As most media outlets previewed, the inspector general report from Michael Horowitz doesn’t accuse the FBI or Department of Justice of running a political hit on Donald Trump — but that’s not saying there aren’t bombshells within it. After noting the low threshold provided by Department of Justice policies for a predicate to start a full investigation, Horowitz concluded that the information passed to the FBI about George Papadopoulos meet the low bar to launch Operation Crossfire Hurricane. Horowitz has more specific criticism for the investigation’s leaders over the Carter Page FISA warrant, though, and offers a small bombshell about Christopher Steele and his possible motives for taking on the job that led to the infamous Steele Dossier.
First, though, Horowitz offers a dispassionate certification for the launch of the investigation itself, concluding that political bias didn’t play any part in it. He did wonder why the DoJ didn’t think to develop more stringent standards when it comes to dealing with high-profile federal election campaigns:
The AG Guidelines and the DIOG do not provide heightened predication standards for sensitive matters, or allegations potentially impacting constitutionally protected activity, such as First Amendment rights. Rather, the approval and notification requirements contained in the AG Guidelines and the DIOG are, in part, intended to provide the means by which such concerns can be considered by senior officials. However, we were concerned to find that neither the AG Guidelines nor the DIOG contain a provision requiring Department consultation before opening an investigation such as the one here involving the alleged conduct of individuals associated with a major party presidential campaign.
Crossfire Hurricane was opened as a Full Investigation and all of the senior FBI officials who participated in discussions about whether to open a case told us the information warranted opening it. For example, then Counterintelligence Division (CD) Assistant Director (AD) E.W. “Bill” Priestap, who approved the case opening, told us that the combination of the FFG information and the FBI ‘s ongoing cyber intrusion investigation of the July 2016 hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) emails, created a counterintelligence concern that the FBI was “obligated” to investigate. Priestap 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.” We did not identify any Department or FBI policy t hat applied to this decision and therefore determined t hat the decision was a judgment call that Department and FBI policy leaves to the discretion of FBI officials. We also concluded that, under the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, 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.
Additionally, given the low threshold for predication in the AG Guidelines and the DIOG, we concluded that t he 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. This information provided the FBI with an articulable factual basis that, if true, reasonably indicated activity constituting either a federal crime or a threat to national security, or both, may have occurred or may be occurring. For similar reasons, as we detail in Chapter Three, we concluded that the quantum of information articulated by the FBI to open t he individual investigations on Papadopoulos, Page, Flynn, and Manafort in August 2016 was sufficient to satisfy the low threshold established by the Department and the FBI.
What about the Carter Page FISA surveillance warrant? The FBI used the dossier to get that warrant after the DoJ and NSA found their first request a month earlier deficient, and Horowitz criticizes the FBI team for withholding information from the court and higher-ups over the known flaws in Steele’s reporting:
The decision to seek to use this highly intrusive investigative technique was known and approved at multiple levels of the Department, 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, as we explain later, 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. While we do not speculate whether Department officials would have authorized the FBI to seek to use FISA authority had they been made aware of all relevant information, it was clearly the responsibility of Crossfire Hurricane team members to advise them of such critical information so that they could make a fully informed decision. …
Our 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.” 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. We found that the problems we identified were primarily caused by the Crossfire Hurricane team failing to share all relevant information with OI and, consequently, the information was not considered by the Department decision makers who ultimately decided to support the applications.
Ultimately, Horowitz identified seven substantial inaccuracies and omissions in the original FISA warrant application, all of which were or should have been known to the applicants at the time. Not only did those seven errors get propagated in all subsequent renewal applications, the FBI added ten more inaccuracies and omissions over the course of those renewals. One of the original misrepresentations omitted the fact that Page was in fact providing intelligence on Russia for “another US government agency,” and later the FBI lied about the circumstances around that omission:
The failure to provide accurate and complete information to the OI Attorney concerning Page’s prior relationship with another U.S. government agency (item 1 above) was particularly concerning because the OI Attorney had specifically asked the case agent in late September 2016 whether Carter Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency. In response to that inquiry, the case agent advised the OI Attorney that Page’s relationship was “dated” ( claiming it was when Page lived in Moscow in 2004-2007) and “outside scope.” This representation, however, was contrary to information that the other agency had provided to the FBI in August 2016, which stated that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013 (after Page had left Moscow). Moreover, rather than being “outside scope,” Page’s status with the other agency overlapped in time with some of the interactions between Page and known Russian intelligence officers that were relied upon in the FISA applications to establish probable cause. Indeed, Page had provided information to the other agency about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer (Intelligence Officer 1), which were among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI relied upon in t he first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications). According to the information from the other agency, an employee of the other agency had assessed that Page “candidly described his contact with” Intelligence Officer 1 to the other agency. Thus, the FBI relied upon Page’s contacts with Intelligence Officer 1, among others, in support of its probable ca use statement in t he FISA application, while failing to disclose to OI or the FISC that ( 1) Page had been approved as an operational contact by the other agency during a five-year period that overlapped with allegations in the FISA application, (2) Page had disclosed to the other agency contacts that he had with Intelligence Officer 1 and certain other individuals, and (3) the other agency’s employee had given a positive assessment of Page’s candor.
