The long-awaited report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on alleged FISA warrant abuse by the FBI finally dropped on Monday, and it was full of devastating bombshells that ripped the bureau for severe and significant mistakes and oversights related to its investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016.
In a statement timed to coincide with the IG report, Attorney General Bill Barr shared his brief and scathing summation of what he viewed as an unjustified investigation launched against a presidential candidate on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
Barr responds to IG report
The attorney general noted the importance of holding investigators and prosecutors to the “highest ethical and professional standards” in order to maintain the “credibility and integrity” of the FBI and DOJ, and he thanked IG Horowitz for his work to provide the “critical transparency and accountability” necessary to do so.
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that 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,” Barr said. “It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”
He continued: “Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration. In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.”
Barr further noted that the excuses and explanations provided by the FBI to the IG were “unsatisfactory,” and though much of what was wrong occurred in 2016 and 2017 and was attributable to individuals no longer employed by the bureau, the “malfeasance and misfeasance” documented in the report made it abundantly clear that there had been “abuse of the FISA process.”
“Disciplinary action” possible
The attorney general also said that, due to the importance of FISA to national security, the DOJ and FBI would work diligently to improve the FISA warrant process to guard against future potential abuse, along with a more “comprehensive set of proposed reforms” that would impact the FBI more broadly.
“With respect to DOJ personnel discussed in the report, the Department will follow all appropriate processes and procedures, including as to any potential disciplinary action,” Barr added.
The admittedly narrowly-focused IG report determined that, despite all of the other problems, the opening of the investigation by the FBI against the Trump campaign was appropriately predicated, albeit with only a low bar to clear in that regard. That view was not shared by U.S. Attorney John Durham, however, who is overseeing a related and more wide-ranging criminal probe into the genesis of the investigation.
In a statement released by Durham — which was intended to counter several recent, anonymously-sourced media reports — the federal prosecutor expressed his respect for Horowitz and the work he had done, but said, “However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
“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,” Durham added.
As has been noted by analysts and pundits for quite some time, the limited investigation of the IG, while important, was always going to provide a mere framework for the broader criminal probe by Durham. Now, all we can do is wait for the U.S. attorney to finish his investigation and fill in the blanks left by Horowitz, hopefully holding multiple wrongdoers to account in the process.