Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe

Source: The Hill | December 9, 2019 | Morgan Chalfant and Brett Samuels

The Justice Department inspector general on Monday released a long-awaited report that found FBI agents were not motivated by political bias in opening investigations into associates of the Trump campaign in 2016.

“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,” the report issued by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz states, referring to investigations into four people on Trump’s campaign, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Carter Page.

Horowitz further concluded that the FBI had “an authorized purpose” to launch an investigation to “obtain information about, or to protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.”

The report found that the FBI launched its investigation into the Trump campaign, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” after it received information from a friendly foreign government on July 28, 2016, that Papadopoulos had suggested the campaign received an indication that Russia could assist in the election process by releasing damaging information on then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Horowitz did not find evidence that additional information was used as the basis to launch the investigation, but said the FBI and other intelligence agencies were already aware at the time of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

The report undercut a key talking point of Trump and his Republican allies: that FBI agents were driven by bias against Trump and improperly targeted his campaign during the 2016 election cycle. 

But the nearly 500-page report was critical of certain aspects of the FBI’s handling of the investigation, which is sure to provide fuel for Trump and his allies.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a lengthy response included in the inspector general’s report that the bureau accepted the investigation’s findings and would implement more than 40 “corrective steps” to address areas of concern outlined by Horowitz.

The bureau, which cooperated with the investigation, will modify its handling of FISA applications “to enhance accuracy and completeness,” Wray said, as well as reviewing its confidential human source program.

Horowitz’s report is the product of a nearly two-year inquiry centered on the FBI’s actions in applying for and renewing a warrant to surveil Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, as part of the bureau’s original investigation into Russian interference.

But it is far from the final word on the investigation into 2016 election interference and the Trump campaign. The response to the report quickly fell along partisan lines, and even some in the Department of Justice (DOJ) pushed back on its key findings.

Attorney General William Barr said in a statement that the report showed the FBI “launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.” Barr also said that, in his view, the FBI had an “insufficient” basis to justify steps taken in the investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016, putting him at odds with Horowitz.

U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is conducting his own probe into the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election at the direction of Barr, added that his own findings do not comport with all of Horowitz’s conclusions.

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