Justice Department watchdog says no political bias in Russia probe, but blasts FBI actions

The report dismissed President Donald Trump’s long-held allegation that the Russia probe shouldn’t have been launched and was a made-up hoax against him by FBI officials with political bias.

“While the information in the FBI’s possession at the time was limited, in light of the low threshold established by Department and FBI predication policy, we found that Crossfire Hurricane was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication,” Horowitz said.

“We stand by our finding,” Horowitz said Wednesday in response to a questions about Barr’s comments objecting to this conclusion about the opening of the investigation.

The inspector general uncovered 17 “significant errors or omissions” made by the FBI in the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The court-approved wiretapping was done under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is typically used for terrorists and spies.

“The FISA process here was not used appropriately, properly and the rules were not followed,” Horowitz testified.

Graham: FBI took law into its own hands

Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in Congress, said the FBI’s mishandling of the Russia probe reached historic proportions, and also said the FBI defrauded the FISA court.

The 11 most truth-stretching lines from Bill Barr's Russia interview

“Trump’s time will come and go, but I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again,” Graham said at the start of the hearing. “Because what happened here is not a few irregularities, what happened here is the system failed. People at the highest level of our government took the law in their own hands. And when I say defraud the FISA court, I mean it.”

Graham added, “How bad is it? It was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life,” referring to the ex-FBI director who ran the bureau for decades and is now known to have overseen flagrant abuses of the FBI and its vast powers.

Horowitz said, were he the investigator, he would not have sent the FBI’s version of the application to surveil Page to the FISA court.

“Let me put it this way, I would not have submitted the one they put in,” Horowitz said in response to a question from Graham.

“The FISA applications made it appear as though the evidence supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case … It was misleading to the court,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz disagrees with Barr’s statements

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, said the IG report “conclusively refutes” prior claims by Trump and Barr about a biased FBI process.

“This was not a politically motivated investigation. There is no deep state,” Feinstein said. “Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias.”

READ: Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz's Senate testimony

Barr said this week that he doesn’t agree with that assessment.

“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years, I think, based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press, and I think that there were gross abuses of FISA and inexplicable behavior that isn’t tolerable in the FBI,” Barr told NBC News Tuesday.

Feinstein asked Horowitz directly about Barr’s statement on bias.

“Attorney General Barr expressed his doubt about the legitimacy of the FBI’s investigation in press statements. Did Attorney General Barr provide any evidence that caused you to alter this key finding that the FBI investigation had an adequate predicate?” she asked.

“No, we stand by our finding,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz’s investigation found text and email messages from FBI employees with both favorable and unfavorable views of Trump.

Horowitz: No evidence Obama asked for Trump investigations

Horowitz rejected a conspiracy theory that Trump has peddled for three years: That President Barack Obama, and his Democratic appointees, personally ordered the FBI to conduct political investigations into the Trump campaign.

“We certainly didn’t see any evidence of that in the FBI’s files or the Department’s files, which was our mandate here and our authorized jurisdiction,” Horowitz said, referring to the more than 1 million documents from the Justice Department and the FBI that were reviewed by his internal investigators.

Early in Trump’s presidency, he specifically accused Obama of personally ordering that his phones be wiretapped during the 2016 campaign season.

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted, only six weeks after taking office, later adding, “President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

No information has emerged to corroborate the claim that Trump’s calls were wiretapped or that Obama was involved. Some top Republicans dismissed the allegations, and the Justice Department said in court filings that it doesn’t have any evidence to back up what Trump said.

Horowitz: FBI couldn’t confirm dossier allegations against Page

When the FBI and DOJ asked the FISA court for permission to wiretap Page, they said they wanted to investigate whether he was acting as agent of the Russian government, based in part on allegations from “the dossier,” a series of memos compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

The dossier accused Page of acting as a conduit between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and of playing an important role in their collusion over the 2016 election. Steele said Page met in Moscow with a top Russian energy executive and a Kremlin official to facilitate the alleged scheme, which included offers of lucrative energy deals in exchange for Trump lifting sanctions.

The FISA court approved surveillance and wiretapping for nearly a year. But in the end, the FBI didn’t find any evidence to corroborate the allegations against Page that were mentioned in the dossier.

“The FBI, at the end of these FISAs, told us that they had found no evidence to corroborate the allegations in the Steele dossier related to him,” Horowitz told lawmakers.

The sweeping investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller confirmed that Russia meddled in the election but did not establish that there was a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s team and the Russians. Mueller didn’t bring charges against Page, who maintains that he never did anything wrong.

‘Fundamental reform’ needed to keep FISA court alive, Graham says

Graham said he had “serious concerns” about the secretive surveillance court that approved politically sensitive wiretaps in 2016, and that he’s not sure the court should continue to exist “unless there is fundamental reform.”

The special court operates in secret and approves wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, a law that is typically used to target foreign spies and terrorists. In 2016, the FBI sought and received approval from the court to surveil Page for nearly a year, starting shortly after he left the Trump campaign in the fall of 2016.

“I’m a pretty hawkish guy, but if the court doesn’t take corrective action and do something about being manipulated and lied to, you will lose my support,” Graham said.

The IG report found significant errors and problems with how the FBI prepared the applications to the court, including the critical finding that exculpatory evidence about Page was omitted.

“I would hate to lose the ability of the FISA court to operate at a time probably when we need it the most,” Graham said. “But after your report, I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there is fundamental reform. After your report, I think we need to rewrite the rules of how you start a counter-intelligence investigation and the checks and balances that we need.”

A spokesperson for the notoriously secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court declined to comment this week after the publication of the Horowitz report.

The court was created by Congress in in 1978 and is comprised of 11 federal trial-level judges chosen by Chief Justice John Roberts.

This story is breaking and will be updated.

CNN’s Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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