What about the Steele dossier itself? Horowitz declared it a total bust (screencapped because of redacted material):
Horowitz concludes that the errors were so bad on the Page FISA applications that it indicts the entirety of FBI’s leadership:
That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand- picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI, and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process. FBI Headquarters established a chain of command for Crossfire Hurricane that included close supervision by senior CD managers, who then briefed FBI leadership throughout the investigation. Although we do not expect managers and supervisors to know every fact about an investigation, or senior officials to know all the details of cases about which they are briefed, in a sensitive, high-priority matter like this one, it is reasonable to expect that they will take the necessary steps to ensure that they are sufficiently familiar with the facts and circumstances supporting and potentially undermining a FISA application in order to provide effective oversight, consistent with their level of supervisory responsibility. We concluded that the information that was known to the managers, supervisors, and senior officials should have resulted in questions being raised regarding the reliability of the Steele reporting and the probable cause supporting the FISA applications, but did not. In our view, this was a failure of not only the operational team, but also of the managers and supervisors, including senior officials, in the chain of command.
For these reasons, we recommend that the FBI review the performance of the employees who had responsibility for the preparation, Woods review, or approval of the FISA applications, as well as the managers and supervisors in the chain of command of the Carter Page investigation, including senior officials, and take any action deemed appropriate.
At this point, one has to wonder why Horowitz doesn’t mention politics as one reason for the cascade of errors and violations, but an IG investigation isn’t necessarily robust enough in jurisdiction and scope to make that determination. It’s enough to get these violations on the record so that Congress can take up those issues. In this case, it’s likely that only the Senate will have enough interest in it, but that should be enough.
What about Christopher Steele’s motives? ABC News has a bombshell of its own:
Nearly a decade before the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka met a British intelligence officer who ran the Russia desk — and when the agent left his covert service and moved into private practice in 2010, she stayed in touch, ABC News has learned.
The two exchanged emails but never worked together, and the man, Christopher Steele, would one day re-emerge in a most unexpected way, taking a central role in the Russia scandal that consumed the early years of her father’s presidency, according to a source familiar with their past contacts. …
In 2007, Ivanka Trump met Steele at a dinner and they began corresponding about the possibility of future work together, the source said. The following year, the two exchanged emails about meeting up near Trump Tower, according to several emails seen by ABC News. They suggest Ivanka Trump and Steele stayed in touch via emails over the next several years. In one 2008 exchange they discussed dining together in New York at a restaurant just blocks from Trump Tower.
Ivanka Trump worked as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization, managing a range of foreign real estate projects, including in parts of the world where Steele’s firm, Orbis Business Intelligence touted expertise. She and Steele discussed services Orbis could offer to the Trump Organization regarding its planned expansion into foreign markets, according to two sources familiar with the meetings.
Oddly, the Trump team hasn’t made anything about this contact, even though it might lend itself to an argument of bias. Did Steele take the job because he was sore about not getting any work from the Trump family? Did he disclose this fact to the FBI when giving them the dossier? There is no mention of Ivanka Trump in the IG report, but it might be a question for both sides to explain down the road.
As more developments come from the report, we’ll either update this post or address it in a fresh analysis. Stay tuned.
Update: Worth noting — Horowitz now wants to audit all of the FISA warrant processes at the FBI:
Accordingly, we have today initiated an OIG audit that will further examine the FBI’s compliance with the Woods Procedures in FISA applications that target U.S. persons in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This audit will be informed by the findings in this review, as well as by our prior work over the past 15 years on the Department’s and FBI’s use of national security and surveillance authorities, including authorities under FISA, as detailed in Chapter One.
It might be better for the FBI if they find errors in other investigations. Otherwise, it might raise questions about why there were this many in the Page application.
Update: Of course, this might be all we need to know about Steele’s motives. Horowitz blisters Bruce Ohr for not following proper procedures about reporting his contacts with Steele and Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson, and includes what should have been included in the FISA warrant:
We concluded that Ohr committed consequential errors in judgment by ( 1) failing to advise his direct supervisors or the DAG that he was communicating with Steele and Simpson and then requesting meetings with the FBI’s Deputy Director and Crossfire Hurricane team on matters that were outside of his areas of responsibility, and (2) making _himself a witness in the investigation by meeting with Steele and providing Steele’s information to the FBI. As we describe in Chapter Eight, the late discovery of Ohr’s meetings with the FBI prompted NSD to notify the FISC in July 2018, over a year after the final FISA renewal order was issued, of information that Ohr had provided to the FBI but that the FBI had failed to inform NSD and 01 about (and therefore was not included in the FISA applications), including that Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President.”
Ohr wasn’t required to disclose that his wife Nellie worked for Fusion GPS, but Horowitz offers a come on man moment:
Fusion GPS employed Nellie Ohr as an independent contractor from October 2015 to September 2016. On his annual financial disclosure forms covering calendar years 2015 and 2016, Ohr listed Nellie Ohr as an “independent contractor” and reported her income from that work on the form. We determined that financial disclosure rules, 5 C.F.R. Part 2634, did not require Ohr to list on the form the specific organizations, such as Fusion GPS, that paid Nellie Ohr as an independent contractor during the reporting period.
In addition, for reasons we explain in Chapter Eleven, we concluded that the federal ethics rules did not require Ohr to obtain Department ethics counsel approval before engaging with the FBI in connection with the Crossfire Hurricane matter because of Nellie Ohr’s prior work for Fusion GPS. However, we found that, given the factual circumstances that existed, and the appearance that they created, Ohr displayed a lapse in judgment by not availing himself of the process described in the ethics rules to consult with the Department ethics official about his involvement in the investigation.
Update: Gird your loins, FBI people, because the Durham report will reach somewhat different conclusions:
NEW: John Durham says they "do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” pic.twitter.com/GfKezyK9kV
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) December 9, 2019
Broader jurisdiction and scope were always going to favor Durham’s effort. The US Attorney can reach farther, work with other agencies, and make a case for malice much more effectively than an IG can.