The Horowitz Report is stunning, not for the IG’s anodyne conclusions, but for the facts he has uncovered: By far the most important is that the investigation continued after January 2017, when the wheels fell off the Steele Dossier. The FBI’s choices to lie and double down on a manifestly unfounded investigation turned their investigation into an attempted coup.
The 400+ page DOJ IG Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation (the “IG Report”) is far more troubling than Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s bland conclusions imply. The report raises a host of issues and I hope to get to all of them in several future posts.
The first and foremost issue is that, while the Russia investigation aimed at Trump was founded entirely on the criminal allegations in the Steele Dossier (there were additional ancillary facts that were relevant but not criminal), the FBI knew by January 2017 that the Steele Dossier was itself unfounded. In its submissions to the FISA Court, the FBI made bald-faced lies about the Steele Report and then continued investigating President Trump and his administration for months, ultimately manipulating the situation in order to appoint a Special Counsel, who then carried on investigating for more than two years. These people need to be held to account criminally.
The Horowitz Report states that the FBI was able to corroborate minor details in the dossier that were already in the public record, but to the extent the dossier alleged criminal conduct, the FBI was never able to corroborate any of the underlying facts. In September 2016, at the same time that it was investigating Trump and his team, the FBI began to vet Christopher Steele as a confidential human source (CHS).
Then, beginning in January 2017, the FBI started to vet the confidential sources Steele used to create the reports in his eponymous dossier. The IG Report explains (p. 184) that “. . . Steele himself was not the originating source of any of the factual information in his reporting.” Rather, “Steele relied on a primary sub-source (Primary Sub-source) for information, and this Primary Sub-source used a network of sub-sources to gather the information that was relayed to Steele.”
One can take issue with the fact the FBI team investigating the Trump Administration did not get around to vetting the Primary Sub-source until January, long after the FBI had applied for and received two FISA warrants to spy on Carter Page (and by the two hop rule and the warrant’s ability to reach back in time, virtually everyone in the Trump administration). But set that aside for the moment. When several members of the Crossfire Hurricane team interviewed the Primary Sub-source, they found that the information he provided “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.” Actually, that’s one of many stunning understatements that Horowitz made.
The Primary Sub-source’s statements about the information in the Steele Dossier are damning (p. 187):
. . . the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she had not seen Steele’s reports until they became public that month, and that he/she made statements indicating that Steele misstated or exaggerated the Primary Sub-source’s statements in multiple sections of the reporting. For example, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that, while Report 80 stated that Trump’s alleged sexual activities at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Moscow had been “confirmed” by a senior, western staff member at the hotel, the Primary Sub-source explained that he/she reported to Steele that Trump’s alleged unorthodox sexual activity at the Ritz Carlton hotel was “rumor and speculation” and that he/she had not been able to confirm the story. A second example provided by the Primary Sub-source was Report 134’s description of a meeting allegedly held between Carter Page and Igor Sechin, the President of Rosneft, a Russian energy conglomerate. Report 134 stated that, according to a “close associate” of Sechin, Sechin offered “PAGE/ TRUMP’s associates the brokerage of up to a 19 percent (privatized) stake in Rosneft” in return for the lifting of sanctions against the company. The Primary Sub-source told the FBI that one of his/her subsources furnished information for that part of Report 134 through a text message, but said that the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page. We [the IG] reviewed the texts and did not find any discussion of a bribe, whether as an interest in Rosneft itself or a “brokerage.”
These discrepancies alone should have brought the entire Trump investigation to a halt. Instead, the FBI continued to investigate Trump, including leaking information to the press painting Trump as a Russian stooge. Only in March did investigators finally interview the Primary Sub-source a second time. These interviews established conclusively that the allegations in the Steele Dossier were, not put it politely, equine fecal matter (p. 188):
The Washington Field Office agent (WFO Agent 1) who conducted that interview and others after it told the OIG that the Primary Sub-source felt that the tenor of Steele’s reports was far more “conclusive” than was justified. The Primary Subsource also stated that he/she never expected Steele to put the Primary Subsource’s statements in reports or present them as facts. According to WFO Agent 1, the Primary Sub-source said he/she made it clear to Steele that he/she had no proof to support the statements from his/her sub-sources and that “it was just talk.” WFO Agent 1 said that the Primary Sub-source explained that his/her information came from “word of mouth and hearsay;” “conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers;” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements he/she heard made in “jest.” The Primary Sub-source also told WFO Agent 1 that he/she believed that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests. The Primary Sub-source told WFO Agent 1 that he/she “takes what [sub-sources] tell [him/her] with ‘a grain of salt.”‘
In addition, the FBI interviews with the Primary Sub-source revealed that Steele did not have good insight into how many degrees of separation existed between the Primary Sub-source’s sub-sources and the persons quoted in the reporting, and that it could have been multiple layers of hearsay upon hearsay. For example, the Primary Sub-source stated to WFO Agent 1 that, in contrast to the impression left from the election reports, his/her sub-sources did not have direct access to the persons they were reporting on. Instead, the Primary Sub-source told WFO Agent 1 that their information was “from someone else who may have had access.”
The Primary Sub-source also informed WFO Agent 1 that Steele tasked him/her after the 2016 U.S. elections to find corroboration for the election reporting and that the Primary Sub-source could find none. According to WFO Agent 1, during an interview in May 2017, the Primary Sub-source said the corroboration was “zero.” The Primary Sub-source had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him/ her in January 2017.
At this point, there was no legitimate basis to continue investigating Trump or to maintain the FISA warrant on Carter Page. Nevertheless, the IG states that the FBI did not provide this updated information to the FISA Court. To the contrary, as the IG states, the FBI instead doubled down on FISA applications (p. 190):
Carter Page FISA Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 advised the court that following the January interview with the Primary Subsource, “the FBI found the Russian-based sub-source to be truthful and cooperative.” Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Subsource contradicted the Steele election reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications. We found no evidence that the Crossfire Hurricane team ever considered whether any of the inconsistencies warranted reconsideration of the FBI’s previous assessment of the reliability of the Steele election reports, or notice to OI or the court for the subsequent renewal applications.
Folks, that is criminal. But so is what James Comey chose to do at that point.
Recall, please, James Comey’s extraordinary conduct in March during public testimony before Congress. FBI policy prohibits making public its criminal investigations. And yet, on March 20, when the FBI already knew that its case had no foundation, Comey publicized the investigation and directed it at Trump:
I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.
Comey’s declaration was not a surprise; reports about a federal probe involving Trump have been swirling for months. But his decision to publicly confirm that the sitting president’s campaign is under investigation for possibly colluding with a foreign power to undermine an election was a stunning revelation, and one whose significance both Democrats and Republicans immediately recognized.“By your announcement today, there is now a cloud that undermines our system,” Representative Michael Turner, an Ohio Republican, pointedly told the FBI director. Under questioning, Comey said that the FBI began the investigation in late July. That disclosure will likely inflame Democratic criticism that Comey chose to publicly discuss the bureau’s inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails during the closing days of the 2016 election but did not reveal it was also investigating the Trump campaign and Russian meddling.
Wow. The Horowitz Report does not address Comey’s conduct, but I am sure Durham will. The only logical explanation for Comey to do what he did was to try and harm Trump in office, to use the continuing investigation as a pretext to search for Trump’s other allegedly criminal acts, and to justify appointing a Special Counsel to allow the now defunct case to continue, perhaps snaring the notoriously undisciplined Trump in a process crime.
This was an attempted coup. It should be prosecuted as a seditious act.