A US Justice Department report concluded Monday that political bias did not drive an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election - rebutting president Donald Trump’s claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign.
The DOJ inspector general found numerous procedural errors in the handling of the probe, which placed members of Trump’s election team under surveillance over their Russian contacts.
But it said the overall investigation, launched in July 2016 - and probes of Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn - were justified.
‘We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,’ the report said.
The White House latched onto the FBI’s errors and use of a British expert’s private report on Russian activities to label the report ‘shocking’ and claim that Democrats drove the probe.
‘The American people should be outraged and terrified by this abuse of power,’ said White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham.
But DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz’s report ruled out political partisanship and said the Russia investigation was opened ‘in compliance with (Justice) Department and FBI policies.’
DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz’s report came with Trump battling an impeachment inquiry in Congress over his seeking political help from Ukraine, which echoed the allegations his 2016 campaign colluded with Moscow.
Horowitz examined the roots of the Russian investigation after Trump repeatedly rejected his own intelligence chiefs’ conclusions that Moscow interfered in the 2016 campaign to boost Trump and hurt his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump repeatedly accused the FBI of ‘spying,’ pointing to wiretap warrants on his campaign members under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
‘It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States,’ Trump said in May.
But Horowitz said FBI officials who opened the politically sensitive investigation, dubbed ‘Crossfire Hurricane,’ had ‘reason to believe’ Russia was interfering.
‘The FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime,’ Horowitz said.
The inspector general criticized the FBI procedures for applying to the secret FISA tribunals for national security warrants, an assessment echoed by civil liberties advocates.
The FISA process ‘lacks basic safeguards and is in need of serious reform,’ said Hina Shamsi of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Democrats said the long-awaited report showed the hollowness of Trump’s attacks on the FBI as well as on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign.
Mueller uncovered more than 100 contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russian government-linked individuals or entities from November 2015 to January 2017.
Adam Schiff, Democratic head of the House Intelligence Committee, described the Horowitz report as the latest to debunk Trump’s ‘conspiracy theories’ over investigations into 2016 by the FBI and Mueller.
Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump appointee, took issue with the report, claiming the Russia inquiry was launched ‘on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.’
But FBI Director Christopher Wray defended an investigation opened ‘with adequate factual predication.’
And former FBI director James Comey, whom Trump fired over the Russia investigation in May 2017, tweeted that the allegations about a politicized investigation were ‘all lies.’
‘No treason. No spying on the campaign. No tapping Trump’s wires. It was just good people trying to protect America,’ he wrote.
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