- - Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Spying on a political campaign in an effort to take down a presidential candidate may be frowned upon, but asking questions about how it happened is an impeachable offense. That’s the headshaking narrative of an FBI plot to surveil Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential race and an effort to crush the president for attempting to expose the misconduct. Democrats crusading for the president’s impeachment are hoping Americans won’t notice the miscarriage of justice.

Michael Horowitz, inspector general for the Justice Department, released his report Monday on the foundations of the Trump-Russia collusion probe, which Republicans had been anticipating with bated breath for months and Democrats have been awaiting with dread. The probe, code-named “Crossfire Hurricane,” landed with the impact of a hand grenade — a fizzling misfire, that is.

That’s because all eyes have been diverted toward the televised scene from Capitol Hill where the most explosive story of the Trump era is unfolding. It is the cleverly timed summary of why the president’s request for Ukraine’s help in probing the collusion hoax that shook the republic should be viewed as nothing less than a Trump ploy to use his office for personal advantage in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.

Americans serious about preserving the rule of law should not be lulled into ignoring the inspector general’s 476-page report. Mr. Horowitz’s investigators affirm — albeit in rather bloodless prose — what the president’s defenders have long suspected: “We concluded that the failures described in this report represent serious performance failures by the supervisory and non-supervisory agents with responsibility over the FISA applications.”

FBI officials secreted faulty information into their applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to spy on Trump associate Carter Page and, subsequently, dragged others into the inquisition. All told, Mr. Horowitz uncovered 17 “significant” mistakes in the applications for permission to target Mr. Page, though he was never charged with a crime.

Surprisingly, the inspector general did not conclude that officials were motivated by political bias, sticking to the narrow lane of inquiry prescribed by the Justice Department. He did not delve into the Democratic affiliation of those who paid for the so-called Steele dossier filled with unsubstantiated anti-Trump scuttlebutt. Nor did he question the motives of certain Justice Department honchos who leaked anti-Trump memos to the press, discussed the idea of wearing a wire while meeting with the president or exchanged text messages vowing to prevent Mr. Trump from becoming president. And he did not explain why those paragons of patriotism didn’t simply approach Mr. Trump for help in rooting out supposed enemies of the republic.

Whether any Justice Department employees are to face punishment for their legal lapses remains to be seen, but their boss, William Barr, made no effort to soft-pedal his department’s malfeasance, writing: “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.”

For his part, fired FBI director James Comey, who oversaw the rollout of Crossfire Hurricane, exulted over the absence of pointed culpability, tweeting, “So it was all lies. No treason. No spying on the campaign. No tapping Trumps wires. It was just good people trying to protect America.” “Good people” don’t game the justice system to spy on those they abhor.

For the G-men and -women with the audacity to play seesaw on the scales of justice, there is more to fear, though. The U.S. attorney tasked with searching for criminal wrongdoing in the inception of the Trump-Russia collusion probe is reportedly uncovering mischief far beyond the limited scope of the Horowitz report. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” John Durham said in a statement.

When Mr. Horowitz explains to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday how anti-Trump FBI officials managed to finagle court approval to spy on the Trump campaign, the president’s Democratic enemies aim to keep public attention riveted on why Mr. Trump needs to be run out of Washington for asking Ukraine to probe its role in triggering the spying. Americans shouldn’t be duped into trading away justice for impeachment.

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