‘Basic and fundamental errors’ in FBI probe into Trump-Russia ties
The Justice Department’s inspector general found that the FBI’s actions were not motivated by partisan bias.
The US Justice Department’s internal watchdog has told Congress he is concerned that “so many basic and fundamental errors” were made by the FBI as it investigated ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Inspector general Michael Horowitz’s evidence to the Senate Judiciary Committee came two days after the release of a report that identified significant problems with applications to receive and renew warrants to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide in 2016 and 2017.
Despite those problems, the report also found that the FBI’s actions were not motivated by partisan bias and the investigation was opened for a proper cause.
Partisan responses to his report were on display from the outset of the hearing. The Democratic and Republican leaders of the committee highlighted the findings they found most favourable to the points they wanted to make.
Democrats have seized on the inspector general’s conclusion that the investigation was not tainted by political motivations, but Republicans say the findings show the investigation was fatally flawed.
Attorney general William Barr, a vocal defender of President Donald Trump, said the FBI investigation was based on a “bogus narrative” and he declined to rule out that agents may have acted in bad faith.
Mr Horowitz told senators the FBI failed to follow its own standards for accuracy and completeness when it sought a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of ex-campaign aide Carter Page.
The report detailed 17 errors and omissions during those wiretap applications, including failing to tell the court when questions were raised about the reliability of some of the information that it had presented to receive the warrants.
“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams, on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations, after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Mr Horowitz said.
The problems were especially alarming because the warrant to monitor Mr Page “related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign” and “even though those involved with the investigation knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny”.
The committee chairman, Republican senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said: “What happened here is the system failed. People in the highest levels of government took the law into their own hands.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, said: “I believe strongly that it’s time to move on from the false claims of political bias.”
Mr Horowitz’s opening statement was overwhelmingly critical of the investigation, focusing more on the flaws his report identified than his finding about the absence of partisan bias.
Besides the errors in the warrant application process, he noted that the FBI had not consulted with the Justice Department before using informants to interact with Trump campaign aides during the investigation, although he acknowledged no policy required it to do so.