The Justice Department’s inspector general warned Wednesday that his report does not vindicate the FBI’s actions in the investigation of 2016 Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz laid out the FBI’s missteps, blaming the bungled investigation on failures by the bureau’s “entire chain of command.”
“The activities we found don’t vindicate anyone who touched this,” Mr. Horowitz said. “The actions of FBI agents were not up to the standard of the FBI.”
His testimony presented an image of an FBI single-mindedly pursuing a nefarious link between then-candidate Donald Trump and the Kremlin, but he stopped short of impugning the motives of FBI top brass who repeatedly erred in favor of surveilling the campaign in what was dubbed “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said the irregularities amounted to “a massive criminal conspiracy” to defraud the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and illegally surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page.
Mr. Horowitz appeared before the panel to discuss his 434-page report, released Monday, that concluded the FBI was right to open an investigation into the Trump campaign but committed “inexplicable” errors, omissions and mistakes in applying to the FISA court for a wiretap on Mr. Page.
FBI officials suspected Mr. Page, a confidential CIA source, was a Russian agent. He has never been charged with wrongdoing.
Mr. Horowitz told senators he could not determine how so many top agents and officials could botch such a sensitive investigation into a presidential candidate with careless mistakes.
Among the flubs outlined in Mr. Horowitz’s report included inaccurate information being submitted to the FISA court and withholding exculpatory evidence that contradicted the FBI’s suspicions about Mr. Page.
Mr. Horowitz said he did not find any direct evidence that anti-Trump bias was behind the omissions. However, he said that could not be ruled out, either.
“We found that offered explanations for these serious errors did not excuse them or the repeated failures to ensure the accuracy of information presented to the [FISA] court,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Republicans pounced on that conclusion, pointing to previous episodes of anti-Trump animosity within the FBI, including a string of text messages deriding the president by two members of the investigation team.
“These are not typos, they are not small inadvertent errors, these are grotesque abuses of power,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who called the report “chilling.”
“What’s going on here — this wasn’t Jason Bourne, this was Beavis and Butthead,” he said.
Sen. John Kennedy bluntly stated the inspector general’s findings made him sick.
“About 15 percent of the way through it made me want to heave,” the Louisiana Republican said. “About 25 percent of the way through it, I thought I dropped acid. It’s surreal.”
Democrats shied away from the report’s criticism of the FBI. They zeroed on the inspector general’s conclusion that the bureau was correct in opening an investigation into the Trump campaign.
“This was not a politically motivated investigation,” said Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the committee. “There is no deep state.”
Democrats also attacked Attorney General William P. Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham for saying they disagreed with the inspector general’s conclusion the Trump campaign probe was justified.
Just hours after Mr. Horowitz released his findings, Mr. Durham issued an extremely rare statement disputing one of the inspector general’s key conclusions. Mr. Durham also noted he culled evidence from the U.S. and abroad as he investigates the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, while Mr. Horowitz’s probe was limited to current Justice Department employees.
Mr. Horowitz told senators he was “surprised” by Mr. Durham’s pushback. He also shed some light on the disagreement, saying Mr. Durham believed the Crossfire Hurricane probe should have been a “preliminary investigation” rather than a “full one.”
Neither Mr. Durham nor Mr. Barr presented information to Mr. Horowitz that changed his mind about his conclusions, adding he has “no idea” if the U.S. attorney has evidence contradicting his findings.
“We stand by our finding,” he said.
Mr. Horowitz also took the FBI to task during the hearing for some of its failures in the Trump-Russia investigation.
The FBI should have told the FISA court it knew about political biases of Christopher Steele, a former British spy whose salacious and unverified dossier was used to obtain the Page wiretap, Mr. Horowitz said.
“Any evidence of bias is supposed to be disclosed to the court,” he said, adding the Justice Department did not treat the FISA application fairly.
He said he would not have submitted the same application to the court, calling it “misleading.”
Mr. Horowitz also said it was wrong of the FBI to use its briefing with Mr. Trump and members of his campaign as a pretext to collect information for their investigation instead of warning the candidate about potential Russian infiltration.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton received an identical briefing, but hers was not used to collect information for an investigation.
“The incident, the event, the meeting was a briefing and the FBI considered and decided to send that agent there to do the briefing,” he told the panel. “So the agent was actually doing the briefing but also using it for the purpose of investigation.”
Failing to alert the Trump campaign about its suspicions was evidence the FBI was out to get Mr. Trump, Mr. Graham said.
“The FBI was spying on Trump’s campaign, they were not working to protect him,” he said. “In contrast, Hillary Clinton’s campaign was given a proper defensive briefing, which further shows the FBI had political bias and their motive was to get Hillary elected president while simultaneously taking down Trump.”