Can you imagine what the presidential sh*tposting about Bill Barr will be like if the Horowitz report turns out to be a dud? Trump is counting on it to deliver his vindication in the Russiagate mess. Barr was the Roy Cohn figure POTUS had longed for after being massively disappointed by Jeff Sessions, the AG who would finally prove that Trump’s worst fears were right all along. The bogus Steele dossier inspired the witch hunt; the renegade deep-staters at the FBI spied on the campaign; Comey, McCabe, Strzok, Page, and God knows who else were all rancid with bias against Trump because they resented a right-wing anti-interventionist president who wasn’t chummy with Washington’s entrenched bureaucracy.
According to last week’s Times story about the IG’s draft report and now this new one, none of it is true. Per this afternoon’s reporting, inspector general Michael Horowitz is prepared to conclude that the FBI didn’t spy on the campaign.
…although it did use at least two informants to make contact with Trump campaign staff. Huh?
Until now, the debate over whether the FBI had “spied on the campaign” focused on the spying part. Is it “spying” when the police use an informant as part of a legitimate counterintelligence or criminal investigation? (Last week’s reporting claimed that the draft report will find that the Russiagate probe did have a sufficient factual and legal basis when it was opened.) But now we’re going to end up debating the “on the campaign” part too. Was the FBI spying on “the campaign” if it had informants in touch with advisors to the campaign but not attempting to join the campaign themselves? Remember that both Stefan Halper and a mystery woman were each working for the feds when they made contact with George Papadopoulos.
The F.B.I. was cognizant of being seen as interfering with a presidential campaign, and former law enforcement officials are adamant that they did not investigate the Trump campaign organization itself or target it for infiltration. But agents had to investigate the four advisers’ ties with Russia, and the people they did scrutinize all played roles in the Trump campaign…
Mr. Horowitz found no evidence that Mr. Halper tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign itself, the people familiar with the draft report said, such as by seeking inside campaign information or a role in the organization. The F.B.I. also never directed him to do so, former officials said. Instead, Mr. Halper focused on eliciting information from Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos about their ties to Russia.
Mr. Barr has suggested that the F.B.I. assigned other informants as well to figure out whether any Trump associates were working with the Russians. The F.B.I. gave Mr. Horowitz’s team extraordinary access to its informant database, and his investigators examined other F.B.I. informants with possible ties to the Trump campaign.
In each case, they found that the F.B.I. had not deployed those people to gather information on the Trump campaign itself, the people said.
If I’m understanding that correctly, the informants merely attempted to find out what Papadopoulos and Page were doing with the Russians individually, with no probing or prodding about whether they were part of a coordinated campaign effort to seek election assistance from Russia.
Which is hard to believe. The FBI suspected that multiple advisors to a particular candidate had been approached by the Kremlin — quite a coinkydink — but it steadfastly refused to pursue the possibility that the campaign itself, i.e. Trump and his top personnel, was directing them?
On the other hand, since the feds did have these two separate strands in Papadopoulos and Page that potentially connected back to Russia, were they supposed to just not investigate them because they happened to be advisors to a campaign? Not even top advisors, either. Minor players. The rule should be that if you join a campaign you receive a get-out-of-investigations-free card from the federal government until the campaign is over, by which time the evidence might be lost?
As for the exceptionally mysterious Joseph Mifsud, both last week’s and this week’s NYT stories claim that the draft report will conclude that he wasn’t an FBI informant, contrary to suspicion. It will have some findings that’ll confirm Trump’s suspicions, though. The FBI was “careless and unprofessional in pursuing the Page wiretap,” Horowitz will conclude, replete with a chart detailing all of the mistakes in the process. And although the dossier didn’t inspire the investigation, Horowitz will apparently fault the FBI for not being more specific in the FISA application about potential problems with the document, such as, I assume, the fact that it was funded by the Clinton campaign as oppo research. All of which is to say, it sounds like there’ll be plenty of evidence of FBI negligence, maybe even recklessness, in how the Russiagate probe was conducted. But little to no evidence of a malicious FBI conspiracy behind it.
Which, given the president’s investment in conspiracy theories here or elsewhere, is apt to leave him unhappy with the result. I hope for Barr’s sake that John Durham comes up with something more sinister by way of political bias. He already has the former FBI lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, in his sights for allegedly altering a document that was used as background for the FISA application. Clinesmith has a history of anti-Trump statements too, feeding suspicions that that alteration was driven by partisanship. Will he have anything else?