The report on possible abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will be released Monday, setting up a possible conflict between Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Attorney General William Barr.
Reports suggest Horowitz, who headed the investigation, and Barr diverge on whether the FBI was justified in launching its 2016 counterintelligence inquiry into possible ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, later wrapped into special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller concluded Russia interfered but did not establish a criminal conspiracy between President Trump and Russia.
Barr disagrees with Horowitz’s supposed conclusion that the FBI had sufficient information to justify launching its Trump-Russia investigation, according to the Washington Post, and Barr isn’t persuaded by Horowitz’s findings and believes agencies outside of the DOJ, such as the CIA, might be able to reveal details that could change Horowitz’s mind. The investigation conducted by Barr’s right-hand man, U.S. Attorney John Durham, uncovered information that could buttress Barr’s doubts, according to a lawyer associated with Durham’s team.
DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec stepped in Monday evening but didn’t dispel the notion that Horowitz and Barr disagreed.
“The Inspector General’s investigation is a credit to the Department of Justice, and his excellent work has uncovered significant information that the American people will soon be able to read for themselves,” Kupec said in a statement. “Rather than speculating, people should read the report for themselves next week, watch the Inspector General’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and draw their own conclusions about these important matters.”
Horowitz launched his investigation in March 2018, looking into allegations that the DOJ and bureau abused the FISA process by seeking surveillance warrants beginning in October 2016 against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, as they relied upon British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified dossier in filings to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Horowitz’s report is due Monday, and he’ll testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee two days later. Separate from Horowitz’s inquiry, Trump this May gave Barr full declassification authority to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation itself and to determine whether the inquiry was properly predicated. Barr selected Durham to lead that inquiry.
Barr and Durham have not said when they will release their conclusions, but Trump weighed in Tuesday when asked if he’d heard about the disagreement between Horowitz and Barr.
“If what I read is correct, that would be a little disappointing, but it was just one aspect of the report, so we’ll see what happens,” Trump said.
Trump said he heard from the news that Horowitz’s report would be “very powerful” and “devastating” and also raised expectations for what Barr and Durham might uncover.
“I do think the big report to wait for is the Durham report,” Trump said. “That’s the one that people are really waiting for. And he’s highly respected, and he’s worked very hard and he’s worked long hours, I can tell you, and gone all over the world. So we’ll see.”
“I think spying did occur. But the question is whether it was predicated, adequately predicated,” Barr told the Senate in April. “I’m not suggesting it wasn’t adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
Barr also said he wanted to pull together all the information from the investigations, including those on the Hill and within the department, to evaluate what, if any, remaining questions need to be addressed.
Barr and Durham have reached out to foreign governments including Australia, Italy, and the United Kingdom and have made multiple overseas trips to speak with intelligence officials and review evidence as they look into how the Trump-Russia investigation began.
Australian diplomat Alexander Downer met George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, at London’s Kensington Wine Rooms in May 2016. At this meeting, Papadopoulos said the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Two months later, when WikiLeaks published stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee, the Australians informed the United States about what Papadopoulos told Downer, prompting the FBI’s inquiry.
Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, said the man who informed him about the Russian dirt on Clinton was Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, who Mueller said had ties to the Russian government and former FBI Director James Comey claimed was a “Russian agent,” but whom some Republicans claim had ties to Western intelligence.
A draft of Horowitz’s report shows Durham told the inspector general he hadn’t found evidence Mifsud was a U.S. intelligence asset, according to sources cited by the Washington Post. Italy’s prime minister denied Mifsud worked for them.
The FBI rules ensuring investigations are launched properly will likely feature in both the Horowitz and Durham reports. Guidelines define “predicated investigations” and state the FBI has authority to investigate national security threats, including issues of intelligence operations or espionage by foreign powers. The guidelines require “the least intrusive means or method be considered” when investigating and states all investigations must be conducted for an “authorized purpose” that must be “well-founded and well-documented.”
Full investigations may be opened if there is an “articulable factual basis” of possible criminal activity or a threat to national security, with such an investigation allowing for surveillance, subpoenas, searches and seizures, undercover operations, electronic surveillance, FISA orders, and more.
The bureau says “the predication to open a full investigation must be documented in the opening electronic communication.” The Trump-Russia investigation’s initial launch document, which remains classified, is believed to have been authored by since-fired special agent Peter Strzok. DOJ’s leadership is considering guidelines requiring the bureau to get approval from the department before opening investigations into people such as presidential candidates, according to a source cited by the New York Times.
FISA documents released in 2018 show the DOJ and FBI made extensive use of Steele’s dossier in 2016. The Clinton campaign and DNC used the Perkins Coie law firm to hire Fusion GPS, which then hired the former MI6 agent, whose Democratic funding, strong desire for Trump to lose, and possible flaws with his dossier weren’t revealed to the FISA court. Clinton’s campaign manager said they received briefings from Perkins Coie about Fusion GPS’s findings during the campaign. The FISA applications targeting Page required the approval of top members of the FBI and DOJ, as well as the FISA court.
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