In a bombshell report last week, the Justice Department Inspector General found that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made “fundamental errors” and persistently deceived a secret court to authorize surveilling a 2016 Trump presidential campaign official. Inspector General Michael Horowitz did not find that the FBI’s actions were spurred by political bias but that conclusion is not necessarily shared by Attorney General William Barr. Unfortunately, this is only the latest episode of decades of FBI misconduct before America’s most powerful secret court.
Perhaps the most jolting revelations in the IG report detail the FBI’s efforts to secure a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) search warrant to use against the Trump campaign after suspicions were raised of Russian collusion. A FISA warrant is the nuclear bomb of searches, authorizing the FBI “to conduct, simultaneous telephone, microphone, cell phone, e-mail and computer surveillance of the US person target’s home, workplace and vehicles,” as well as “physical searches of the target’s residence, office, vehicles, computer, safe deposit box and US mails,” as a FISA court decision noted. The FISA court is extremely deferential, approving 99% of all search warrant requests.
A litany of missteps by the FBI
The IG report concluded FBI officials made 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its submissions to the FISA court to secure warrants to target former Trump advisor Carter Page: “FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are ‘scrupulously accurate.’ We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed.”
The FBI refrained from launching a FISA warrant request until it came into possession of a dossier from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligent agent. The Steele dossier played “a central and essential role in the decision by FBI [Office of General Counsel] to support the request for FISA surveillance targeting Carter Page, as well as the FBI’s ultimate decision to seek the FISA order,” the IG report concluded. The FBI “drew almost entirely” from the Steele dossier to prove a “well-developed conspiracy” between Russians and the Trump campaign. The IG found that FBI agents were “unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page” in the Steele dossier but the FBI relied on Steele’s allegations regardless.
The FBI withheld from the FISA court key details that would have undercut the dossier’s credibility, including a warning from a top Justice Department official that “Steele may have been hired by someone associated with presidential candidate Clinton or the DNC [Democratic National Committee].” The FBI also deceived the FISA court by wrongly claiming that Steele’s prior informant work had been “used in criminal proceedings” by the Justice Department. The CIA disdained the Steele dossier as “an internet rumor,” one FBI official told IG investigators. The IG report obliterated the credibility of the Steele dossier.
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