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Horowitz offers troubling picture of FBI’s Trump campaign probe

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz delivered a troubling picture of missteps taken during the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign associates on Wednesday, saying his findings should not be viewed as a vindication of the bureau. 

Horowitz, testifying for more than five hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee, outlined the findings of his 20-month investigation into the bureau’s probe, saying he found “basic, fundamental and serious errors” as part of the FBI’s process. 

“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams, on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations, after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Horowitz told lawmakers. 

Horowitz’s testimony came two days after he released his 434-page report on his findings. Horowitz’s report found that there was no evidence of political bias in the decision to open the investigation and that the bureau had an “authorized purpose” for the probe. 

But Horowitz also found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” throughout the FBI’s investigation. The bulk of his testimony on Wednesday was focused on issues he found within the probe, particularly in the follow up requests for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants tied to Trump campaign aide Carter Page. 

Pressed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that he found “no evidence that the investigation was motivated by anti-Trump or political bias,” Horowitz stopped short. 

“We found no evidence that the initiation of the investigation was motivated by political bias. It gets murkier — the question gets more challenging, senator — when you get to the FISA. When you get to the attorney’s actions, for example, in connection with that FISA,” Horowitz added.

Horowitz appeared to be referring to Kevin Clinesmith, a front-line lawyer. Clinesmith, according to the inspector general report, altered an email related to the warrant renewal application.

Horowitz also declined to say if he thought the FISA warrant applications on Page would have been accepted if the court knew all of the information that he found during his investigation. He also specifically said he personally would not have submitted the subsequent FISA warrant applications as they were originally drafted and submitted by the FBI. 

“It had no business going in,” Horowitz said.

Pressed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) if the FBI was lying to the FISA court during the warrant application process, Horowitz said “it was misleading to the court.”

Pressed later by Graham if the handling of the subsequent FISA warrant applications was “off-the-charts bad,” Horowitz replied: “It’s pretty bad.” 

Horowitz also specifically broke with former FBI Director James Comey, who wrote in The Washington Post that the report disproved declarations from Trump and his allies that the FBI “spied” on the Trump campaign and engaged in wrongdoing.

“I think the activities we found don’t vindicate anybody who touched this,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz’s comments fed the narrative from Republican senators that the FBI went “off the rails” during its investigation into Trump campaign associates. Trump appeared to declare victory before the hearing was over, tweeting, “They spied on my campaign!”

Graham, in particular, teed off repeatedly on the FBI’s probe, including in a roughly 40-minute opening statement where he said the behavior described in the report “was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life.” 

“[It] becomes a massive criminal conspiracy over time to defraud the FISA court, to illegally surveil an American citizen, and to keep an operation against a sitting president of the United States violating every norm known to the rule of law,” Graham said.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said the report “made me want to heave” and that at one point, “I thought I had dropped acid, it’s surreal.”  

When Kennedy argued that someone needed to be “fired,” Horowitz didn’t counter him.

“Agree completely,” Horowitz said. “There’s got to be a change in the culture also.” 

Democrats did manage to score several political points during the hearing, including getting Horowitz to back up former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and putting a spotlight on the break within the Justice Department over Horowitz’s findings. 

Under questioning by both Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Horowitz said his findings did not take issue with any aspect of Mueller’s findings on Russia’s systemic interference during the 2016 election. 

“We don’t take issue with any part of the special counsel’s report,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz also told lawmakers that he is investigating potential leaks between the FBI’s New York field office and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney. 

“We are investigating those contacts. We’ve issued a couple of public summaries so far about people we’ve found violated FBI policy. We have other investigations ongoing,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz poked holes in several conservative conspiracy theories, including saying that he found no evidence that former President Obama ordered the investigation into Trump campaign associates and that there was no evidence that anyone besides Page had been wiretapped by the FBI. 

And in a break with the White House over whistleblowers, he said individuals have the right to remain anonymous. Trump and his allies have called for a whistleblower at the center of the House impeachment inquiry to be unmasked. 

“Whistleblowers have a right to expect complete, full confidentiality in all circumstances,” Horowitz said, adding that it was a “very important provision.” 

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