“I’m saddened and shocked that FBI personnel would mislead a court to obtain a warrant to conduct the most intrusive surveillance of an American citizen. We depend on public and judicial confidence to bring criminals to justice. We must never be seen to tolerate any dishonesty within the FBI-particularly to a court. I will see to it that any responsible FBI personnel are promptly brought to account.”
That’s what FBI Director Christopher Wray should have said after the release Monday of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the bureau’s appalling conduct in its spying operation against Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
But Wray didn’t say that. Instead, he told an ABC News interviewer it was “important that the inspector general found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.”
In the context of multiple recent Justice Department inspector general reports damning the FBI, Wray’s blasé remarks are chilling.
Wray looks relaxed in the interview. A whisper of a smile plays across his lips as he shrugs off Monday’s report. In the same week that Democrats are having a meltdown over President Trump asking about potential corruption involving former Vice President Joe Biden and the Ukrainian government, Wray shrugged off an extensive effort to spy on the Trump campaign.
Wray should be outraged and humiliated by the actions of his agency, regardless of whether or not he was in charge when the abuses occurred.
If Wray really believes the FBI opened its Russian collusion investigation in good faith, then he shouldn’t be running the FBI.
According to the inspector general’s report, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant against Carter Page on the suspicion that he was a Russian agent. The problem with that is that Page was faithfully and accurately reporting his contacts with the Russians to another agency—most likely the CIA.
Page was so reliable, in fact, that he “had been approved as an operational contact for the other agency from 2008 to 2013.” There was, therefore, every reason to believe that if the FBI had questions about Page’s contacts with the Russians, officials could have asked him and he would have provided complete and truthful answers. That’s why it’s a big deal that an FBI attorney doctored communication from the other agency.
The report notes, “In addition, [Office of General Counsel] Attorney altered the email that the other U.S. government agency had sent to the OGC Attorney so that the email inaccurately stated that Page was ‘not a source’ for the other agency.” The attorney then forwarded the altered email to the supervisory special agent. The other agency found Page to be so cooperative, that Page was cleared for “contact and [to] discuss sensitive information” with agency officials. That’s how reliable he had proven to be to the other agency.
As Horowitz’s report notes, the attorney general’s guidelines and the rules governing inspector general investigations “require that the ‘least intrusive’ means or method be ‘considered’ when selecting investigative techniques and, ‘if reasonable based upon the circumstances of the investigation,’ be used to obtain information instead of a more intrusive method.” Since Page had a history of sharing information voluntarily, the FBI could not have met this burden without deception.
Does the FBI deceive courts to get warrants? It did so repeatedly to maintain a surveillance warrant on Carter Page. Does Wray care? Judging from his ABC News interview, he doesn’t seem concerned by the 17 acts of deception (either express or by omission) perpetrated on an Article III court in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.
What is the FBI’s business? To support and defend the Constitution, of course. And how is business? It looks like the FBI is operating at a loss, if that’s the measure of success.
These aren’t clerical errors. The FBI told a court it had reason to believe Carter Page was committing a crime with Russians. The warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowed the FBI to access the most intrusive tools available to spy on Page and anyone else with whom he may have spoken.
Wray’s indifference toward Horowitz’s report is hardly an aberration. There are plenty of other reasons to question whether Wray is the right man to lead the FBI.
Let’s review the FBI’s abysmal record under Wray.
Under Wray, the FBI fought congressional oversight into what is now confirmed FBI misconduct.
Under Wray, the FBI’s program of oversight of its informants almost totally disintegrated. Over $40 million a year goes to these informants who have a lot of influence over how America’s most powerful cops get used. That’s the very same program that allowed the Christopher Steele/Russian collusion hoax to gain traction. According to the latest inspector general report, Steele flunked the source validation process but the FBI continued to vouch for his credibility to the court—even misrepresenting Steele’s value in the infamous FIFA case. The FBI is less-equipped to screen and stop a repetition of a future Steele-like failure now than it was in 2016 when it happened the first time.
Under Wray, the FBI abused the National Security Agency’s database of bulk data collected without regard to constitutional privacy concerns. The government is allowed to maintain this database because it promises not to use it on Americans without a court’s permission. Under Wray, the FBI couldn’t even explain why thousands of the queries were initiated.
The abuse was so widespread and systematic that the court issued a stinging opinion here. Wray fought the release of the opinion for a year, delaying public accountability. To date, there’s no report of Wray punishing any FBI personnel for any of this misconduct.
Because of all of this, it’s going to be more difficult to convince judges to trust FBI search warrants. Jurors will no longer assume FBI agents never lie. And when an FBI agent shows up to interview a public official, the chances of voluntary cooperation have declined. Wray’s tolerance of the Russia collusion hoax means more bad guys will go free.
The public can forgive the FBI for a few bad apples—but not when the FBI leaves those apples in the barrel when it had the chance to remove them and stop the rot from spreading.
In response to Wray’s ABC News interview, the president tweeted: “I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”
Scolding Wray via tweet isn’t likely to fix these many serious constitutional lapses by our most powerful law enforcement agency. Maybe it’s time for the president to find somebody who is serious about protecting constitutional rights and restoring the public’s trust in the FBI.