Watchdog Expected to Find Probe Valid 12/08 09:30
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department's internal watchdog will release a
highly anticipated report Monday that is expected to reject President Donald
Trump's claims that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and tainted by
political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors
during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.
The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected
to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically
sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a
witch hunt. It began in secret during Trump's 2016 presidential run and was
ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered
on his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe
Biden. Trump also claims the impeachment investigation is politically biased.
The release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz's review is unlikely to
quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation. It's
also not the last word on that investigation. A separate internal investigation
continues, overseen by Trump's attorney general, William Barr and led a U.S.
attorney, John Durham.
Trump told reporters Saturday that he was waiting for the chance to see
Horowitz's report and that he looked forward ``very much to seeing what happens
with the Durham report, maybe even more importantly, because it's a horrible
thing that took place and it should never happen to another president.''
Horowitz's report is expected to identify errors and misjudgments by some
law enforcement officials, including by an FBI lawyer suspected of altering a
document related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide. Those
findings probably will fuel arguments by Trump and his supporters that the
investigation was flawed from the start.
But the report will not endorse some of the president's theories on the
investigation, including that it was a baseless "witch hunt" or that he was
targeted by an Obama administration Justice Department desperate to see
Republican Trump lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
It also is not expected to undo Mueller's findings or call into question his
conclusion that Russia interfered in that election in order to benefit the
Trump campaign and that Russians had repeated contacts with Trump associates.
Some of the findings were described to The Associated Press on condition of
anonymity by people who were not authorized to discuss a draft of the report
before its release. The AP has not viewed a copy of the document.
Trump said last week that he expected Horowitz's report to be "devastating,"
but said the "big report" would come from John Durham, the U.S. attorney
appointed by Barr to examine how intelligence was gathered in the early days of
the Russia investigation. Durham's investigation is criminal in nature, and
Republicans may look to it to uncover wrongdoing that the inspector general
It is unclear how Barr, a strong defender of Trump, will respond to
Horowitz's findings. He has told Congress that he believed "spying" on the
Trump campaign did occur and has raised public questions about whether the
counterintelligence investigation was done correctly.
The FBI opened its investigation in July 2016 after receiving information
from an Australian diplomat that a former Trump campaign adviser, George
Papadopoulos, had been told before it was publicly known that Russia had dirt
on the Clinton campaign in the form of thousands of stolen emails.
By that point, the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, an act
that a private security firm --- and ultimately U.S. intelligence agencies ---
attributed to Russia. Prosecutors allege that Papadopoulos learned about the
stolen emails during a conversation in London with a Maltese professor named
Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulous pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about that
The investigation was taken over in May 2017 by Mueller, who charged six
Trump associates with various crimes as well as 25 Russians accused of
interfering in the election either through hacking or a social media
disinformation campaign. Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge a
criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
He examined multiple episodes in which Trump sought to seize control of the
investigation, including by firing James Comey as FBI director, but declined to
decide on whether Trump had illegally obstructed justice.
The inspector general's investigation began in early 2018. It focuses in
part on the FBI's surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
The FBI applied in the fall of 2016 for a warrant from the secretive Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page's communications, with
officials expressing concern that he may have been targeted for recruitment by
the Russian government.
Page was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
The warrant was renewed several times, including during the Trump
administration. Republicans have attacked the procedures because the
application relied in part on information gathered by an ex-British
intelligence operative, Christopher Steele, whose opposition research into the
Trump campaign's connections to Russia was funded by Democrats and the Clinton
In pursuing the warrant, the Justice Department referred to Steele as
"reliable" from previous dealings with him. Though officials told the court
that they suspected the research was aimed at discrediting the Trump campaign,
they did not reveal that the work had been paid for by Democrats, according to
documents released last year.
Steele's research was compiled into a dossier that was provided to the FBI
after it had opened its investigation.
The report also examined the interactions that senior Justice Department
lawyer Bruce Ohr had with Steele, whom he had met years earlier through a
shared professional interest in countering Russian organized crime. Ohr passed
along to the FBI information that he had received from Steele but did not alert
his Justice Department bosses to those conversations.
Ohr has since been a regular target of Trump's ire, in part because his wife
worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS, the political research firm that hired
Steele for the investigation.
This is the latest in a series of reports that Horowitz, a former federal
prosecutor and an Obama appointee to the watchdog role, has released on FBI
actions in politically charged investigations.
Last year, he criticized Comey for a news conference announcing the
conclusion of the Clinton email investigation, and for then alerting Congress
months later that it had been effectively reopened. In that report, too,
Horowitz did not find that Comey's actions had been guided by partisan bias.
The inspector general also referred former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
for potential criminal prosecution after concluding that McCabe had misled his
office about his involvement in a news media disclosure. No charges have been
brought and McCabe has adamantly denied any wrongdoing.