Questions about the FBI’s motives in targeting President Trump’s 2016 campaign are mounting despite a Justice Department inspector general report that could not pin down evidence of bias.
Attorney General William P. Barr on Tuesday said Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz did not push hard enough for answers to why the FBI made a slew of embarrassing errors, omissions and inaccuracies in its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) application to wiretap Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
If not a get-Trump mentality at the FBI, he asked, then what was it?
“I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI,” Mr. Barr told NBC News. “I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy said the inspector general report demands “more investigation.”
“There are points where Horowitz unfolds something highly disturbing and then says we never got a satisfactory explanation for why that happened,” he told The Washington Times.
Mr. Horowitz will face a Senate panel Wednesday to explain his report.
The report said there was no direct evidence political bias was a motive, which Democratic lawmakers and FBI officials involved in the Trump investigation seized on as vindication.
Yet it offered no explanation as to why hand-picked agents on one of the bureau’s most sensitive cases could be so careless and even withheld exculpatory evidence that cleared Mr. Page of wrongdoing.
On a separate track, U.S. Attorney John Durham is delving into the origins of FBI’s Russia investigation, a probe that goes beyond the FISA warrant.
As a U.S. attorney, Mr. Durham has the power to subpoena witness testimony and documents, impanel a grand jury and file criminal charges. Mr. Horowitz’s authority is limited to current Justice Department officials and he can’t charge people with a crime, undercutting his ability to probe for answers.
“You bring a prosecutor to prosecute a case,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Durham has a fact pattern and he is looking through the lens of potentially criminal offenses and whether he can prove them.”
In October, the Durham probe shifted from an administrative review to a criminal investigation, though it is not clear what led to the change. A former FBI lawyer accused of doctoring evidence against Mr. Page was said to have been referred to Mr. Durham for criminal prosecution.
Mr. Durham has already signaled his conclusions may differ from Mr. Horowitz’s. Shortly after the inspector general issued his 440-page report, Mr. Durham pushed back in a rare statement, saying he disagreed with the inspector general’s finding that the FBI was justified in opening an investigation into the Trump campaign.
“Based on the evidence collected to date and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we 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,” he said.
Former State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard called Mr. Durham’s statement the “most significant” event of the Horowitz report’s rollout.
“This is really unusual,” he said. “He felt obligated to say something very quickly because he doesn’t want people to fix their minds to Horowitz’s findings. I’ve said for months that Horowitz’s report is preliminary and the main event is the Durham report.”
Mr. Krongard said it wasn’t the inspector general’s job to ascribe intent to the FBI’s actions.
Testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Horowitz likely will be grilled by Republicans on why he ruled out political bias but failed to come up with an alternative explanation. Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham called the FBI’s probe into Mr. Trump a “criminal enterprise.”
“I believe there will be no debate among reasonably minded people, particularly lawyers, about how the system got off the rails, but in my view became a criminal enterprise to defraud the FISA court, to deny American citizen Carter Page his constitutional rights, and to continue an operation against President Trump as president of the United States,” he said Monday.
Mr. McCarthy said he sees evidence of potential crimes in Mr. Horowitz’s report. Possible criminal charges he identified include interfering with the civil rights of individuals participating in a political campaign and fraud on the FISA court by withholding evidence clearing Mr. Page of wrongdoing.
“You have these investigative irregularities that you found,” he said. “What motivated them? Why did they go back to the court for renewals even as they continued to accumulate exculpatory evidence?”
Also Tuesday, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who is exonerated of wrongdoing in the Horowitz report, filed a lawsuit against the FBI and Justice Department.
Ms. Page said text messages she exchanged with Peter Strzok, a married FBI agent with whom she was having an affair, were released by the Justice Department in December 2017 to promote a false narrative that the two illegally “conspired to undermine” Mr. Trump.
According to the lawsuit, the release was “to promote the false narrative that [Ms. Page] and others at the FBI were biased against President Trump, had conspired to undermine him and had otherwise engaged in allegedly criminal acts, including treason.”
She said the Justice Department released the texts without her consent in violation of the federal Privacy Act. Ms. Page also say the disclosure was motivated by the Justice Department’s desire to elevate its standing with Mr. Trump.
The text messages were released following the president’s “repeated public attacks of the department and its head,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Mr. Trump repeatedly publicly bashed the then-attorney general over his recusal from the Russia probe. That led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation of Mr. Trump has dominated his presidency.
Ms. Page announced the lawsuit Tuesday on Twitter.
“I sued the Department of Justice and FBI today,” she tweeted. “I take little joy in having done so. But what they did in leaking my messages to the press was not only wrong, it was illegal.”
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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