Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The IG report and FBI incompetence
On Your Right
So Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s long-anticipated report was released. After mopping their collective brow with relief, Democrats immediately proclaimed that all was well since “political bias” was not the basis for the investigations into President Donald Trump before and during his presidency. In the giddy joy of calling the president a liar, they ignored what the report actually said, which was that there was no “documentary or testimonial evidence” of political bias behind the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane, the wide-ranging investigation into the Trump campaign and presidency. Nor was there “documentary or testimonial evidence” of political bias in seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant against Carter Page. Evidently, those committing crimes do not, when questioned, either give voice to their schemes à la Dr. Evil nor confess their transgressions in writing.
The report said much more, most of it chilling to anyone with an appreciation for civil liberties. With one noted exception, the following information comes from the report itself, available at justice.gov/storage/120919-examination.pdf.
The IG corroborated that Crossfire Hurricane began with information from a “friendly foreign government” about George Papadopoulos saying Russians had information on Clinton and were trying to share it with the Trump campaign. Horowitz’s report did not — in keeping with its scope — explore origins of that information, but we know it came from Clovis Mafsud, Stefan Halper and the “cousins” in British intelligence.
Crossfire was a “full investigation,” which by FBI rules must be based on “an articulable factual basis” that “reasonably indicates” any one of three defined circumstances exists: “An activity constituting a federal crime or a threat to the national security has or may have occurred, is or may be occurring, or will or may occur.” Read that again. A crime doesn’t have to occur for the FBI to bring the full weight of government to bear against anyone; someone just has to think it might.
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Although surveillance of a political candidate was initiated, “heightened predication” and consultation with top leadership of the Department of Justice was not undertaken, nor required by law. An oversight, said the IG, who expressed concern about this many times in the report.
The Crossfire team obtained a FISA warrant for surveillance of Carter Page based almost entirely on the Steele dossier and its derivatives in the press. FBI policy mandates that the case agent ensure that all factual statements in a FISA surveillance application are “scrupulously accurate,” but in this case, none of them were.
The report notes that “the team failed to inform Department officials of significant information” that contradicted assertions in the FISA warrant application, a failing they repeated in all warrant renewals. The report outlines at least seven “inaccuracies and omissions” in the information supporting the first FISA application and details 10 others in the renewals. Officials up to and including James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed off anyway.
The report also indicates that after the FBI fired Steele, he continued to funnel information to the Crossfire team through FBI Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, whose wife Nelly worked at Fusion GPS,” an opposition-research firm employed by the Clinton campaign. Steele used this conduit to provide spurious information 13 times.
There’s much more of the same. Following some of the less-friendly findings of the IG report:
- “We concluded that the failures described … in this report represent serious performance failures by the supervisory and non-supervisory agents with responsibility over the FISA applications.”
- “We identified at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods (mandatory review) Procedures. These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information … and failing to flag important issues for discussion.”
- “While we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents who assisted in preparing the applications, or the agents and supervisors who performed the Woods Procedures, we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified.”
- “That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations … raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process.”
So that’s it: No political bias, just overwhelming disregard for rules and regulations, evidence and process. Or incompetence — take your pick — in the process of obtaining uncontested, secret surveillance warrants from a secret court.
I feel so much safer, now.
Morgan Liddick’s column “On Your Right” publishes Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Liddick spent 27 years working for the U.S. Foreign Service, primarily living abroad. He also spent 12 years teaching U.S. history and Western civilization at community colleges in Colorado and Texas. He lived in Summit County as recently as 2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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