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Trump’s FBI ‘deep state’ conspiracy not backed by evidence, watchdog tells Senate

Justice Department inspector general finds ‘no documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias’ motivated presidential campaign probe

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 11 December 2019 22:14 GMT
Justice Department says no 'deep state' conspiracy to unseat Donald Trump

Just hours after Donald Trump railed against “scum” FBI agents during a campaign rant against “deep state” conspiracies, a Justice Department internal watchdog rebutted the president’s claims that an investigation into his campaign was politically motivated.

Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the watchdog’s findings outlined in a 400-page report looking into an FBI investigation of Russian influence in the president’s 2016 campaign.

The watchdog’s report found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations”, which included the FBI’s applications to surveil a former member of Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.

The inspector general said he will continue to investigate apparent leaks from the FBI to Mr Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani during the campaign.

Mr Horowitz said: “We were very concerned about that ... We are investigating those contacts.”

The inspector general also defended his report after allegations from William Barr, the attorney general, and his hand-picked prosecutor John Durham that the report was improperly opened.

In a statement on Monday, Mr Durham said that they had “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”.

Mr Horowitz said he was “surprised by the statement”, and that while Mr Durham may not have agreed to pursue a full counterintelligence investigation, Mr Horowtiz said he was told by Mr Durham that he agreed there was enough to pursue a preliminary investigation.

The report largely focuses on members of the Trump campaign, including Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, who briefly served as a foreign policy adviser on the campaign.

Manafort was later sentenced to seven years in prison for tax fraud and failure to disclose foreign bank accounts. Flynn and Papadopoulas pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during the campaign.

The FBI sought to electronically surveil Mr Page after his departure from the campaign under suspicion he was working alongside Russian officials.

At his Pennsylvania rally on Tuesday night, Mr Trump accused the FBI – then under former president Barack Obama’s administration – of sending “multiple undercover human spies” to record people within his campaign, falsifying evidence and issuing “secret warrants”.

Mr Trump said: “Look how they’ve hurt people ... Their lives have been destroyed by scum.”

Donald Trump calls FBI 'scum' who 'destroyed lives'

According to the report, the FBI did not place spies within the campaign, nor did it install wiretaps in Trump Tower, another allegation among Trump allies.

The bureau only sought to surveil one member of the campaign, Carter Page, according to Mr Horowitz, and ultimately did not seek approvals through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for surveillance on Papadopoulos.

There also was “no information indicating that the team requested or seriously considered Fisa surveillance” for Manafort or Flynn, according to the report.

The report quashed several other Republican-held theories that Mr Trump’s allies say point to a “deep state” conspiracy that attempted to undermine the president.

A so-called “dossier” on election reporting from former British spy Christopher Steele “played no role” in the investigation, according to the report.

And neither former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and agent Peter Strzok – who were removed from the Russia investigation after text messages revealed their criticisms of then-candidate Trump – ”played a significant role” in launching the probe or determining its findings.

Mr Horowitz testified that he “did not find any evidence” in emails or texts from Mr Strzok’s supervisor, Bill Priestap, of “having engaged in any bias or having any bias”.

The report also uncovered pro-Trump texts among other agents.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein clarified that “FBI employees held personal political views that were both favourable and unfavourable towards the candidate at that time”.

Mr Horowitz said: “We did not find the text messages were inappropriate solely because people expressed a view as to which candidate they support or didn’t support in an election. What concerned us ... Is the connection between their views and their work on the investigation.”

The report, however, did find “at least 17 errors or omissions” in the FBI’s surveillance efforts which have prompted another audit into the bureau’s process for applying for and receiving Fisa authorisations to surveil Americans.

Mr Horowitz found that FBI agents “failed to meet the basic obligation” to ensure applications for surveillance were “scrupulously accurate”.

Trump says USA is 'so respected' now after being 'laughed at' four years ago

He found “so many basic and fundamental errors” made by “three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels” within the bureau, and that there was a failure of “not only the operational team, but also of the managers and supervisors, including senior officials, in the chain of command”.

Mr Barr called the FBI’s investigation a “travesty” and chastised the inspector general’s report, saying it didn’t go far enough.

Meanwhile, Trump allies have focused on the FBI’s procedural failures, not the lack of a political bias, which has been a rallying cry in defence of the president among his supporters.

South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, who has repeatedly defended the president, said that “the people at the highest levels of our government took the law into their own hands” for a conspiracy that’s so “bad” that “it’s as if J Edgar Hoover came back to life”.

Mr Graham accused the FBI of a “massive criminal conspiracy over time” to “defraud” the Fisa court and repeated the conspiracy that “a few bad people” within the bureau “couldn’t believe Trump won, didn’t want to him to win, and when he won they couldn’t tolerate it” despite the report saying there was no evidence to support that.

FBI director Christopher Wray already has announced more than 40 policy changes that will attempt to address the findings.

On Twitter, Mr Trump said Mr Wray “will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken” and he told his supporters on Tuesday that the FBI has “not good people” leading the agency.

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