Inspector general testifies about Russia report
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he had “serious concerns” about the secretive surveillance court that approved politically sensitive wiretaps in 2016.
He added that he’s not sure the court should continue to exist “unless there is fundamental reform.”
“I'm a pretty hawkish guy, but if the court doesn't take corrective action and do something about being manipulated and lied to, you will lose my support,” Graham said.
What you need to know about the court: The special court operates in secret and approves wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — or FISA — a law that is typically used to target foreign spies and terrorists. The court was created by Congress in in 1978 and is comprised of 11 federal trial-level judges chosen by the Chief Justice.
In 2016, the FBI sought and received approval from the court to surveil Carter Page for nearly a year, starting shortly after he left the Trump campaign in the fall of 2016.
What the report says about FISA: The inspector general's report found that significant errors and problems with how the FBI prepared the applications to the court, including the critical finding that exculpatory evidence about Page was omitted. Trump and Graham said these findings prove that the FISA process was abused, for political purposes, though the DOJ IG said there was no bias in the decision to seek FISA surveillance of Page, and these procedural failures were generally mistakes and sloppiness, not intentional manipulation.
“I would hate to lose the ability of the FISA court to operate at a time probably when we need it the most,” Graham said today.
He continued: “But after your report, I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there is fundamental reform. After your report, I think we need to rewrite the rules of how you start a counter-intelligence investigation and the checks and balances that we need.”
A spokesperson for the court declined to comment this week after the publication of the report.
Sen. Lindsey Graham has named publicly the lower-level FBI lawyer who allegedly changed a document used in the Carter Page FISA warrant application.
Graham referred to “Clinesmith” during the inspector general hearing before the Senate. That’s Kevin Clinesmith.
CNN first reported the inspector general had discovered the situation, and that it was referred to prosecutor John Durham as a potential criminal matter.
What the report says: The report released Monday described more details of what had happened. The change to the Page-related email had said Page was “not a ‘source’” for intelligence, when in fact he had been. At first, the attorney told the inspector general he was not sure how the change happened, then later acknowledged he had made the change. Page’s status as a source to US intelligence was a notable error among several within the FBI regarding the court application to surveil the former Trump campaign affiliate.
Clinesmith has not been charged with a crime. An attorney for Clinesmith has not responded to CNN requests for comment this week.
Sen. Lindsey Graham said Russia – not Ukraine – was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016.
“They opened up a counterintelligence investigation in July (2016),” Graham said. “We know the Russians are messing in our election. And it was the Russians, ladies and gentlemen, who stole the Democratic National Committee emails, Podesta's emails and screwed around with Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t the Ukrainians. It was the Russians. And they're coming after us again. So, to be concerned that the Russians are messing with presidential campaigns was a legitimate concern.”
Some context: This aligns with assessments from the US intelligence community, including the FBI, CIA and NSA, that it was Russia. But President Trump has repeatedly rejected and contradicted those conclusions, and has promoted unfounded theories that Ukraine framed Russia for the hacks, and that Ukraine is hiding the DNC servers.
Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, said the inspector general's report “conclusively refutes” prior claims by Trump and Attorney General William Barr.
This “was not a politically motivated investigation,” she added. "There is no deep state.”
What the report itself says: The report essentially rebuts more than two years of talking points by Trump and Republicans about a deep-state effort to derail his campaign.
There were no FBI spies planted in Trump Tower, for instance. And the famed dossier by ex-British spy Christopher Steele was not the reason the investigation was launched, the IG report states.
The IG's office found that the FBI did not try to recruit members of the Trump campaign as informants, and did not to try infiltrate the campaign itself — either by instructing sources to get hired onto the campaign, or by sending sources into campaign spaces to collect information.
Several senators spoke to CNN this morning outside of today’s Senate Judiciary hearing.
Here's what they have to say about the FBI and Attorney General William Bar.
- Senator Dick Durbin: Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, said, “Attorney General William P Barr has become a partisan tool of this administration.” When asked about what he thinks of the Trump administration rejecting the DOJ watchdog report, the Illinois Democrat said, “Well of course they reject it, because it doesn't play into their scenario and their explanation.”
- Senator Chris Coons: Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, said “it’s striking“ that Trump is personally attacking FBI director Christoper Wray because he was nominated by him. He added, “I think this is a moment where the FBI director is standing for the thousands of men and women who serve every day in the FBI and is honoring his oath of office, which is to the Constitution, not to the President.“
- Senator John Kennedy: Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, said the actions of the “rogue FBI agents” makes him “sick to his stomach” and makes him want to “heave.” He added these agents should be held accountable and that’s one of the questions he’s going to ask the inspector general today: whether these agents are still there and how if at all they are going to be held accountable.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Senate Judiciary Chairman, said in his opening statement at today's hearing that what happened “was not a few irregularities,” but rather “the system failed."
"Trump’s time will come and go, but I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again. Because what happened here is not a few irregularities, what happened here is the system failed. People at the highest level of our government took the law in their own hands."
Graham criticized the way the media has reported on the IG report, saying, “You clearly didn’t read it. If that’s your takeaway that this thing was lawfully predicated, and that’s the main point, you miss the entire report.”
He claimed that the Clinton campaign was briefed on election interference by the FBI and his committee will receive a defensive briefing tomorrow, but complained that the FBI “never made any effort” to brief Donald Trump about “suspected problems” within his 2016 campaign.
Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham just gaveled in today's hearing. The committee will hear from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
In his written testimony submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz will reiterate his conclusion that the FBI Russia investigation was properly opened but spotlights concerns over “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in surveillance warrant applications.
CNN obtained a copy of his opening remarks. Here are the key lines:
- “Nevertheless, we found that members of the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to meet the basic obligation to ensure that the Carter Page FISA applications were 'scrupulously accurate.' We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications: 7 in the first FISA application and a total of 17 by the final renewal application.”
- “We do not speculate whether the correction of any particular misstatement or omission, or some combination thereof, would have resulted in a different outcome. Nevertheless, the Department's decision makers and the court should have been given complete and accurate information so that they could meaningfully evaluate probable cause before authorizing the surveillance of a U.S. person associated with a presidential campaign. That did not occur, and as a result, the surveillance of Carter Page continued even as the FBI gathered information that weakened the assessment of probable cause and made the FISA applications less accurate.”
- "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.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, was asked if the President still has confidence in FBI director Christopher Wray.
Graham replied as he walked into the hearing: “I don’t know, you’d have to ask, I do.”
Some background: Inspector general Michael Horowitz, the DOJ watchdog, is testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary committee this morning about his report on alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The report revealed the 2016 Trump campaign Russia probe was justified and unbiased.