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IG excoriates FBI conduct in Russia probe, concludes FISA warrants misled court

The FBI’s investigation into alleged Russia-Trump collusion was properly opened without political bias in 2016 but quickly devolved into “serious performance failures” that misled the courts about the flaws with the bureau’s evidence and its star informant Christopher Steele, the Justice Department’s chief watchdog concluded Monday.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz spared few words for the
FBI and its chain of command as he concluded the bureau misled the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Court with at least 17 errors and omissions that
rendered each of four applications for surveillance warrants grossly inaccurate.

“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,’” Horowitz wrote. “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.

Specifically, the IG found, FBI agents had not corroborated
any of the allegations in Steele’s dossier before using his source information
to support its first FISA warrant on Oct. 21, 2016 and even blew past concerns
of a senior DOJ official about Steele’s political biases.

In subsequent applications to renew the FISA warrants in 2017, the FBI failed to inform the FISA judges that Steele’s main intelligence source had raised a stunning red flag by disavowing information attributed to that source, the report said.

The massive omission and false assertions in the FISA applications
“made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger
than was actually the case,” the IG found.

“We concluded that the failures described above and in this
report represent serious performance failures by the supervisory and
non-supervisory agents with responsibility over the FISA applications,” the IG
said.

While evidence indicated that the case agents in the Russia
probe were mostly to blame for failing to flag the inaccuracies, omissions and
Steele credibility issues, accountability needed to be assigned all the way to
the top of the bureau, Horowitz said.

“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,” the report said.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday applauded the IG work, saying it had substantiated “a clear abuse of FISA process.”

“In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source,” Barr said.

The biggest winners in the long-awaited IG report were Rep.
Devin Nunes and his Republican colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee
who flagged the serious flaws in the FISA process back in 2018 and Carter Page,
the Trump campaign adviser targeted by the surveillance warrants whose privacy
was clearly violated by faulty FBI warrants.

Specifically, the IG found, that none of the four
allegations Steele had made about Page and that were included in the FISA warrants
was corroborated, including that he met in July 2016 with two senior Russians
close to Vladimir Putin.

“We 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,” the report said.

Steele, the former MI6 agent who was hired by Clinton’s
Fusion GS opposition research firm, was among the biggest losers in the report,
which portrayed his dossier as essentially intelligence garbage.

The report divulges that concerns about Steele’s reliability
as an informant pre-dated the first FISA applications when a senior Justice
official, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Stuart Evans in the National Security
Division, flagged Steele’s political bias and connections to Hillary Clinton’s
campaign, which paid for his dossier.

Evans warned that “Steele may have been hired by someone
associated with presidential candidate Clinton or the DNC, and that the foreign
intelligence to be collected through the FISA order would probably not be worth
the risk of being criticized later for collecting communications of someone
(Carter Page) who was politically sensitive,” the report found.

But senior DOJ and FBI officials, including then-Deputy FBI
Director Andrew McCabe, chose to proceed.

That decision resulted in the courts getting a substantially
false picture of Steele’s credibility, one that was never corrected during the
time the FISA warrants were active, the report said. The FBI misstated the
value of Steele’s past intelligence work and hid the lack of corroboration for
the allegation in his dossier, the IG concluded.

The report quoted the FBI agent handling Steele as saying “he
would not have approved the representation” that Steele had been a reliable informant
because “most” of his information had not in fact been corroborated.

“We concluded that these failures created the inaccurate
impression in the applications that at least some of Steele’s past reporting
had been deemed sufficiently reliable by prosecutors to use in court, and that
more of his information had been corroborated than was actually the case,” the
report found.

The report divulges that other intelligence community
assets, including the CIA, so distrusted Steele’s dossier that they urged it
not be included in the intelligence community’s assessment of Russia
interference in the 2016 election.

“The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) expressed concern
about the lack of vetting for the Steele election reporting and asserted it did
not merit inclusion in the body of the report. An FBI Intel Section Chief told
us the CIA viewed it as ‘internet rumor,’” the report noted.

Separately, the report also confirmed reporting I did more than
a year ago that the FBI obtained exculpatory information from Page and George
Papadopolous, two of the targeted campaign aides in the investigation, but did
not disclose that information to the FISA judges even though it “raised
questions about the validity of allegations under investigation.”

The report cites several instance, including Page telling an
FBI informant in August 2016 he never had contact with Manafort and Papadopoulous
repeatedly insisting to an informant that the campaign wasn’t involved in
hacking or distributing Clinton’s emails.

The FBI actually had recorded undercover statements from Papadopolous
stating in fall 2016 that “as far as I understand … no one’s
collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that
way.”

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