Last week, selected leaks to the media from the report of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz destroyed multiple GOP talking points about 2016, including Trump’s claim that the FBI spied on his campaign:
The New York Times reported that the soon-to-be-released report from the Justice Department’s Inspector General regarding the FBI’s counterintelligence operation (code-named Crossfire Hurricane) is expected to undercut some of the GOP’s biggest talking points—including their accusation that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign.
Per the Times, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found “no evidence that the FBI attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside Donald J. Trump’s campaign in 2016.” The intelligence agency did undertake some covert steps as part of their investigation, which the Times describes as “typical law enforcement activities,” including the use of an FBI informant, academic Stefan A. Halper, who met with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. The agency also had an undercover agent meet with Papadopoulos, posing as Halper’s assistant. (The FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” operation was spurred by Papadopoulos being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign by a Russian intermediary, Joseph Mifsud.) But crucially, the Times notes, Horowitz “found no evidence that Mr. Halper tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign itself,” and that no FBI informants had ever been directed to gather information on the campaign. The findings will debunk a major talking point on the right that the FBI “spied” on the campaign, which has been propagated by U.S. Attorney General William Barr, and—of course— by Trump himself, who’s referred to the conspiracy theory as “the biggest & worst political scandal in the history of the United States of America.”
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According to the Times, whose Wednesday report builds on previous previews of the I.G. report from the Times and Washington Post, Horowitz has also dismantled several of the GOP’s other spurious 2016 claims, including the suggestion that Mifsud, who offered Papadopoulos dirt on Clinton, was himself an FBI informant. Papadopoulos, who was convicted for lying to FBI agents about his conversations with Mifsud, helped spread that claim himself, alleging that the FBI and CIA had intentionally used Mifsud to set Papadopoulos up and damage Trump’s campaign. Horowitz is also expected to report that the FBI did not, as Republicans like to claim, rely on information from the controversial dossier compiled by Christopher Steele to open their investigation.
The Washington Post adds today that the prosecutor handpicked by Attorney General William “Coverup” Barr to scrutinize how U.S. agencies investigated President Trump’s 2016 campaign said he could not offer any evidence to the Justice Department’s inspector general to support the conspiracy theories of some conservatives — including Barr — that the case was a “setup” by American intelligence agencies. Barr’s handpicked prosecutor tells inspector general he can’t back right-wing theory that Russia case was U.S. intelligence setup:
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office contacted U.S. Attorney John Durham, the prosecutor Barr personally tapped to lead a separate review of the 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the people said. The inspector general also contacted several U.S. intelligence agencies.
Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.
But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.
Spokespeople for the inspector general’s office, Durham and the Justice Department declined to comment.
The previously unreported interaction with Durham is noted in a draft of Horowitz’s forthcoming report on the Russia investigation, which concludes that the FBI had adequate cause to launch its Russia investigation, people familiar with the matter said. Its public release is set for Monday.
That could rebut conservatives’ doubts — which Barr has shared with associates in recent weeks — that Horowitz might be blessing the FBI’s Russia investigation prematurely and that Durham could potentially find more, particularly with regard to the Maltese professor.
The draft, though, is not final. The inspector general has yet to release any conclusions, and The Washington Post has not reviewed Horowitz’s entire report, even in draft form. It is also unclear whether Durham has shared the entirety of his findings and evidence with the inspector general or merely answered a specific question.
In April, Barr testified before Congress that ‘I think spying did occur’ against Trump campaign, but did not offer any evidence of what “spying” may have taken place. Trump’s “fixer” said he would personally investigate the origins and conduct of the early days of the Russia investigation, a probe separate from an existing inspector general inquiry.
Barr told CBS News in May that some of the facts he had learned about the Russia case “don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.” He declined to be more specific. [Because conspiracy theories rely upon the insinuation of unsubstantiated facts.]
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Horowitz’s draft report concludes that political bias did not taint how top FBI officials running the investigation handled the case, people familiar with the matter said. But it details troubling misconduct that Trump and his allies are likely to emphasize as they criticize the bureau.
