Justice Department Inspector General Releases Report on Russia Investigation
The Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General has released their report which examined “certain actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department (of Justice) during an FBI investigation opened on July 31, 2016, known as “Crossfire Hurricane,” into whether individuals associated with the Donald J. Trump for President Campaign were coordinating, wittingly or unwittingly, with the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” A summary of the report’s findings is as follows:
Opening of the Investigation
“The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane… after its receipt of information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG) reporting that, in May 2016, during a meeting with the FFG, then Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos “suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).”” With the case’s opening, the FBI reported “this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.” No “information other than the FFG information was relied upon to predicate the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.” Then Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director Bill Priestap “approved the case opening”, and “stated that he considered whether the FBI should conduct defensive briefings for the Trump campaign but ultimately decided that providing such briefings created the risk that “if someone on the campaign was engaged with the Russians, he/she would very likely change his/her tactics and/or otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth.””
Therefore, the Inspector General concluded that “the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity”, and “that the FFG information, provided by a government the United States Intelligence Community (USIC) deems trustworthy, and describing a first-hand account from an FFG employee of a conversation with Papadopoulos, was sufficient to predicate the investigation”.
Possible Bias in the Case’s Opening
The report “also sought to determine whether there was evidence that political bias or other improper considerations affected decision making in Crossfire Hurricane, including the decision to open the investigation.” Towards this end, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) looked at “text and instant messages between then Special Counsel to the Deputy Director Lisa Page and then Section Chief Peter Strzok, among others, that included statements of hostility toward then candidate Trump and statements of support for then candidate Hillary Clinton.” The OIG “found that, while Lisa Page attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations, she did not play a role in the decision to open [the investigation].” They “further found that while Strzok was directly involved in the decisions to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four individual cases, he was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.” “Priestap, Strzok’s supervisor, was the official who ultimately made the decision to open the investigation, and evidence reflected that this decision by Priestap was reached by consensus after multiple days of discussions and meetings that included Strzok and other leadership.” Given this information, the report “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced [Priestap’s] decision.”
Following the opening of the case, the FBI “conducted an initial analysis of links between Trump campaign members and Russia. Based upon this analysis, the Crossfire Hurricane team opened individual cases in August 2016 on four U.S. persons: Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn.” “While the formal documentation opening each of the four individual investigations was approved by Strzok (as required by the DIOG), the decisions to do so were reached by a consensus among the Crossfire Hurricane agents and analysts who identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” The IG “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations.”
FISA Application for Carter Page and the Steele Dossier
“The decision to seek [a FISA Application] was known and approved at multiple levels of the Department (of Justice), including by then DAG Yates for the initial FISA application and first renewal, and by then Acting Attorney General Boente and then DAG Rosenstein for the second and third renewals, respectively. However,… the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to inform Department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time that the FISA applications were drafted and filed. Much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications that were used to support probable cause and, in some instances, resulted in inaccurate information being included in the applications.” The “review found that 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.” [The OIG] identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation”. They additionally “found that the problems [they] identified were primarily caused by the Crossfire Hurricane team failing to share all relevant information” in the application.
The Inspector General’s report “determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team’s receipt of Steele’s [dossier] on September 19, 2016 played a central and essential role in the FBI’s and Department’s decision to seek the FISA order.” However, the report “found that the FBI did not have information corroborating the specific allegations against Carter Page in Steele’s reporting when it relied upon his reports in the first FISA application or subsequent renewal applications”. Also, the FBI’s “review did not independently seek to determine whether corroboration existed for the Steele election reporting”. Then, “as the FBI obtained additional information raising significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting, the FBI failed to reassess the Steele reporting relied upon in the FISA applications”. For example, “the FBI’s interviews of Steele [and his sources] revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s descriptions of information in his reports.” This included statements “that were inconsistent with multiple sections of the Steele reports, including some that were relied upon in the FISA applications.” Among this was a statement that “was not consistent with and, in fact, contradicted the allegations of a “well-developed conspiracy”… attributed to Person 1 (Donald Trump).” “The FBI did not share this information”.
“As a result,… the Department officials who reviewed one or more of the [FISA] applications, including Yates, Boente, and Rosenstein, did not have accurate and complete information at the time they approved them.” Had they “been made aware of the information, such discussions might have included the possibility of foregoing the renewal request altogether”.
However, the IG “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page.”