The report released Monday by Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz gives something to people on both sides of America’s acrimonious political divide. But it’s hard not to conclude that that the president and his supporters got the short end of the stick.
It might not seem that way since Horowitz gave them the facts.
The unsubstantiated information Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid British spy Christopher Steele to produce really did play a “central and essential role” in getting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants used to spy on Trump’s campaign.
The FBI really did “omit material information” when its agents applied for those warrants.
Their efforts to verify the Steele dossier only went as far as Googling public information.
And on and on and on.
All told, Obama’s FBI committed at least 17 distinct and serious improprieties when officials sought court approval to spy on the opposing party’s presidential campaign. And the abuses directly involved in obtaining the FISA warrants make up a fraction of the total misdeeds committed in the course of their “investigation.”
Nothing Horowitz included in his report will shock anyone who’s been moderately attentive to the steady drip of information and correction of previously dripped disinformation over the past three years. Strictly speaking, it’s unlikely that the malfeasance revealed in the report was, as the president remarked, “more than he thought possible.”
Nonetheless, to see all of it catalogued, one flagrant abuse of power after another, not directed at a group of unrelated individuals or even at a single person, but directed at the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential campaign en masse in a manner that could only be described as desperately relentless . . . well, let’s just say one knows what the president means.
But, though Horowitz unquestionably gave his supporters all the facts, Trump’s enemies got something infinitely more valuable. They got the conclusions.
Most people don’t care about details. Most people hate even hearing them. All they want to know is the upshot. News articles always begin with a summary because the first sentence is the only one anyone is likely to read. And, the first sentence in the mainstream press stories on the Horowitz report all take the form: “Mistakes were made, but… “
What follows the “but” is invariably some soft-pedaled version of Horowitz’s conclusion that he could find no evidence of political bias in the FBI’s efforts. What NBC News told its audience was typical: “ . . . but the overall investigation was justified, according to a long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s watchdog that rebuts the president’s depiction of a politically biased plot against him.”
The only thing missing is “Take that Trumptard!”
By giving the president’s enemies the conclusion, Horowitz gave them a mantra to suppress and completely neutralize—and, hence, render utterly worthless—the mind-numbing catalogue of facts he gave the president’s supporters.
The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel, after rightly pointing out how damning those facts are, tries to defend Horowitz’s decision to refrain from damning anyone:
When IG says he found no “documentary” evidence of bias, he means just that: He didn’t find a smoking gun email that says “let’s take out Trump.” And it isn’t his job to guess at the motivations of FBI employees.
One problem with this, of course, is that plenty of “smoking gun” evidence of bias may be found in the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. They bonded over their fear and loathing of Donald Trump. The FBI lovebirds used it like emotional Viagra.
To take just one of many examples, Strzok responded to Page worriedly asking him whether Trump might win the election by texting back, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Defending Horowitz by saying no emails were found saying “Let’s take out Trump” is either factually mistaken or mere pedantry.
But it’s also hard to understand how anyone could think the facts outlined in the inspector general’s report aren’t by themselves sufficient evidence of bias. The FBI engaged in a long series of rule violations and procedural errors, every single one detrimental to the Trump campaign. The only way this could fail to indicate malicious bias is if it turned out they did this sort of thing to everyone.
And even that dismal defense is ruled out by Horowitz not finding any similar collection of transgressions in his earlier report on the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Indeed, as with Monday’s report, then-FBI director James Comey gave the facts to Trump but the infinitely more valuable conclusion to Clinton.
If Strassel is correct and it wasn’t Horowitz’s job to determine whether any of the misdeeds he uncovered resulted from bias and only “smoking gun evidence” would prompt him to say they did, then (putting aside that there was such evidence) he shouldn’t have given aid and comfort to people who wish to deny those misdeeds even occurred by saying he didn’t find any evidence of bias. He should have simply said it wasn’t his job to find any evidence and not enabled the media’s “Mistakes were made, but…” whitewash.
If your doctor tells you he found no sign of heart disease, you’re going to assume he made a serious attempt to determine the condition of your heart and that he doesn’t just mean he didn’t see you clutching your chest and flailing around on the floor when he tried to check your tonsils.
Even if we were to accept the preposterous conclusion that the transgressions described by Horowitz all resulted from perfectly innocent mistakes, those involved still would need to be punished. We don’t let a drunk surgeon or a napping train conductor off the hook because they meant no harm. The more there is at stake, the less intent matters.
And the stakes involved when federal law enforcement violates procedures designed to ensure that its tremendous powers aren’t abused couldn’t be much higher even when their transgressions don’t shake the very foundations of national politics.
Yet neither Comey, Strzok, nor any of the others involved has admitted to doing anything they need to be sorry for, let alone anything deserving of punishment.
When their evident machinations to keep Donald Trump out of the White House failed, rather than accept the election’s outcome they tried to cripple and prematurely terminate Trump’s presidency by engaging in a concerted effort to convince the nation that the president of the United States entered office as a Russian stooge.
It’s impossible to overstate how malignant their post-election disinformation campaign was. The organized and relentless attempt to undermine Trump’s legitimacy has helped sustain political hostility so widespread and intense that many have dubbed it a cold civil war. And since not nearly as much contempt and hostility was directed at the Soviet Union during our cold war with them, the description is more than apt.
It was entirely predictable how Trump’s enemies would use the gift Horowitz gave them. And, the evidence of political bias is so overwhelming that his claim that he couldn’t find any constitutes equally overwhelming evidence that he gave it out of political bias as well.
There was probably no convincing the president’s enemies that the FBI committed any serious abuse when they investigated his campaign. But if Horowitz had abstained from giving them a conclusion to neutralize the damning facts, they might at least have been forced to dial down the intensity.
By giving Trump’s enemies the conclusion, Horowitz nourished and sustained hateful delusions that are pushing us toward a civil war.
Like Robert Mueller before him, it was incumbent on Horowitz once and for all to make clear in no uncertain terms that the hateful delusions about Trump have absolutely no basis in reality. And like Mueller, Horowitz failed to deliver.
But in stating he found no malicious intent, Horowitz didn’t just fail in his duty; he actively flouted it. He hardened the battle lines dividing America and increased the likelihood that our cold civil war will turn hot.
If, God forbid, it ever does, when it’s over, once the bodies have been buried and the streets cleansed of blood, those who deliberately divided America for their own political ends must be made to face the proper punishment for their relentless and sickening campaign of sedition.