It was one of the most highly anticipated reports to come out of Washington in recent memory...a look into the origins of the Trump-Russia probe by the justice department's top internal auditor, Inspector General Michael Horowitz. Investigative correspondent James Rosen joins us now with more.
James Rosen: Issued this week, the Horowitz report offered something for everyone in these divided times...a conclusion that there was no political bias in the original decision to investigate the Trump campaign, paired with findings of egregious lapses in the process that led to a former Trump campaign advisor being wiretapped. So what happens now? Will Americans enjoy more protection from unwarranted snooping?
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz faced criticism from the highest levels. Despite his central finding that no political bias informed the FBI’s scrutiny of the Trump campaign. President Trump said the report validated his claims that the top echelons of the FBI under former Director James Comey were actively plotting against him.
President Trump: Well, they fabricated evidence and they lied to the courts, and they did all sorts of things to have it go their way.
John Durham, the U.S. Attorney conducting a criminal investigation into the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe, which carried the code name "Crossfire Hurricane" said his work will produce starkly different conclusions. Namely, that the surveillance mounted against the Trump campaign lacked probable cause. And Durham has the full backing of the top man at Justice: Attorney General William Barr.
William Barr, U.S. Attorney General: As far as I’m aware, this is the first time in history that this has been done to a Presidential campaign, the use of these counter-intelligence techniques against a Presidential campaign.
The Barr-Durham investigation could potentially lead to criminal prosecutions...focused on a number of possible avenues.
Congressman Devin Nunes is the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Devin Nunes: The one thing we have to get to the bottom of that Horowitz was not able to get to the bottom of is the spies that were being run against theTrump campaign -- those began before Crossfire Hurricane began on July 31st. The Horowitz report made numerous recommendations to guard against future lapses in professional conduct like those that plagued the applications for surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, against former Trump Campaign Advisor Carter Page.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said his Bureau has already enacted forty reforms.
Christopher Wray, FBI Director: We're determined to learn the lessons from this report and make sure the FBI emerges from this even better and stronger.
The FBI lapses included failures to identify to the FISA court judges evidence in hand that tended to clear Carter Page of suspicion and repeated failures to tell them about the past unreliability of and democratic party funding for, a "confidential human source" named Christopher Steele. He's the former British spy and FBI informant whose dossier on then candidate Trump, filled with salacious and unverified allegations, was relied upon by the FBI to justify the wiretapping of Carter Page.
Democratic Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver argued that despite these lapses, secret surveillance warrants remain essential to law enforcement.
Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver: FISA is still -- still something that I think we're better having than not having it. We just need to make sure that it becomes a little more difficult to make errors.
Horowitz recommended that FISA forms be amended "to ensure information is identified...that tends to disprove, does not support, or is inconsistent with a finding or an allegation that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power." The Inspector General also urged that FBI agents working sensitive cases be compelled to provide information "that bears on the reliability of every [confidential human source] whose information is relied upon in the fisa application."
Horowitz told a Senate committee the problem did not derive from opposition to then candidate Trump.
Michael Horowitz, Justice Dept. Inspector General: We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that indicated political bias or improper motivation.
But the Inspector General did express profound misgivings about the conduct off FBI personnel at various levels.
Michael Horowitz, Justice Dept. Inspector General: 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.
Kel McClanahan is one of the leading attorneys in Washington who handles national security litigation.
James: Should we expect any congressional action as a result of the flaws and the violations that we saw exhibited in Horowitz's findings?
Kel McClanahan: Executive Director, National Security Counselors: I don't think so, because Congress has never really gotten involved to the level of granularity about who has to report what to what internal agency, employee or bureaucrat.
James Rosen: If it's going to be corrected, that's going to have to come from within the intelligence community itself?
Kel McClanahan, Executive Director, National Security Counselors: As a rule, yes. Congress can definitely play a role. The President could even play a role, although this is also a level of granularity that you don't generally see from White House involvement.
James: Another reason not to expect congressional reform is the starkly polarized climate on Capitol Hill. One Senator said to me recently, that Washington is so broken that you name the issue – outside of some notable exceptions, such as impeachment and the U-S-M-C-A trade deal -- there's not much happening legislatively.
Sharyl: James, your reporting indicates that the Barr-Durham criminal investigation has branched out beyond the FBI and the Trump-Russia probe. What else does it include now?
James: We've confirmed that Durham is looking into the "intelligence community assessment," or ICA, that was issued in early 2017, just before Donald Trump was sworn in, that found that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the direct aim of helping the Trump campaign. Durham wants to know how that assessment was staffed and how its conclusions were arrived at.