Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dec. 11. The hearing followed the release of the long-awaited report from the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) on the FBI’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane. Notably, Democrats on the committee were mostly unwilling to address the many problems highlighted by the report and tried to focus instead on Russian active measures to interfere in the 2016 election, as if attempting to keep alive the now-debunked theory that the 2016 Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
In fact, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) at one point asked Horowitz how many questions he had been asked, by Democrats, that bore no relation to his investigation. The inspector general acknowledged that he had been asked quite a few such questions.
Crossfire Hurricane, of course, was the FBI’s counterintelligence operation, opened in 2016, to investigate suspected ties between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign. Horowitz had been tasked, most specifically, with examining the Bureau’s application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Trump campaign advisor, Carter Page.
The OIG report cites 17 faults in FBI applications for the original FISA warrant and three subsequent renewals. These faults were either omissions of vital information or erroneous statements.
Nothing to See, Here?
Since the report came out, Democrats have focused on two of its main findings – using them to push the narrative that the suspicions President Trump, his supporters, and most Republicans have had about the FBI are unfounded.
The first of these two report findings is that political bias did not play a roll in the opening of Crossfire Hurricane or the obtaining of the FISA warrant. As the I.G. report clearly states, however – and as Horowitz confirmed at his hearing – that finding was based on the fact that his office had obtained no documentary or testimonial evidence to show that the FBI operation was driven by political bias.
It is worth contrasting this determination with the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In an attempt to pin various charges on the president for his interactions with the Ukrainian president, Democrats relied entirely upon hearsay, assumption, and suspicion. They had no documentary evidence that the president had attempted to coerce the Ukrainians into taking any action that would benefit Trump personally. Neither did Democrats have testimonial evidence to support this theory. All testimony provided during the impeachment investigation was speculatory: Serving and former government officials revealed what they had come to believe, what they assumed or what they suspected.
Horowitz, though, indulged in no such mental gymnastics. Put simply, none of the many thousands of documents he reviewed specifically laid out political motivations for the FBI’s operation. No one interviewed by the OIG stated explicitly that political bias against Trump was a factor.
No DOJ or FBI official involved in Crossfire Hurricane would have admitted such a thing, of course, and Horowitz – because he is a professional and not a politician with an ax to grind – is not in the business of using speculation as evidence of wrongdoing. Horowitz was very careful to avoid stating that the FBI operation was not influenced by political bias, instead sticking to his report that no documented or testimonial evidence of it was uncovered.
The other of the Democrats’ favorite Horowitz talking points is that the I.G. concluded that Crossfire Hurricane was adequately predicated. That is to say, the FBI was justified in opening its counter-intelligence operation and did so within the rules and guidelines of the DOJ and the Bureau.
However, the I.G. made very clear – both in his report and at the Senate hearing – that there is a very “low bar” for opening such an operation. Attorney General William Barr has recently expressed his belief that Crossfire Hurricane was opened on the “thinnest” of evidence. He is correct and, in reality, Horowitz agrees with him. Once again, however, the I.G. does not deal in the abstract or the drawing of conclusions, no matter how obvious, and was duty-bound to report that the Bureau followed the rules and met the standard for the opening of the counter-intelligence operation.
A Catalog of Mistakes or Misdeeds
It was after the operation commenced, though, that numerous rules and protocols were ignored or circumvented and, despite recent media stories to the contrary, the I.G. report confirms the worst fears of what happened: The FISA court was misled and the FBI did not know – and did not appear to care – whether any of the information in the so-called Steele dossier was accurate. The dossier was critical to obtaining and renewing the FISA warrant and the Bureau continued to present it as evidence even after it became known to agents that the principal source for the salacious allegations the dossier documented – a Russian national – admitted that none of the claims could be verified and that many of them were nothing more than gossip.
In one instance, a senior Bureau attorney altered a document submitted to the FISA court to essentially erase a vital piece of exculpatory evidence relating to Carter Page. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) ensured that this criminal act was publicly disclosed in no uncertain terms: “A lawyer at the FBI creates fraudulent evidence,” he said, addressing Horowitz, “alters an email that is in turn used as the basis for a sworn statement to the court that the court relies on. Am I stating that accurately?”
“That’s correct,” Horowitz confirmed. “That’s what occurred.” Under questioning from the committee chairman, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Horowitz also implied that what the FBI did amounted to “illegal surveillance,” a term synonymous, of course, with spying.
Assuming that most Americans will never read the full I.G. report, Senate Republicans have most definitely opened the can of worms with this hearing. Sen. Graham made it known that he was just getting started and Horowitz will testify again within a week. Democrats, with the help of their media shills, are working overtime to whitewash this shocking abuse of power but they will likely have little success – and the DOJ prosecutor, John Durham, is not even close to concluding his own investigation of the matter.
Read more from Graham J Noble.