Justice Department Report Undermines GOP Conspiracy Theory On Russia Investigation
An internal Justice Department investigation fails to find any evidence of political bias in the Russia investigation.
Ever since the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and other groups such as WikiLeaks, President Trump, and his acolytes have relied on allegations of partisanship to discredit the investigation. According to these claims, which President Trump repeated as recently as yesterday during a rambling hour-long interview on Fox & Friends, the entire Russia investigation was part of a “Deep State” Democratic attempt to undermine the Trump Administration. Striking out at everyone from F.B.I. Director James Comey, to F.B.I. employees such as Alexander McCabe and Peter Strozk and others, the President, aided by people such as Sean Hannity and others in conservative media has maintained that the entire Russia investigation is not just a “hoax” but an active effort to undermine his Presidency.
To be fair, there was at least some initial evidence that some of the people associated with the investigation did have a political bias against the President. To the most extent, though, those people were ultimately removed from the investigation by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and also before Mueller was appointed Now, a full report on the investigation undertaken by the Justice Department’s Inspector General has purportedly found no evidence that the Russia investigation was tainted by political bias against the President or anyone else:
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to find in a forthcoming report that political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, while at the same time criticizing the bureau for systemic failures in its handling of surveillance applications, according to two U.S. officials.
The much-anticipated report due out Dec. 9 from Inspector General Michael Horowitz will allege that a low-level FBI lawyer inappropriately altered a document that was used during the process to renew a controversial warrant for electronic surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, the officials said. The inspector general referred that finding to U.S. Attorney John Durham, and the lawyer involved is being investigated criminally for possibly making a false statement, they said.
But Horowitz will conclude that the application still had a proper legal and factual basis, and, more broadly, that FBI officials did not act improperly in opening the Russia investigation, according to the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive report.
The report generally rebuts accusations of a political conspiracy among senior law enforcement officials against the Trump campaign to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton while also knocking the bureau for procedural shortcomings in the FBI, the officials said. On balance, they said, it provides a mixed assessment of the FBI and Justice Department’s undertaking of a probe that became highly politicized and divided the nation.
“You can see how the warring factions will seize on the various parts of this to advance their respective narratives,” said a person familiar with the inspector general’s investigation.
The FBI, Justice Department and the inspector general’s office declined to comment.
The inspector general is not expected to level accusations of bias against top-level FBI officials in the forthcoming report, people familiar with the matter said.
Instead, the most damaging findings seem directed at lower-level FBI employees, especially a lawyer who was part of the process to renew a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
As a part of the process to renew one of the later warrants, an FBI agent asked FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith whether Clinesmith could document a certain claim, people familiar with the matter said. Clinesmith, the people said, asserted that he could with an email from someone at another agency.
[Inspector General] Horowitz’s several-hundred page report will land amid the frenzy of the impeachment inquiry, and Republicans, analysts say, are likely to seek to use it to frame the Justice Department and the FBI as tainted by political bias in 2016.
The inspector general began his work in March 2018, focusing on the application for a surveillance warrant on Page. Horowitz wanted to determine whether the application and renewal requests complied with the law and with FBI and Justice Department policies. Such requests are made through the department to a federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that meets in secret to vet such requests.
As part of his review, Horowitz also scrutinized material used in the application that was provided by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, an FBI informant who compiled a now-infamous series of memos that included dubious and sensational allegations of Trump hiring the services of call girls in Moscow. Steele was hired by an opposition research firm working for Clinton’s campaign to investigate Trump, leading Republicans to accuse the FBI of bias for relying even if only in part on the “Steele Dossier” for its application to conduct surveillance of Page.
In May 2018, after news reports that a retired American professor who was a longtime U.S. intelligence source had approached Page and another campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, to aid the Russia investigation, Trump demanded on Twitter that the Justice Department “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes.”
The department quickly announced that Horowitz’s investigation would expand to assess whether the FBI showed any political motivation in its counterintelligence probe of Trump associates suspected of involvement with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential campaign. That included a look at whether the FBI acted appropriately in opening an investigation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, in late July that year of Papadopoulos and whether Russian agents were seeking to use him as a conduit to the Trump campaign.
According to The New York Times, the final report won’t be made public until December 9th, presumably to give authorities sufficient time to review it to ensure that classified or confidential material is not released. Assuming that the reports from multiple media outlets are true, though, and there’s no reason to believe that they aren’t then this would appear to bring to an end any question about the validity of the investigation into Russian interference and potential collusion that began in the summer of 2016 when an Australian embassy official reported on an encounter with a drunken George Papadopolous, then a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, regarding his contacts with Russian officials. News of that contact was turned over to the Bureau, which then opened an investigation that was ultimately inherited by Robert Mueller. After more than two years, that investigation yielded indictments of more than two dozen Russian officials linked to cyber-hacking and active disinformation campaigns as well as charges, convictions, and guilty pleas from Trump-linked officials such as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Manafort associate Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, and, most recently, long time Trump adviser Roger Stone.
Essentially, it appears that the Inspector General reports will completely reject the argument that the President and his supporters have been making about the origins and conduct of the Russia investigation. Rather than being a biased effort by the so-called “deep state” to undermine the Trump campaign and Administration, it’s clear that the investigation was based in clear and irrefutable evidence of Russian interference in the campaign, as well as substantial evidence that there was some kind of coordination between the Trump campaign and either Russian officials or representatives of Wikileaks, which was essentially operating as a proxy for the Russian hackers who had infiltrated the server of the Democratic National Committee and other sources. By the time that investigation concluded, the evidence in favor of those conclusions was substantial and indeed overwhelming to the point where one has to be willfully blind to deny deny it.
None of this is likely to persuade Trump or his acolytes that their conspiracy theories are wrong, of course, but that doesn’t mean the truth is irrelevant. It matters, and it needs to be made public.