President Trump’s allies have invested a great deal in an ongoing examination of the origins of the Russia investigation that is currently being conducted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horowitz. The idea is that this internal examination will finally reveal that law enforcement acted corruptly by undertaking surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser as part of its investigation into a foreign attack on our political system.
Trump’s attorney general, William P. Barr, also appears heavily invested in that narrative. He has lent credibility to the idea that law enforcement engaged in “spying" on the Trump campaign, thus insinuating that this surveillance was done to derail Trump’s candidacy. Barr, too, is examining the genesis of that probe.
But this whole narrative may have taken a new hit.
Reuters reports that lawyers working with the Justice Department inspector general have interviewed former British spy Christopher Steele. He is a longtime target of Trump’s allies, who claim the Steele dossier (which alleged collusion and made other lurid claims) improperly served as the foundation for the original Russia-related FBI investigation — primarily via its use to justify an application to surveil former Trump adviser Carter Page.
But as Post fact checker Salvador Rizzo has shown, that whole narrative is wildly exaggerated and largely false in multiple ways.
Trump allies have also used the Steele dossier to undermine the Russia investigation’s credibility by claiming that the Hillary Clinton campaign paid for that research and used it to engineer an FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign, which is also basically pure nonsense on every level.
Still, the original surveillance application on Page appears to be a critical focus of the Justice Department’s inspector general.
But, intriguingly, Reuters reports that one source familiar with the interview of Steele says that the lawyers working with the inspector general found Steele to be surprisingly credible:
One of the two sources said Horowitz’s investigators appear to have found Steele’s information sufficiently credible to have to extend the investigation. Its completion date is now unclear.
The Reuters story doesn’t give us enough information to really understand what this means. But Politico’s Natasha Bertrand followed up with some good reporting, bringing us additional details from sources familiar with the interview:
The extensive, two-day interview … delved into Steele’s extensive work on Russian interference efforts globally, his intelligence-collection methods and his findings about Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who the FBI ultimately surveilled. …
The interview was contentious at first, the sources added, but investigators ultimately found Steele’s testimony credible and even surprising. The takeaway has irked some U.S. officials interviewed as part of the probe — they argue that it shouldn’t have taken a foreign national to convince the inspector general that the FBI acted properly in 2016.
… The extensive interview with Steele, and the investigators’ sense that he offered new and important information, may dampen expectations among the president’s allies who’ve claimed that Steele’s sensational dossier was used improperly by the bureau to “spy” on the campaign.
What’s funny here, in a morbid sort of way, is the idea that this might dissuade Trump’s allies even for a second in their quest to use the Steele dossier to undermine the Russia investigation’s legitimacy. It will not, of course — Horowitz’s findings will be spun into proof that the entire probe was criminal to its core, no matter what Horowitz actually determines.
Indeed, there’s no telling just how far Barr may end up going when it comes to hyping the conclusions of his own internal review in order to achieve that delegitimization.
After all, Barr has already raised serious suspicions in this regard, by releasing a summary of the special counsel’s findings that misrepresented them in multiple, staggeringly dishonest ways.
What’s more, Barr has also suggested that Trump’s “witch hunt” language is reasonable, and has called on us to appreciate how victimized Trump felt by the probe when evaluating his efforts to obstruct it. In other words, Barr is basically trying to legitimize Trump’s thoroughly corrupt attacks on Barr’s own Justice Department. So when it comes to what Barr might say about the conclusions of his own internal review into law enforcement’s conduct, all bets are plainly off.
We still don’t know what the inspector general’s internal review will turn up, to be sure. But it appears at least possible that it will undermine Trumpworld’s alt-narrative that the only real crime was the investigation itself. This wouldn’t be surprising, given that so many other promised revelations along those lines ended up crashing and burning.
If so, Barr may nonetheless continue to push that alt-narrative, needless to say, but it might be an even tougher sell with the public.