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Watchdog:FBI Justified in Russia Probe 12/10 06:18

   The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the 
Trump presidential campaign and Russia  and did not act with political bias, 
the Justice Department's internal watchdog declared, undercutting President 
Donald Trump's repeated claims that he has been the target of a "witch hunt."

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into 
ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia  and did not act with 
political bias, the Justice Department's internal watchdog declared, 
undercutting President Donald Trump's repeated claims that he has been the 
target of a "witch hunt."

   The long-awaited report, issued Monday, rejected theories and criticism 
spread by Trump and his supporters, though it also found "serious performance 
failures" up the bureau's chain of command that Republicans are citing as 
evidence that Trump was targeted by an unfair investigation. 

   The affirmation of the investigation's legitimacy, balanced by criticism of 
the way it was conducted, ensured that partisan battles would persist over one 
of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history. Another review 
of the origins of the probe continues, and the prosecutor picked by Attorney 
General William Barr to lead that effort hinted Monday he'll take a harder view 
of the FBI's actions.

   Monday's review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz knocked down multiple 
lines of attack against the Russia investigation, finding that it was properly 
opened and that law enforcement leaders were not motivated by political bias. 
Contrary to the claims of Trump and other critics, it said that opposition 
research compiled by an ex-British spy named Christopher Steele had no bearing 
on the decision to open the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane. And it 
rejected allegations that a former Trump campaign aide at the center of the 
probe was set up by the FBI.

   It found that the FBI had an "authorized purpose" when it opened its 
investigation in July 2016 into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating 
with Russia to tip the election in his favor. The report said the FBI had cause 
to investigate a potential national security threat.

   FBI Director Chris Wray, in an interview with The Associated Press, noted 
that the report did not find political bias but did find problems that are 
"unacceptable and unrepresentative of who we are as an institution." 

   The FBI is implementing more than 40 actions aimed at fixing some of the 
bureau's most fundamental operations, such as applying for surveillance 
warrants and interacting with confidential sources.

   Those changes are in response to some of the report's criticisms. They 
largely centered on how agents and prosecutors set about eavesdropping on a 
former Trump campaign aide who they said they feared was being targeted for 
Russian government recruitment.

   The inspector general identified 17 "significant inaccuracies or omissions" 
in applications for a warrant and later renewals from the secretive Foreign 
Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of former Trump 
campaign adviser Carter Page. 

   The report also details that the FBI used an informant to set up and record 
a September 2016 meeting with a high-level Trump campaign official. The 
official wasn't identified by name, but was not a subject of the Russia 
investigation, the report said. While the information collected wasn't used 
during the Russia probe, it does lend support to the assertions by Trump and 
Barr that the Trump campaign was spied upon.

   The report said the errors resulted in "applications that made it appear 
that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually 
the case." The watchdog found that the FBI had overstated the significance of 
Steele's past work as an informant and omitted information about one of his 
sources who he said "may engage in some embellishment."

   Republicans have long criticized the process since the FBI relied in part on 
opposition research from Steele, whose work was financed by Democrats and 
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and that fact was not disclosed to the 
judges who approved the warrant.

   Though the surveillance has been central to Republican objections about the 
investigation, the eavesdropping was not necessarily central to the probe 
itself --- which had been underway for months before the warrant was sought.

   The report's release, coming as a House Judiciary Committee impeachment 
hearing centers on the president's interactions with Ukraine, brought fresh 
attention to the legal and political investigations that have entangled the 
White House from the moment Trump took office. 

   Political divisions were evident in responses to the report.

   Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it makes clear that the basis 
for the FBI's investigation was "valid and without political bias." Trump, in 
remarks at the White House, claimed it showed "an attempted overthrow and a lot 
of people were in on it." 

   The president has repeatedly said he is more eager for the report of John 
Durham, the prosecutor Barr selected to investigate how intelligence was 
gathered. Both Barr and Durham issued statements rejecting the inspector 
general's conclusion that there was sufficient evidence to open the FBI 
investigation. The attorney general's reaction was especially unusual in that 
the head of the Justice Department typically would not take issue with an 
internal investigation that clears a department agency of serious misconduct.

   "The Inspector General's report now makes clear that the FBI launched an 
intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of 
suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken," 
Barr said in a statement.

   Durham, in a brief statement, said he had informed the inspector general 
that he also didn't agree with the conclusion that the inquiry was properly 
opened, and suggested his own investigation would back up his disagreement.

   The FBI's Russia investigation, which was ultimately taken over by special 
counsel Robert Mueller, began in July 2016 after the FBI learned that a former 
Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, had been saying before it was 
publicly known that Russia had dirt on Democratic opponent Clinton in the form 
of stolen emails. Those emails, which were hacked from Democratic email 
accounts by Russian intelligence, were released by WikiLeaks before the 
election in what U.S. officials have said was an effort to harm Clinton's 
campaign and help Trump.

   The report concluded that that revelation was a sufficient basis for opening 
the investigation and it knocked down claims by Papadopoulos that he had been 
set up by the FBI or that the professor who told him about the hacked emails 
was an FBI informant. 

   Months later, the FBI sought and received the Page warrant. Officials were 
concerned that Page was being targeted for recruitment by the Russian 
government, though he has denied wrongdoing and has never been charged with a 
crime.

   The inspector general also found that an FBI lawyer is suspected of altering 
an email to make it appear that an official at another government agency had 
said Page was not a source for that agency, even though he was. 

   Agents were concerned that if Page had worked as a source for another 
government agency, the FBI would have needed to tell the surveillance court 
about that, the report said, and contacted the other agency to obtain 
additional information. But the FBI lawyer "did not accurately convey, and in 
fact altered, the information he received from the other agency.

   The lawyer is not identified by name in the report, but people familiar with 
the situation have said he is Kevin Clinesmith. The inspector general's report 
said officials notified the attorney general and FBI director and provided them 
with information about the altered email.

   The inspector general conducted more than 170 interviews involving more than 
100 witnesses.


(KR)

 
 
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