Inspector general report on Russia investigation is out

By Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 7:04 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019
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5:08 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

What the report says about Carter Page's surveillance application

From CNN's Marshall Cohen 

The Carter Page Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (or FISA) application would have been a “close call" — but things changed when the FBI obtained Christopher Steele’s memos, according to a top FBI lawyer who is quoted in the inspector general's report. 

Page once served as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.

The top FBI lawyer isn’t identified in the report, but she gave an interview to IG investigators. The report says:

“She said that although there could be differing opinions, she thought it was a ‘close call’ when they first discussed a FISA targeting Page in August, and that the Steele reporting in September 'pushed it over' the line in terms of establishing probable cause.”

Another FBI lawyer told IG investigators that the FISA application was “probably 50/50” before the Steele material, according to the report. 

The report shows how the FBI had been considering asking for a FISA on Page for weeks, but things kicked into a higher gear when they got some material from Steele. Some of that information ended up in the FISA application, which was approved by the secretive FISA court.

The FBI and DOJ misstated a key piece of information about Steele in the FISA applications, the IG found. 

“The FISA request form referred to Steele as a ‘reliable source, whose previous reporting to the FBI has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,’” the IG report said. “As noted later in this chapter, while Steele had previously provided information to the FBI that helped the FBI further criminal investigations, his reporting had never been used in a criminal proceeding.”

Why did the FBI want a FISA on Page? An FBI agent involved with the FISA warrants told the inspector general “that he had hoped that emails and other communications obtained through FISA electronic surveillance would help provide valuable information about what Page did while in Moscow in July 2016 and the Russian officials with whom he may have spoken,” the report said. 

Page’s visit to Moscow, while he was still advising the Trump campaign, raised eyebrows and piqued the interest of US investigators, CNN previously reported. While Page was there, he delivered a public address at a university where he criticized US policy toward Russia and condemned the sanctions that the Obama administration imposed since 2014. 

5:06 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

White House: Americans "should be outraged and terrified" by report

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Echoing President Trump’s comments earlier today in the Cabinet Room, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham reacted to the Justice Department inspector general’s report, saying, Americans "should be outraged and terrified by this abuse of power."

"This should never happen to another presidential candidate or any American ever again," Grisham said in the statement.

Read her full statement:

"The shocking report from the DOJ Inspector General shows an out-of-control FBI under President Obama and former Director Jim Comey. The report makes clear that the phony Steele Dossier was “central and essential” for the FBI to secure wiretaps from the FISA Court to spy on the Trump campaign. But the FBI repeatedly lied to the FISA Court to make Steele seem credible and to hide information showing that the Dossier was false. The Dossier was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee — but that fact was hidden from the FISA Court. Astoundingly, when evidence was repeatedly uncovered showing no wrongdoing by candidate Trump, that also was hidden from the FISA Court. On top of all that, one FBI lawyer altered an email in an effort to continue and extend the wiretapping — and he has been referred for criminal prosecution. All of this shows a repeated effort to mislead the FISA Court long after the FBI was aware the “Dossier” was false, phony and could not be used justify spying on the Trump Campaign.  The American people should be outraged and terrified by this abuse of power. This should never happen to another presidential candidate or any American ever again."

 

4:53 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

Michael Flynn's lawyer: The report "is a damning indictment" of the FBI and Justice Department

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Michael Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell released a statement following the Justice Department inspector general's report.

"The IG Report is a damning indictment of the determination of the FBI and DOJ to hide exculpatory evidence," Powell said.

About Flynn and the report: The report released today by inspector general Michael Horowitz did not find "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions" to open investigations that initially focused on campaign advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

In the report, Horowitz revealed new interactions between FBI investigators and the Trump campaign that are certain to inflame Republicans who have claimed President Trump's team was spied on.

In August 2016, just months before the presidential election, an FBI supervisor who oversaw the burgeoning counterintelligence investigation attended a briefing that intelligence officials were giving to the Trump campaign, in part so that the FBI supervisor could observe Flynn, a former general who had taken on a leading national security role in the campaign. The agent later wrote a memo recording his observations at the meeting of Flynn, who at the time had fallen under scrutiny of FBI investigator.

4:35 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

Schiff: "It may be too much to hope that this report will put to rest the conspiracy theories"

From CNN's Manu Raju

House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff said it "may be too much to hope" that today's report "will put to rest the conspiracy theories about the 2016 election."

“It may be too much to hope that this report will put to rest the conspiracy theories about the 2016 election — especially now, when the President and his allies are eager to distract from mounting evidence of his abuse of power with respect to Ukraine," he said in a statement. "But their baseless attacks on patriotic public servants must end, so we can put our focus where it belongs: on protecting our nation and democracy from attacks by foreign powers."

What this is all about: The report says the FBI properly opened its investigation into Russian election interference and refutes President Trump's claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign.

Schiff today also said he believe US intelligence officials protected "US elections from foreign interference.

"Indeed, they would have been derelict had they not pursued investigations into unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 elections and related matters. Those investigations were vindicated thoroughly by the Special Counsel’s revelation of serious misconduct, and by the convictions he secured — including of some of the President’s closest associates and advisors," he said.

4:31 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

Schumer: This report "puts these conspiracy theories to rest once and for all"

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Justice Department’s inspect general report “conclusively debunks the baseless conspiracy that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and its ties to Russia originated with political bias.” 

"For years, President Trump and his Republican allies in Congress and the media have speculated wildly about Deep State conspiracies against his presidency. They’re based on the claim that the FBI opened an investigation into the President’s campaign with political motives," Schumer said at a news conference.