In particular, Horowitz’s team found omissions in the FBI’s applications to renew warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, people familiar with the matter said.
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Horowitz determined in the draft of his report that the FBI failed to convey [some information to the FISA Court] in some of the later applications to surveil Page, the people said.
Those omissions, while significant, were apparently not so egregious as to convince Horowitz to conclude that the renewal applications should have been rejected. It would be unusual for the inspector general to sit in judgment over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s determinations, because his job is to review how the information was gathered and presented to the court, not whether the FISA court should have approved or rejected specific applications.
Horowitz also found that a low-level FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, doctored an email that was used as part of the warrant application process — potentially significant misconduct that Durham is now exploring as a possible crime, people familiar with the matter said.
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A draft of Horowitz’s report criticizes as careless another low-level FBI agent who had some involvement in the Russia probe, the people said, though the exact reasons for that remain unclear.
Horowitz’s report addresses in detail the cause — referred to in law enforcement circles as “predication” — for opening the Russia investigation. The bureau did so after the Australian government passed to the United States a tip that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign aide, had boasted about Russia having political dirt on Clinton.
The boasts came before it was publicly known the Kremlin had hacked Democratic emails and stolen information that might be damaging to Clinton’s campaign. Papadopoulos had been told of the possible dirt by Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor.
U.S. officials have long said that they were duty bound to follow up on what seemed to be an alarming tip. The standard for opening an investigation is low. FBI officials need only an “articulable factual basis” to believe there has been possible criminal activity or a threat to national security. U.S. officials suspect that Mifsud has ties to Russian intelligence.
Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Mifsud, has alleged [a conspiracy theory] that he believes Mifsud is some type of Western intelligence asset and that he was set up.
People familiar with the matter said Horowitz queried U.S. intelligence agencies to determine whether there was any truth to that claim and found no evidence Mifsud was a U.S. asset. He also reached out to Durham to see whether the prosecutor had found anything that might contradict that assessment, and Durham said he had no such evidence, people familiar with the matter said.
Barr has seemed in recent months to take a keen interest in Mifsud, a shadowy figure who last surfaced two years ago for an interview with a reporter in Italy. The [globetrotting] attorney general has had private meetings with foreign intelligence officials to ask for their assistance in the Durham investigation, and he has asked the Italian government, in particular, about their knowledge of the professor. Italian officials told him they had no involvement in the matter.
It was not immediately clear whether Horowitz has examined possible ties between Mifsud and other Western governments outside the United States, though people familiar with the draft of his report said it does not lend credence to Papadopoulos’s allegation about the professor.
Barr could formally object to any of Horowitz’s assertions — though he could not order the independent watchdog to change anything — as the draft of the inspector general’s report is being finalized. In recent weeks, witnesses have given Horowitz input on changes they feel are necessary.
The Justice Department typically offers a written response and sometimes objects to the conclusions of its inspector general — though generally that occurs when the watchdog is alleging misconduct and the department feels it has to defend itself, rather than when the inspector general plans to clear the department or the FBI of wrongdoing. Barr also could decline to formally weigh in but publicly air his skepticism later, perhaps in a media interview.
Oh, you can bet that William “Coverup” Barr is going to try to keep the conspiracy theories alive with insinuations and innuendo, but never offer any actual evidence to back up his unsubstantiated claims. The Party of Trump is built upon a foundation of lies, conspiracy theories, and Russian disinformation and propaganda. Trump’s “fixer” is never going to contradict the man for whom he shills. This man is a disgrace to the legal profession.
UPDATE: CNN adds that William “Coverup” Barr — “a longtime skeptic of the Russia probe, and particularly the FBI’s tactics to investigate Trump campaign associates — has told conservative allies Horowitz’s report won’t be the last word on the matter.”
“Instead, the attorney general has told allies to wait for Durham’s investigation, which he believes will be more complete.”
John Durham, unlike William “Coverup” Barr, has always had a reputation as a straight shooter and consummate professional.