A lot going on in this WaPo story, which is really two separate stories. The first, very much related to this afternoon’s post, confirms that the heads of the DOJ’s two Russiagate probes are indeed in contact and sharing information. Which only stands to reason: How could IG Michael Horowitz commit to certain conclusions knowing that prosecutor John Durham might have information that undermines those conclusions, as Bill Barr has reportedly been hinting to friends lately?
WaPo claims Horowitz reached out to Durham — and other U.S. intelligence agencies — wanting to know if Trumpist suspicions about the mysterious Joseph Mifsud were correct. Is he actually an asset of western, not Russian, intelligence agencies, a man who duped poor George Papadopoulos into believing that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton? If Mifsud was working for the U.S. or a U.S. ally, that would lead to the hair-raising question of whether Team Trump was deliberately set up by the “deep state.” There was no Russia plot, just the nefarious CIA or whoever wanting the FBI to think there was a Russia plot in hopes that they’d start sniffing around Trump and raising public suspicions about his connections to the Kremlin. It worked like a charm.
But no, Mifsud’s not a deep-stater. At least not so far as anyone, including Durham, can tell.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office contacted U.S. Attorney John Durham, the prosecutor Barr personally tapped to lead a separate review of the 2016 probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, the people said. The inspector general also contacted several U.S. intelligence agencies.
Among Horowitz’s questions: whether a Maltese professor who interacted with a Trump campaign adviser was actually a U.S. intelligence asset deployed to ensnare the campaign, the people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the inspector general’s findings have not been made public.
But the intelligence agencies said the professor was not among their assets, the people said. And Durham informed Horowitz’s office that his investigation had not produced any evidence that might contradict the inspector general’s findings on that point.
So much for my theory that Durham had uncovered something about Mifsud that convinced Bill Barr that there was no proper basis for the Russiagate probe. It was reported yesterday that Barr disagrees with Horowitz’s conclusion that there was a sufficient legal and factual basis for opening the investigation, but no specifics for Barr’s belief were given. My guess, since the probe originated with Papadopoulos’s meeting with Mifsud, was that Durham must have turned up something about the latter’s motives. Apparently not, according to WaPo.
In that case, though, why doesn’t Barr share Horowitz’s conclusion about there being a sufficient basis to investigate? That’s the second story in WaPo’s article, perhaps:
Horowitz’s team found omissions in the FBI’s applications to renew warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, people familiar with the matter said.
The applications relied at least in part on information provided by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who was hired to investigate Trump by an opposition research firm working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign…
When FBI agents interviewed one of Steele’s subsources, they found Steele’s information — which he had said was raw intelligence in need of further investigation — was not entirely reliable, people familiar with the matter said. And Horowitz determined in the draft of his report that the FBI failed to convey as much in some of the later applications to surveil Page, the people said.
So the FBI relied on the dossier in FISA renewals despite knowing, but not disclosing, that at least parts of the information were dodgy. Suppressing their own doubts about the reliability of the information in drafting the applications is outrageous, although Horowitz appears to take the view that there was enough reliable info elsewhere in the documents that the applications would have been granted even if the FBI had been more forthcoming. We’ll have to see which information, specifically, was held back in order to form a judgment about that. But in the meantime, maybe this is the source of Barr’s disagreement with Horowitz? Maybe he thought that the FBI should have halted the investigation as soon as it began to have doubts about the dossier. That doesn’t add up to me since obviously there were other grounds for investigating, i.e. Papadopoulos and Mifsud, and the evidentiary threshold for granting a FISA warrant is low. But it’s the best I can do on such limited info.
If Barr’s skepticism is based on something else, known perhaps to him and Durham but not to Horowitz, then the question becomes … why isn’t he sharing it with Horowitz? It’s unimaginable to me that the AG would deliberately hold back info from the IG that might materially affect Horowitz’s conclusions, knowing how much it would damage the IG’s credibility to have those conclusions exposed as mistaken by Durham’s own investigation. We’re seeing right in this WaPo story that Horowitz and Durham are in contact, and understandably so given Horowitz’s interest in getting the facts right. If Durham knows something that suggests that the Russiagate investigation lacked a sound factual/legal basis after all, it has to be that that information has been given to Horowitz. And if Horowitz decided anyway that there was a valid basis to proceed, then it must be that he and Barr simply have different views of the facts known to all parties. It’s not that Durham’s going to spring a bombshell after Horowitz’s report comes out (unless Durham hasn’t discovered that bombshell yet). It must be that Barr simply thinks Horowitz’s interpretation of the facts is too charitable to the FBI.
It sure is interesting to find people inside the DOJ leaking to WaPo that Horowitz and Durham are sharing info, though, huh? Theory: Horowitz is irritated by the stories this week about Barr badmouthing his conclusions even before the report is released. In particular, he’s annoyed that Barr has allegedly told friends to wait for Durham’s report, that that’s the one that’ll be definitive since Durham has subpoena power and a wider jurisdiction than Horowitz does. That smells a lot like Barr trying to pre-spin the IG’s findings as misinformed and therefore safe to discount by the likes of Trump and MAGA Nation. So here’s Horowitz letting it be known to the media that he is in fact communicating with Durham in the interests of putting out the most comprehensive, accurate report that he can. And so if Trump’s going to crap on it next week, he’ll have to do so knowing that Barr’s handpicked guy, John Durham, the man who’s supposedly going to prove that all of the president’s darkest conspiratorial views of the Russia investigation are actually true, said nothing to contradict Horowitz’s conclusions when given the chance.
Exit quotation from WaPo: “It is also unclear if Durham has shared the entirety of his findings and evidence with the inspector general, or merely answered a specific question.” Hmmm.