President Donald Trump spent the better part of the last several years insisting that the so-called “deep state” had engaged in a long-running, coordinated effort to keep him from winning and then undermining him once he was in office – all under the guise of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
On Monday, a report from the Office of the Inspector General at the Justice Department made clear that is not at all what happened.
Among the conclusions of Inspector General Michael Horowitz in the report:
*There was no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced” the decision to open the counter-intelligence probe into possible Russian meddling known as “Crossfire Hurricane.”
* “Crossfire Hurricane” was begun solely because of information provided to the State Department by a “Friendly Foreign Government.” (We know that “FFG” was Australia, which reported conversations between George Papadopoulos and an Australian diplomat in Britain in which Papadopoulos said he knew the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.) That directly disputes assertions by Trump – and lots and lots of Republicans – that the reason the counter-intelligence probe was begun was because of information in the non-verified Steele dossier, a document compiled by a former British spy that was funded in part by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
* Neither Lisa Page nor Peter Strzok, ex-FBI officials who sent a series of anti-Trump texts to one another, played a determinative role in operation “Crossfire Hurricane.” Of Page, Horowitz wrote: “While Lisa Page attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations, she did not play a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane or the four individual cases.” Of Strzok, Horowitz concluded: “We further found that while Strzok was directly involved in the decisions to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four individual cases, he was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.” That finding runs directly counter to Trump’s repeated insistence that the “lovers” Strzok and Page – the two were engaged in an extramarital affair during the 2016 election – were somehow actively shaping the counter-intelligence operation to target him and keep him from office.
That sound you just heard is the air coming out of the Trump conspiracy balloon. (You can and should read the full IG report yourself here.)
Let’s be clear here: Trump said that a series of “deep state” actors embedded within the Justice Department opened a counterintelligence operation based on a dossier paid for by his political opponents and was propped up throughout the election by people who were out to get him. According to the Justice Department Inspector General, none of that is true. Let me repeat: None of that is true.
Clearly aware of the damage the IG report would do to Trump’s now-debunked argument about the origins of “Crossfire Hurricane,” Attorney General William Barr quickly released a statement disputing the findings of his own department’s inspector general. “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,” said Barr.
And it is true that the IG report noted that there were a number of errors in the way in which the FISA applications were made to wiretap former Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page beginning in the fall of 2016. But there is no evidence in the Horowitz report suggesting that these errors were made purposely or with some broader attempt at coordination by Trump’s so-called “deep state” enemies.
Because we live in an era of hyper-partisanship in which facts and findings are somehow subject to whether you support President Trump or not, the IG report will likely change very little. Trump – as signaled by the Barr statement – will insist that the wrongdoings in the FISA applications surrounding Page are the REAL story here.
“The IG report just came out and I was just briefed on it and it’s a disgrace what’s happened with respect to the things that were done to our country,” Trump said in response to the IG report on Monday afternoon. “It should never again happen to another president. It is incredible, far worse than I would’ve ever thought possible and it’s an embarrassment to our country, it’s dishonest, it’s everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse.”
But let’s not confuse the issue: The President of the United States has said publicly – and repeatedly – that he was the victim of a “deep state” conspiracy aimed at keeping him out of office and hamstringing him while in office. A detailed report by an independent official within his own administration just made clear that’s not true.