Dec 11, 2019 - Technology

The other report blowing up D.C.

Michael Horowitz

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's testimony on Capitol Hill today painted a vivid illustration of how political actors frequently cherry-pick facts for their own partisan gain.

Why it matters: The dueling narratives aren't mutually exclusive, but it takes some nuance to sort through the partisan hyperbole.

  • For Republicans, Horowitz's investigation into the origins of the 2016 Russia probe provided a bombshell account of how an out-of-control FBI lied to a surveillance court in order to spy on a presidential campaign.
  • For Democrats, the report debunked the conspiracy that President Trump and his allies have promoted for years — that the Russia investigation was a "deep state" hoax designed to take down his presidency.

The big picture: Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz made clear in testimony today that both sides have a point, within limits.

  • Horowitz determined the FBI was justified in opening a counterintelligence investigation after receiving a tip that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos had told Australian diplomats that Russia had Hillary Clinton's emails.
  • Horowitz found no evidence of political bias in the FBI's subsequent scrutiny of Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, and no evidence of a "deep state conspiracy" to take down Trump.
  • But Horowitz also counted at least 17 errors in Carter Page's FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) application, including the omission of information that may have helped refute allegations that he was an agent of the Russian government.

What he's saying: Horowitz was "surprised" that U.S. Attorney John Durham, tasked by Attorney General Bill Barr with conducting a more expansive investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, issued a statement disputing the conclusion that the opening of the investigation was properly predicated.

  • The rare intervention has set off concerns that the investigation is being micromanaged by Barr, who attacked the Russia investigation as "a completely bogus narrative" in an interview yesterday with NBC News.

The bottom line: "I think the activities we found here don't vindicate anybody who touched this," Horowitz told the Senate Judiciary Committee, referencing a celebratory James Comey op-ed in the Washington Post.

What to watch: Looking past the short-term political implications of the report, the FISA process — which sees 98% of all surveillance applications approved — could finally face a reckoning.

Go deeper: Read Horowitz's full report

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