In the media’s rush to exploit the plight of migrant children this week, the public testimony of Michael Horowitz has been buried or, more likely, ignored by the news media.
Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, testified for more than 10 hours on Capitol Hill, taking questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday and from a joint congressional committee on Tuesday.
Since the June 14 release of his 568-page report on the department’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, Horowitz has been criticized for concluding that the agency’s decision to forego charges against Clinton was unrelated to the political views of those in charge.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations,” Horowitz said, “including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions we reviewed, or that the justifications offered for these decisions were pretextual.”
That finding seems to runs afoul of much of the report’s content, which included a trove of text messages showing top FBI brass favored Hillary Clinton and despised Donald Trump. (The report did suggest that the decision by lead investigator Peter Strzok to prioritize the Trump-Russia counterintelligence probe over the Weiner laptop investigation in September-October 2016 was not “free from bias.”)
But Horowitz’s public statements and responses this week should ease suspicions that he is yet another D.C. swamp creature playing politics at the expense of truth and transparency. He was candid and appeared more than willing to cooperate with Congress, a rare trait in this Justice Department.
“I am upset at all of this,” Horowitz said Tuesday. “It is precisely why it cast a cloud over the investigation, it undermines confidence in it. All of those impacts are very significant and very serious on an FBI investigation. That should never happen and it happened because of these text messages and because of what these employees were doing.”
But one reason Horowitz might have punted in his recent report is because he knows the real bombshells are yet to come: He is investigating the FISA warrant on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page; the cozy relationship between Justice and FBI officials and the media, including perks for scoops; ex-FBI Director James Comey’s handling of classified information; and the potential doctoring of official documents.
“We’ve got lots of investigations going on,” Horowitz told Rep. James Jordan (R-Ohio).
The most explosive revelations ahead could be how the FBI obtained FISA court authorization in October 2016 to spy on Carter Page for a year. The FBI’s application largely was based on the infamous Christopher Steele “dossier,” a compilation of political opposition research that was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. According to the House Intelligence Committee, “neither the initial application, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.” The first application was renewed three times: Comey signed three applications, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (now under criminal investigation) signed one, and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and current Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also signed at least one.
In his biannual report last month, Horowitz confirmed his office is “reviewing information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG is reviewing the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.” Under questioning by Jordan, Horowitz said part of his review will include asking why the Justice Department did not tell the court about the dossier’s political benefactors.
Text messages between Strzok and Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer and his alleged lover, also reveal that Strzok was interested in contacting his friend and former neighbor Rudolph Contreras—a judge appointed to the FISA court in May 2016—three months before the Page warrant was granted. We don’t know whether Contreras approved the Page warrants and—in the swampiest of all swamp moves—Contreras also was the judge in the Michael Flynn case. After Trump’s former national security advisor pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI in December 2017, Contreras was recused from the case for unknown reasons. (Special Counsel Robert Mueller has twice delayed Flynn’s sentencing; it now is scheduled for the end of this month.)
If someone were writing a screenplay about D.C. corruption, he could not do better than to invent this script.
The Page warrant was central to the public case suggesting that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election. Page was referenced repeatedly in the Steele dossier—the contents of which are unverified and the author now is facing multiple defamation lawsuits. (The Senate Judiciary Committee also has referred Steele to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution for lying to the FBI when he was a source.)
Further, an employee of Fusion GPS—the firm that hired Steele—is married to a former senior Justice Department official. That fact was also concealed from the FISA court, according to the House Intelligence committee. (The Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, was subsequently demoted.) Congress still cannot get answers about how much Steele was paid by the FBI before he was fired for fibbing about his contacts with the media.
There are many shady layers to the Page FISA warrant story. It is highly likely that Justice Department officials abused their FISA court privileges and, in the process, violated Page’s constitutional rights in order to buttress the phony Trump-Russia collusion plotline.
Thanks to leaks by DOJ officials, Page was targeted by reporters beginning in July 2016. Fusion GPS principal Glenn Simpson also peddled Steele as a legitimate FBI source to his former colleagues in the news media as they began writing articles about Page’s alleged connections to Russia. The first article exposing Page, written by Yahoo News reporter Michael Isikoff in September 2016, quoted a “senior U.S. law enforcement official” to confirm the FBI probe. The April 2017 Washington Post article that revealed Page was under FISA surveillance said this: “The officials spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.”
Horowitz made clear he intends to keep investigating unauthorized leaks to the media. He found that “although FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared widely to be ignored during the period we reviewed. We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.”
The public—and Page—are entitled to know who was behind these illegal leaks and whether they lied about it to investigators. Page told me that he is not seeking retribution or vindication: “Borrowing the words of Donald Trump on the campaign trail, ‘it’s not about me, it’s about us.’ I’m more concerned about repairing our completely broken justice system.”
This potentially could be one of the most egregious uses of federal investigatory power against a private citizen in the department’s history. Any misconduct uncovered in the Justice Department’s effort to spy on Carter Page for political reasons rather than national security reasons also throws the credibility and necessity of Robert Mueller’s probe into question.
If Horowitz exposes the players and potential crimes related to the Page warrant, any soft-pedaling on the Clinton email investigation will long be forgotten.
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