Horowitz said his report offers no ‘vindication’ for the F.B.I.
The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, cautioned that no one should view his report as a vindication of F.B.I. officials involved in the aspects of the Russia investigation that he examined.
“The activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this,” he said in the middle of an exchange with Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee and a close ally of President Trump.
Mr. Horowitz was responding to Mr. Graham’s mention of an Op-Ed by the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey published in The Washington Post after Mr. Horowitz’s report became public.
While Mr. Comey acknowledged that the inspector general found “mistakes” in the administrative process associated with the wiretap applications targeting the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page — the focus of the report — Mr. Comey wrote that Mr. Horowitz’s “most important” finding was his debunking of the insinuations by Mr. Trump and his allies that F.B.I. officials, driven by political bias, conspired to sabotage Mr. Trump.
“Those who smeared the F.B.I. are due for an accounting,” Mr. Comey wrote.
Mr. Graham had been marching through a lengthy series of errors, omissions and misleading statements submitted to the court for the surveillance of Mr. Page. The senator portrayed Mr. Comey as writing that Mr. Horowitz’s report “vindicates him,” and asked whether that was a fair assessment, prompting Mr. Horowitz’s remark.
Horowitz detailed his interactions with Barr and a prosecutor also reviewing the Russia inquiry.
Mr. Horowitz clarified why a prosecutor conducting his own review of the Russia investigation had disputed the inspector general’s findings.
John H. Durham, a United States attorney investigating the Russia inquiry at the behest of Attorney General William P. Barr, said on Monday that he had “advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the F.B.I. case was opened.” But Mr. Durham did not explain the disagreement.
Mr. Horowitz said Mr. Durham disputed one aspect of his conclusion that the F.B.I. had a lawful basis to open the Russia inquiry in July 2016. The F.B.I. opened it as a “full” counterintelligence inquiry, and Mr. Durham thought it should have been a “preliminary” one.
Under F.B.I. standards, agents can open a preliminary investigation on “any allegation or information” that indicates possible criminal activity or threats to national security. Opening a full investigation requires “an articulable factual basis” that “reasonably indicates” that a crime or security threat exists.
Mr. Priestap opened the investigation after WikiLeaks began publishing stolen Democratic emails believed to have been hacked by Russia, and after the bureau learned that a Trump campaign aide suggested that the Russians wanted to coordinate the release of information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
While Mr. Horowitz concluded that those facts were sufficient for Mr. Priestap to open a full investigation, Mr. Durham, he said, told him he did not necessarily agree. But Mr. Durham also said during the meeting “that the information from the friendly foreign government was in his view sufficient to support the preliminary investigation,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Neither Mr. Durham nor Mr. Barr presented any information that changed his mind, Mr. Horowitz added.
Either type of investigation permits the F.B.I. to use confidential human sources to approach and secretly record potential witnesses or targets of the inquiry — the main step the bureau took in the month after opening the inquiry, Mr. Horowitz noted.
But wiretapping, the step investigators took in October, can only be undertaken as part of a full investigation.
Republicans challenged Horowitz’s conclusion that no anti-Trump plot existed at the F.B.I.
One of Mr. Horowitz’s biggest findings dealt with whether any Justice Department or F.B.I. official let their political views affect the opening of Crossfire Hurricane or any investigative steps they took. The inspector general found no “documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions” to open the investigation.
Republicans immediately attacked this conclusion. Mr. Graham and other Republican senators pointed to texts among F.B.I. officials involved in the investigation — uncovered by the inspector general — that indicated anti-Trump sentiments as evidence that the officials acted with bias.
“There is no planet on which I think this report indicates that things were O.K. within the F.B.I.,” said Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah.
Mr. Horowitz said that while he found no evidence that the errors and omissions in the surveillance materials were intentional — as opposed to merely stemming from “gross incompetence and negligence” — he was also not satisfied with the explanations offered for why they happened. He said he could not read people’s minds to learn their motivations.
The hearing is highlighting problems with F.B.I. surveillance.
Both sides praised Mr. Horowitz for unearthing a litany of serious problems with the F.B.I.’s pursuit of a court order to wiretap a former Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page. Mr. Horowitz found 17 significant errors or omissions in their application for the court order and three renewals of it, according to his voluminous report.
