Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include the so-called low-level official’s identity, which was not initially available.
According to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, the report into possible abuse, in 2016 and 2017, of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will be released December 9. The man behind the report, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz will appear before the committee December 11. To this point, few details of Horowitz’s findings had been released, but news broke, November 22, that a former FBI official is being investigated for altering a document submitted to the FISA court to obtain a surveillance warrant.
The backstory is now well known: The FBI in 2016 opened a counterintelligence operation targeting the campaign team of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. The FBI subsequently obtained a FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That warrant was renewed three times, though Page has never been charged with a crime.
FBI’s Growing Credibility Problem?
The inspector general has been looking into whether the FBI deceived the FISA court over the veracity of the evidence presented to the court by the Bureau. In light of this latest news, it appears that such a deception – long suspected by Page, President Trump, and most Republicans – may have indeed been perpetrated. The exact detail of the reported alteration is not publicly known, however.
The FBI official in question was said to have held a “low-level” position in the Bureau’s Office of General Counsel and has been fired from the FBI. It seems a common refrain, when a federal government department or agency is caught up in some scandal, that the culprits are “low-level” officials. Clearly, though, this individual was at a high enough level to have been involved in compiling or otherwise preparing the FBI’s affidavit for the FISA court.
In fact, we now know these claims were false. The FBI official in question has been identified as attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who was not, as claimed in the leftist media, a “low-level” official. Clinesmith was involved in both the Clinton email investigation and the Russia probe. It now appears likely he was one of the central players in the latter FBI operation. Clinesmith was thrown off Robert Mueller’s special counsel after it was discovered he had been writing anti-Trump text messages. Since then, Clinesmith has been fired from the FBI.
One major national newspaper has reported that he made a statement to the Department of Justice regarding the factual basis for the FBI’s surveillance warrant application. Having claimed, at the time, to have supporting documentation, this official subsequently altered an email message to back up the false statement.
To obtain the FISA warrant, the FBI is known to have relied – at least in part – on the infamous collection of memos and reports known as the “Steele dossier,” named for former British MI6 agent Christopher Steele, who compiled it.
It soon emerged that, not only was the Steele dossier little more than a collection of salacious rumors – likely originating from Russian intelligence services – but that the FBI had made little effort to verify Steele’s information. Steele had been contracted by Washington-based research firm Fusion GPS which, in turn, had been hired by attorneys working for the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee. Steele himself admitted to a DOJ official that he was “desperate” that Trump not be elected president.
Impeachment Versus FISA Scandal
As the nation waits for Horowitz’s report and testimony, federal prosecutor, John Durham, is leading an investigation into the genesis of the FBI’s counterintelligence operation. What began as an administrative review recently morphed into a full-blown criminal investigation, perhaps indicating that Durham has uncovered violations of U.S. laws or, at least, compelling evidence of such violations.
There is no word on when Durham expects to conclude his investigation which, no doubt, has been propelled in part by the inspector general’s findings. As events have turned out, the Horowitz report will be a major focus of attention right around the time the House Judiciary Committee may be working on articles of impeachment against President Trump.
Public opinion – either supporting or in opposition to impeachment – could be significantly affected by the inspector general’s findings. Though the two issues are not directly connected, many independents and undecided Americans could be swayed against impeachment, should Horowitz confirm what Trump and his supporters have long claimed: The whole Russia collusion story which led to an FBI investigation and then a special counsel, was a fabrication and a witch-hunt. If that is, in fact, how things turn out, Trump is likely to be viewed more sympathetically – as a president who has been hounded since his election victory by false accusers.
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