WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog told Congress on Wednesday that the FBI botched its high-profile investigation of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government efforts to tilt the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
“The activities we found don’t vindicate anyone who touched this,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said, describing the findings of his 434-page report released Monday. “The actions of FBI agents were not up to the standards of the FBI.”
Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his inquiry into the origins of a counterintelligence investigation aimed at a major presidential campaign, one of the bureau’s most politically charged probes in its history.
The inspector general said he found no evidence that political bias influenced the decision to start the probe in July 2016 and said FBI officials had proper legal and factual basis for doing so, rebutting a chief accusation by President Donald Trump that senior FBI agents and Justice Department officials orchestrated a “deep state” conspiracy targeting him.
However, Horowitz also slammed the FBI for committing serious errors as the investigation progressed, particularly in how it investigated Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. The FBI made 17 serious errors or omissions in affidavits seeking court approval to conduct surveillance on Page, according to the report.
Republicans and Democrats on the committee quickly clashed over their interpretations of the report’s findings.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the committee, argued that it showed the FBI had engaged in a conspiracy to target Trump for investigation.
“It was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life,” Graham said, referring to the FBI’s founder and longtime director who was known for nefarious spying activities.
“What happened here is not a few irregularities,” Graham, R-S.C., said, criticizing Democrats, the FBI and journalists for how they have covered the Russia investigation and inspector general’s report. “What happened here is the system failed. People at the highest level of our government took the law into their own hands.”
Graham said the report’s findings raised concerns about whether the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approved the FBI surveillance of Page, “can continue unless there’s fundamental reform.”
“We need to rewrite the rules of how you start a counterintelligence investigation and the checks and balances we need,” he added.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Horowitz proved there was no political conspiracy in the FBI to take down Trump. She also took to task Attorney General William Barr for his criticism of the investigation and of Horowitz’s findings.
“This was not a politically motivated investigation,” Feinstein said. “There is no ‘deep state.’ Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias.”
In a statement Monday, Barr said Horowitz made clear “that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
Barr said the evidence collected by the FBI in its pursuit of Page was “consistently exculpatory” and yet “the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”
In a subsequent interview with NBC News, Barr said the FBI may have operated with a partisan motive.
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.
“I think that leaves open the possibility that there was bad faith,” he added.