He continued: "Today, we just got a report from the Department of Justice inspector general that puts these conspiracy theories to rest once and for all. This report conclusively debunks the baseless conspiracy that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and its ties to Russia originated with political bias." 

"Let me repeat, so that all of those conspiracy theorists out there hear it: This report confirms that the predicate for the FBI investigation was valid and without political bias," he said.

What this is all about: The 435-page report says the FBI properly opened its investigation into Russian election interference and rebuts President Trump's claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign.

However, the report also criticizes the FBI leaders and employees for how they handled four applications for surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

3:53 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

How the Trump campaign is responding to the report

The Trump campaign said today's report from the Justice Department's inspector general "confirms significant misconduct and wrongdoing by the Obama-Biden FBI."

"These politically motivated accusations were used to justify the surveillance of a U.S. presidential campaign by the FBI, which falsified information and concealed evidence that didn’t fit their narrative," Brad Parscale, Trump's 2020 campaign manager, said in a statement.

Remember: Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI properly opened its investigation. The report also said there were major errors in how the agency conducted the probe. 

Here's the full statement from the Trump campaign:

“This report confirms significant misconduct and wrongdoing by the Obama-Biden FBI. The Clinton campaign and the DNC paid for foreign sources to manufacture fake dirt on President Trump and his campaign, resulting in the now-debunked Steele Dossier. These politically motivated accusations were used to justify the surveillance of a U.S. presidential campaign by the FBI, which falsified information and concealed evidence that didn’t fit their narrative. Democrats and the media weaponized this as part of their Russia Collusion Hoax for more than two years and they are still at it today.”

3:41 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

FBI heads wanted to include information from Christopher Steele in a 2017 report — but this intelligence official overruled them

From CNN's Zachary Cohen 

Former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andy McCabe repeatedly pushed to include unverified information provided by ex-British spy Christopher Steele in the Intelligence Community’s 2017 assessment on Russian election interference. But they were overruled by then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper after CIA and director John Brennan raised concerns, according to the report just released by the Justice Department’s inspector general. 

“Whether and how to present Steele's reporting” in the intelligence community assessment was a “topic of significant discussion within the FBI and with the other agencies” participating in drafting the document about Russian election interference, the report states. 

Officials tasked with drafting the intelligence report noted that including information from Steele would dramatically heighten the sensitivity of the assessment.

"The minute we put the [Steele election reporting] in there, it goes from what you'd expect the FBI to be collecting in a counterintelligence context to direct allegations about collusion with the Trump campaign," one official noted in the report. 

According to one of the officials who helped draft the report, “The CIA expressed concern about using the Steele election reporting in the text” and recommended attaching the dossier to the intelligence community assessment as an appendix instead.

“The Supervisory Intel Analyst explained that the CIA believed that the Steele election reporting was not completely vetted and did not merit inclusion in the body of the report. The Intel Section Chief stated that the CIA viewed it as ‘internet rumor,’” the report says. 

Comey and McCabe argued that Steele’s information should be included in the intelligence community assessment despite acknowledging that many of the claims had still not been independently verified by the FBI. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful. 

Some background: Trump allies, including GOP Sen. Rand Paul, have previously claimed that intelligence officials, including Brennan, “insisted that the unverified and fake Steele dossier be included in the Intelligence Report,” arguing Brennan should testify before Congress.

3:33 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

Former FBI director: "The truth is finally out"

Former FBI Director James Comey said "the truth is finally out," following the release of the Justice Department inspector general's report.

Comey reacted to the report — which found that the FBI properly opened the Russia investigation, but there were major errors in how the agency conducted the probe — in an op-ed for The Washington Post, which published moments ago.

"On Monday, we learned from a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz, that the allegation of a criminal conspiracy was nonsense," Comey wrote. "There was no illegal wiretapping, there were no informants inserted into the campaign, there was no 'spying' on the Trump campaign."

He also addressed the mistakes the inspector general cited:

"The Russia investigation was complicated — not surprisingly, the inspector general found mistakes, 17 of them, things the FBI should have done differently, or better. That’s always unfortunate, but human beings make mistakes. Inspector-general reports are valuable because they offer the chance to learn. Horowitz also concluded that a low-level FBI lawyer doctored an email as part of the administrative process leading to the renewal of the application for electronic surveillance of the former campaign adviser. Although it is not clear what difference that made, it is still potentially serious wrongdoing and does not reflect the FBI culture of compliance and candor."

3:26 p.m. ET, December 9, 2019

Trump says the report shows an "attempted overthrow"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump claimed victory today after the Justice Department’s inspector general released a report on the origins of the investigation into Russian election interference, calling the investigation an “attempted overthrow” and an “embarrassment.”

“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. 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, its dishonest, it’s everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse,” Trump said during a roundtable on school choice in the Cabinet room. 

Trump said he would be receiving a more detailed briefing, calling it a “sad day.”

Remember: Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI properly opened its investigation. The report also said there were major errors in how the agency conducted the probe. 

The report rebutted Trump’s claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign. The report did not find "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions" to open investigations that initially focused on campaign advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But the report criticized the FBI leaders and employees for how they handled four applications for surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act targeting Page.

Without naming him, Trump made a veiled reference to firing FBI Director James Comey during his remarks today, claiming it would have been “worse” if he hadn’t made the decision.

“Well they fabricated evidence and they lied to the courts and they did all sorts of things to have it go their way and this was something we can allow to never happen again. The report actually, and especially when you look into the details of the report are far worse than anything I would’ve even imagined,” Trump said.

Trump continued: “What they were doing and what they would have done if I didn’t make a certain move, a certain move that was a very important move because it would’ve been even worse if that’s possible. And it might’ve been able to succeed, this was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow and they got caught, they got caught red-handed.”