt,” pushing back on President Trump’s frequent characterization of the Russia probe. “It was the men and women of federal law enforcement doing their jobs," he said.

Former FBI Director James Comey, who led the Russia investigation until he was fired by President Trump in May 2017, said in a Washington Post op-ed that “those who smeared the FBI are due for an accounting,” calling out Barr in particular as owing “the American people, an acknowledgement of the truth.”

Comey didn’t seem surprised that the IG would find errors in the probe. “The Russia investigation was complicated — not surprisingly, the inspector general found mistakes, 17 of them, things the FBI should have done differently, or better,” he wrote. “That’s always unfortunate, but human beings make mistakes.”

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