WASHINGTON — A recent CNN story framed Attorney General Bill Barr’s criticisms of the FBI’s behavior in the Russia probe as “attacks” that could have a “chilling effect” on law enforcement. The metaphor makes it sound as if an innocent institution is getting mugged.
But the “rank behavior,” as Barr put it during an interview with The Wall Street Journal, chronicled in Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report, released Monday, makes clear the FBI could use a good freeze.
Yes, the IG report concluded political bias did not launch the investigation into possible coordination between the Kremlin and Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
And yes, I’ve heard the argument from intelligence and law enforcement veterans who say it would have been a dereliction of duty not to investigate when they first had an inkling Russia fed dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump team during the 2016 campaign.
The problem is: Why didn’t they wrap it up in, say, January 2017 — after it became clear that the so-called dossier spit out by former British intelligence officer and paid Democratic opposition researcher Christopher Steele was a sham?
As the IG report made clear, officials who assessed Steele’s credibility did so with “medium confidence” and found Steele’s reporting was “minimally corroborated.”
During a January 2017 interview to assess Steele’s credibility, Steele’s primary source contradicted his claim that a sensational rumor about Trump watching prostitutes urinating in a Moscow hotel had been confirmed, when that was not so.
Also, Steele had claimed his top source had been speaking with a former senior Russian official for a while. The source told the FBI they’d never met. And still the Russian probe continued.
Too many journalists seem to have forgotten that the intelligence community is not supposed to spy on Americans. So of course CNN didn’t broadcast Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s opening statement on the IG report. It’s not news.
What really angers the folks at CNN? Barr’s use of the word “spying.” (Too accurate.)
In this news cycle, issues have been replaced by fact-resistant narratives — to wit, James Comey, Boy Scout.
The IG report shredded any notion of Comey as a ramrod straight lawman standing up for what is right against bully President Donald Trump.
A year after the FBI learned the “pee-tape” was fictional, Comey spoke as if it might be true. Promoting his book, “No Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership,” Comey told ABC in April 2018, “Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don’t know whether the current president of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013. It’s possible. I don’t know.”
While Horowitz didn’t find partisan bias as the cause for the Russian probe, he found plenty of anti-Trump bias.
It’s impossible to believe that the investigation would have continued if these tawdry allegations had been hurled against a member of the Washington establishment, say, an incumbent senator. Or a former secretary of state.
I would not discount the effect of arrogance among law enforcement elites or the corrosive effect of using and over-relying on confidential sources. This wouldn’t be the first time the FBI picked on someone just because it could.
Think of the countless cases where nonviolent and low-level drug offenders were sentenced to draconian time because career criminals testified against them in order to win shorter terms.
Horowitz catalogued the 17 errors or omissions in applications to wiretap former Trump adviser Carter Page, who served as an operational contact for a government agency — presumably the CIA — for five years.
On CNN and MSNBC, one often hears — for good reason — about the threats faced by whistleblowers and those who testified against Trump. But you don’t see a lot of tears for Page.
“From the day news of the investigation broke, I have faced threats to my life and have been forced to live like a fugitive. I still don’t feel safe enough to establish a fixed residence,” Page wrote the Journal.
As Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, “The activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.”
There was so much at stake in this probe — and still the FBI, and later special counsel Robert Mueller, continued an investigation based on dubious sources and false claims that undermined the public’s faith in the 2016 election.
During the Russian probe hearings, House Democrats railed against the notion of a foreign government meddling in U.S. elections. The real horror is that our own law enforcement system did it for them.
“We found no evidence that the Crossfire Hurricane team ever considered whether any of the inconsistencies warranted reconsideration of the FBI’s previous assessment of the reliability of the Steele election reports, or notice to OI or the court for the subsequent renewal applications.”
-Inspector General Michael Horowitz report