Mr. Graham slammed the F.B.I. for using a dossier of opposition research about Mr. Trump compiled by a British former spy, Christopher Steele, for Democrats in the Page wiretap applications — and for continuing to use it to seek renewals even after they interviewed Mr. Steele’s primary source and he contradicted what the dossier said.
Many of the problems that Mr. Horowitz uncovered centered on investigators’ use of the dossier as part of the materials submitted to the court to show they had probable cause to suspect that Mr. Page was an agent of a foreign power.
Mr. Horowitz found that the initial application relied on four claims from the dossier and that their credibility eroded over time, but that law enforcement officials failed to update the court as they sought renewals of the wiretap. Mr. Graham pressed him on whether a judge would have approved the renewal applications had investigators been clearer about the status of that material. Mr. Horowitz said he made no determination, but he acknowledged in his report that investigators appeared to overstate the strength of their applications.
Mr. Graham also focused on Mr. Horowitz’s finding that a lower-level F.B.I. lawyer had doctored an email from the C.I.A. used in preparing to seek a renewal of a wiretap order targeting Mr. Page in a way that kept the court from learning potentially exculpatory information about him.
Senators keyed in on how the F.B.I. interacted with the Trump campaign.
Republican senators expressed alarm that an F.B.I. agent collected information about Mr. Trump and Michael T. Flynn, a top adviser at the time, while briefing them on counterintelligence risks to the Trump campaign in August 2016.
The agent thought the briefing would be a good opportunity to make himself familiar with Mr. Flynn, who was one of the four Trump associates under investigation and might need to be interviewed later. In the days afterward, the F.B.I. agent wrote a memo based on his observations of Mr. Trump and Mr. Flynn and added it to the Russia investigation file.
The episode highlighted a key complaint by Trump allies about the Russia inquiry: that investigators improperly intruded on the campaign. Though Mr. Horowitz did not uncover any instances of agents flouting policy in the investigative steps they took, critics have called for the F.B.I. to reconsider its lack of restrictions on opening investigations that involve scrutiny of constitutionally protected activities, such as political campaigns.
Asked whether the move was typical, Mr. Horowitz said there was no policy forbidding it, then mentioned that the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, had insisted that it would “not happen going forward.
“I think it’s pretty clear what his state of mind is on that: This should not have occurred,” Mr. Horowitz said.
Republicans repeatedly expressed concerns that the F.B.I. took actions that amounted to spying on the campaign. In particular, officials used at least one informant who wore a concealed recording device and an undercover agent to interact with two Trump campaign aides.
The inspector general said the F.B.I. needed little approval to use such intrusive techniques, even in such sensitive investigations, and that F.B.I. officials did not notify Justice Department leaders, which he described as concerning. “Nobody knew beforehand,” Mr. Horowitz said. “And that was one of the most concerning things here, was that nobody needed to be told.”
In March 2017, Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I. and Obama administration officials illegally wiretapping Trump Tower during the campaign. But Mr. Horowitz said he found no indication that the F.B.I. had conducted such electronic surveillance.
Horowitz proposed changes for the F.B.I.
F.B.I. officials could have avoided many of their troubling mistakes and omissions, Mr. Horowitz concluded in his report, offering nine recommendations for changes within the bureau to prevent similar failures.
The F.B.I. opened the Russia investigation without the approval of the Justice Department and did notify national security lawyers at the department after the investigation was opened. Though that is allowed under existing policies, the inspector general said officials should evaluate whether certain sensitive investigations should require informing the deputy attorney general.
The inspector general also said that top officials at the F.B.I. need to a better job running investigations out of headquarters.
Republicans have also criticized the F.B.I. for not briefing Mr. Trump about a possible threat to his campaign after the F.B.I. opened the Russia investigation in July 2016. Mr. Horowitz said the F.B.I. should develop a better job figuring out when to do such briefings.
Mr. Horowitz also said that the F.B.I. should review the performance of all the officials involved in assembling the wiretap applications, including those overseeing the investigation into Mr. Page. The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, said he has accepted the inspector general’s conclusions and his recommendations.