President Trump, facing impeachment, seized Monday on a government watchdog report that uncovered FBI malfeasance in spying on his 2016 campaign as proof that he stopped a coup in progress.
“They fabricated evidence and they lied to the courts, and they did all sorts of things to have it go their way,” Mr. Trump said of the FBI obtaining warrants to monitor Trump campaign officials. “We’re lucky we caught ‘em. I think I’m going to put this down as one of our great achievements. Because what we found and what we saw — never, ever should this happen again in our country.”
Although the president didn’t mention former FBI Director James B. Comey by name, he seemed to hint that his firing of Mr. Comey in May 2017 prevented a potential coup.
“If I didn’t make a certain move — a certain move that was a very important move, because it would have been even worse if that’s possible, and it might have been able to succeed,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “This was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow and a lot of people were in on it and they got caught, they got caught red-handed.”
He said the Justice Department inspector general report’s findings were “far worse than I would have ever thought possible.”
Vice President Mike Pence said the report uncovered “one of the greatest abuses of investigative power in our lifetime.”
DOCUMENT: Read the report from the DOJ Office of the Inspector General
“Since the day President Trump announced his candidacy, career bureaucrats at the Department of Justice sought to undermine this president and our administration — including falsifying information and suppressing the truth,” Mr. Pence said, adding that “those responsible should be held accountable.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the report “shows an out-of-control FBI under President Obama and former Director Jim Comey.”
“The report makes clear that the phony Steele dossier was ‘central and essential’ for the FBI to secure wiretaps from the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance] Court to spy on the Trump campaign,” she said, referring to an opposition-research file on Mr. Trump compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. “But the FBI repeatedly lied to the FISA court to make Steele seem credible and to hide information showing that the dossier was false. The dossier was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee — but that fact was hidden from the FISA court.
“Astoundingly, when evidence was repeatedly uncovered showing no wrongdoing by candidate Trump, that also was hidden from the FISA court,” she said. “On top of all that, one FBI lawyer altered an email in an effort to continue and extend the wiretapping — and he has been referred for criminal prosecution. All of this shows a repeated effort to mislead the FISA court long after the FBI was aware the ‘dossier’ was false, phony and could not be used justify spying on the Trump campaign.”
Mr. Comey’s firing led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose costly, two-year-plus investigation didn’t find any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The president’s determination to uncover the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of his campaign led, in part, to his pursuit of information on election-meddling from Ukraine. That episode is central to the House impeachment inquiry.
While the report by the Justice Department’s inspector general didn’t find political bias among former FBI officials against Mr. Trump, the president said he’s even more eager for the outcome of a broader probe by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who disagreed with some of the IG’s findings.
“I look forward to the Durham report, which is coming out in the not-too-distant future — it’s got its own information, which is this [IG] information plus-plus-plus.”
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz was limited to interviewing current government officials and reviewing documents. Mr. Durham has the authority to question witnesses outside the government, including former FBI officials.
Senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who was Mr. Trump’s victorious campaign manager in 2016, questioned why the FBI didn’t alert top campaign officials about their concerns of Russian collusion before the election three years ago.
“We could have had the knowledge and the wherewithal to act at that time, and not put the taxpayers through two-plus protracted years of nonsense,” she said. “You can’t blame people for feeling that it was unfair and that the fix was in. And to think that perhaps people lied and spied and tried to subvert democracy, just because they wanted someone else to win or just because they have a different political point of view — that is not the way the world’s greatest democracy has been formed and can survive.”
She agreed with Attorney General William Barr’s assessment that the FBI’s probe of the Trump campaign was launched “on the thinnest of suspicions” of conspiring with Moscow.
“That is chilling language for any of us who want our government to work for us, and not against us,” Mrs. Conway said.
Current Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale disputed Mr. Horowitz’s findings that there was no political bias at the FBI against Mr. Trump in 2016.
“This report confirms significant misconduct and wrongdoing by the Obama-Biden FBI,” Mr. Parscale said. “The Clinton campaign and the DNC paid for foreign sources to manufacture fake dirt on President Trump and his campaign, resulting in the now-debunked Steele dossier. These politically motivated accusations were used to justify the surveillance of a U.S. presidential campaign by the FBI, which falsified information and concealed evidence that didn’t fit their narrative. Democrats and the media weaponized this as part of their Russia collusion hoax for more than two years and they are still at it today.”
Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who is working for the White House temporarily on the impeachment defense, said the IG report “is just the tip of the iceberg” compared with what Mr. Durham will uncover.
“This should be a good day, but it’s not, it’s a horrible day for the country, that this could happen to the president of the United States — that they could fabricate, falsify emails, lie, and omit exculpatory evidence in order to continue this witch hunt against the president of the United States,” she said.