In a surprise development Tuesday, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) sent a letter to the attorney general, all but accusing the Justice Department’s internal watchdog of being deceptive in his report on the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released his long-awaited IG report on December 9, identifying 17 separate inaccuracies throughout the four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications that were submitted to the FISA court to justify spying on former Trump Campaign adviser Carter Page.
Horowitz found that the warrants were riddled with “material misstatements and omissions,” moreover the FBI knowingly withheld exculpatory information in their surveillance applications. Nonetheless, the IG concluded that there was legal justification for the opening of the CH counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 and full counterintelligence investigations into Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, General Michael Flynn and Carter Page in Aug 2016.
Horowitz claimed that he could not conclude that there was improper motivation because he did not find documentary or testimonial evidence to prove it. He later clarified to lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee that the conclusions of the report “don’t vindicate anyone” involved with Crossfire Hurricane.
Sens. Grassley and Johnson, as ranking members of the Senate Finance and Homeland Security committees, wrote to Attorney General William Barr, expressing “deep concern” over the redacted portions of the Horowitz’s report because those portions conflict with the IG’s conclusions.
“The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the Committee on Finance are continuing oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and its Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the letter begins.
We have reviewed the classified report of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) with regard to the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and we are deeply concerned about certain information that remains classified.
Specifically, we are concerned that certain sections of the public version of the report are misleading because they are contradicted by relevant and probative classified information redacted in four footnotes.
This classified information is significant not only because it contradicts key statements in a section of the report, but also because it provides insight essential for an accurate evaluation of the entire investigation. The American people have a right to know what is contained within these four footnotes and, without that knowledge, they will not have a full picture as to what happened during the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Congress and the Executive Branch should not be the only custodians of this information and the public interest in the disclosure of the information outweighs the need to protect it. Consequently, we are writing to respectfully request that you, pursuant to the declassification authority delegated to you by the President over matters related to this investigation, fully declassify the four footnotes to ensure that this information is made available to the American people.
We are enclosing a classified letter that identifies these four footnotes and explains the importance of this information to a complete understanding of the OIG report and the underlying Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
It didn’t take long to track down the redacted footnotes in the report because there were only three full redactions and two partial ones, the Federalist’s Sean Davis pointed out on Twitter.
Which 4 IG report footnotes? Only 3 are fully redacted: #211 pertains to Steele/Deripaska, #342 to the FBI interview of Steele's "Primary Sub-Source," and #347 to an FBI interview of another Steele sub-source. Two partially redacted footnotes (#164, #484) refer to Joseph Mifsud. pic.twitter.com/nZrYk9gH5T
— Sean Davis (@seanmdav) January 29, 2020
Number 211 pertains to former British spy Christopher Steele and Russian oligarch Oleg Derispaska. In his report, Horowitz revealed a significant new detail, the Federalist’s Margot Cleveland discovered earlier this month: “On December 7, 2016, [Bruce] Ohr conveyed an interagency meeting (including representatives from the FBI) regarding strategy in dealing with Russian Oligarch 1.”
Ohr at the time was the director of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF).
The IG report added that after the meeting “one of Ohr’s junior Department colleagues who attended the meeting” asked “Ohr about why the U.S. government would support trying to work with Russian Oligarch 1”—the moniker used in the IG report to refer to one of Vladimir Putin’s closest confidants, the aluminum oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Ohr’s reported response is shocking: “Ohr told her that Steele provided information that the Trump campaign had been corrupted by the Russians,” and that the corruption went all the way to president-elect Trump. Ohr’s junior colleague told the IG that Ohr explained “this information was ‘the basis for the [Deripaska] discussion” in the interagency meeting they had just left.
Yet it appears from the IG report that Ohr did not convey to his interagency team why he sought to work with Deripaska, much less that Steele’s “intel” formed the basis for his advocacy. Again, why else would his junior colleague need to inquire on that point.
To sum up, the director of the OCDETF called a meeting of agency members to discuss “working with” a Russian oligarch because he was convinced that President-elect Trump was corrupt, based on the unverified Steele dossier.
Number 342 involves the FBI interview of Steele’s primary sub-source, who disputed all the claims that Steele had claimed he’d made in January of 2017, telling the FBI that the “verified information” Steele had supplied them with was actually a collection of misstatements, remarks made in jest, and barroom rumor-mongering and speculation. In other words, the FBI knew in January of 2017 that the Steele Dossier was a pack of lies, yet they continued to hound the president and his associates.
Number 347 deals with another Steele source who contradicted his claims, and the two partially redacted footnotes—164 and 484—pertain to the mysterious Maltese Professor Joseph Mifsud, whose nefarious activities abroad provided the FBI with a pretense to spy on the Trump campaign.
In the Spring of 2016, Mifsud told former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos the Russians had thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Mueller report characterized Mifsud as someone with Russian connections, but it’s widely believed that he has links to U.S., British, Italian intelligence services and the State Department.
It’s a key distinction because if Mifsud is found to be a Western spy, the flash-point that kicked off the entire investigation was based on manufactured spy-craft.
A congressional source told the Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi last month, “I don’t see any way the investigation can be aboveboard if Mifsud isn’t a Russian agent.”
Horowitz said all four of the FISA warrant applications for Carter Page relied upon a core probable-cause argument based on the idea that the FBI was conducting a legitimate investigation into Russian election interference.
Horowitz wrote that the “sole predication” for that investigation was a statement former Trump aide George Papadopoulos made to an Australian diplomat named Alexander Downer. Papadopoulos allegedly told Downer that a Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud told him that Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Horowitz said that “if true,” this first-hand account from a friendly foreign government was “sufficient to satisfy the low threshold” for opening an investigation.
This would not hold true if the FBI knew that Mifsud was a Western intelligence asset.
”Mifsud had long worked with Western intelligence and he was … asked to connect with George Papadopoulos,” Mifsud’s lawyer Stephan Roh told investigative reported John Solomon. “It was some form of an intelligence operation.” he added.
Horowitz said in his report that he found no evidence that Mifsud “ever acted as an FBI [confidential human source],” but provided no additional information about the spy.
In a December letter to the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made public last week, the Justice Department officially determined that at least half of the FBI’s FISA applications were illegal.
The last two of the the four FISA warrant requests were not valid based on the “material misstatements omissions” detailed in the DOJ Inspector General’s report, the Justice Dept. found.