A bit later on, he continued.
“Well, they fabricated evidence, and they lied to the courts, and they did all sorts of things to have it go their way. And this was something we can never allow to happen again,” he said. “The report actually, especially when you look into it and the details of the report, are far worse than anything I would have even imagined.”
If you’re still not quite clear on what exactly Horowitz found — or what he was even looking at — it is hard to blame you. Trump’s sweeping declaration that the inspector general had both exonerated him and revealed horrendous behavior by the president’s opponents is a by-now-familiar response.
That Trump’s rhetoric outpaces reality by several light-years is familiar in its own way. Horowitz was looking at the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible overlap with Trump’s campaign. That included an assessment of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant obtained to surveil Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser who had traveled to Moscow that July. Page had left the campaign by the time the warrant was obtained, three weeks before Election Day. But that warrant was the source of Horowitz’s most fervent criticisms, including that the FBI hadn’t passed along information that might have been viewed as salient by the court that reviews the warrant applications. At one point when a warrant was up for renewal, an attorney altered an email to obscure Page’s relationship with another government agency. (In response to Horowitz’s findings, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray pledged revisions to the FISA application process.)
Trump got at all of that only in broad strokes. More interesting is what he didn’t say: that Horowitz also severely undercut a number of Trump’s most energetic claims about how the Russia probe had targeted him and his campaign unfairly because members of the “deep state” were out to get him.
The Steele dossier
For example, consider a tweet from July 2018.
As is his style, Trump uses a lot of shorthand familiar to close observers. Here, that includes a mention of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 efforts (disparaged as a “witch hunt”), which was a continuation of the probe begun by the FBI on July 31, 2016. He also mentions a “Fake and Dirty Dossier” — a reference to a collection of reports from former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that included unproven allegations about coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Steele’s research was conducted on behalf of a firm that was hired by lawyers working for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
What Horowitz found, though, is that the original July 31 investigation into possible coordination — code-named “Crossfire Hurricane” — was not based on Steele’s information.
“We determined that the election reporting from Christopher Steele played no role in the opening of Crossfire Hurricane,” the report reads on page 352. “… [W]hile some individuals in the FBI, including Steele’s handling agent, had received Steele’s election reporting as early as July 2016, the CD officials at FBI Headquarters and the members of the Crossfire Hurricane team did not receive the first Steele reports until September 19 — weeks after the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was opened — and were not aware of any of the information in the reports prior to that date.”
The Steele information was included in and “played a central and essential role” in deciding to move forward with the Page FISA warrant. Horowitz didn’t determine that the information shouldn’t have been included in the warrant but, instead, that questions about its reliability should have been. Horowitz’s team didn’t allege that information included in the FISA warrant was known to be false at the time of submission, though it did question the accuracy of assertions about Steele.
But again, Horowitz determined that the Crossfire Hurricane team at the FBI wasn’t aware of the Steele reports until more than a month after the investigation began. Undercutting tweets such as this one:
Here, Trump disparages a number of officials involved in or otherwise linked to that probe: then-FBI Director James B. Comey, then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, then-agent Peter Strzok and then-FBI attorney Lisa Page. All have since been fired or left the bureau, targets of Trump’s wrath for some time.
Allegations of bias in launching the probe
Strzok and Page play an outsize role in Trump’s theory about how he was unfairly targeted. During the 2016 election, they exchanged text messages in which they, among other things, disparaged Trump’s candidacy and discussed the likelihood he would win. Those messages became central to claims that the FBI was biased in targeting the president, particularly given Strzok’s senior position in the probe.
Horowitz, however, discounts the idea that bias on the part of Strzok or Page was responsible for the launch of the investigation.
“In this review, we found that, while Lisa Page attended some of the discussions regarding the opening of the investigations, she did not play a role in the decision to open Crossfire Hurricane,” the report reads. “We further found that while Strzok was directly involved in the decisions to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four individual cases, he was not the sole, or even the highest-level, decision maker as to any of those matters.”
The decision to open the probe came down to Strzok’s boss, William Priestap.
“We concluded that Priestap’s exercise of discretion in opening the investigation was in compliance with Department and FBI policies,” the report reads, “and we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced his decision.”
Four additional investigations targeting particular people associated with the campaign were also launched. While Strzok was also responsible for opening those probes, “decisions to do so were reached by a consensus among the Crossfire Hurricane agents and analysts who identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.”
The four were campaign advisers Page (who had traveled to Moscow earlier in July 2016 and was already the focus of an FBI investigation for his contacts with suspected Russian intelligence agents), adviser George Papadopoulos (whose connection to a Russia-linked professor led to the genesis of the probe), campaign chairman Paul Manafort (who had worked for a pro-Russian political group in Ukraine — and who was already under criminal investigation by the FBI) and campaign surrogate Michael Flynn (who had traveled to Moscow in December 2015).
But only Page was a target of a FISA warrant, despite having left the campaign.
“The Crossfire Hurricane team ultimately did not seek FISA surveillance of Papadopoulos, and we are aware of no information indicating that the team requested or seriously considered FISA surveillance of Manafort or Flynn,” the report states. Then an important addendum: “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page.”
The use of informants
After the investigation was launched, the FBI used informants to contact several of those who were under investigation. When news of that broke last year, Trump coined the term “spygate,” arguing that the FBI had been trying to spy on his campaign.
Here, he picks up on a conspiracy theory that was popular in conservative media at the time, that a reference to “OCONUS lures” in Strzok-Page text messages suggested that the FBI was using informants outside the U.S. (“OCONUS”) to target Trump’s campaign.
There was never any evidence that the target was Trump. (Strzok and Page were of course involved in investigations that didn’t involve the president at all.) The Horowitz report makes clear that no individuals associated with the campaign were targeted by informants prior to the launch of Crossfire Hurricane.
“We found no evidence that the FBI used CHSs” — confidential human sources — “or UCEs” — undercover employees — “to interact with members of the Trump campaign prior to the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the report states. “After the opening of the investigation, we found no evidence that the FBI placed any CHSs or UCEs within the Trump campaign or tasked any CHSs or UCEs to report on the Trump campaign.”
Horowitz’s investigators also “found no documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivations influenced the FBI’s decision to use CHSs or UCEs to interact with Trump campaign officials in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.”
In other words, the Horowitz report broadly debunked a number of the claims Trump has repeatedly made about the launch of the Russia investigation. No wonder he praised it in such vague terms; an accurate assessment of what Horowitz determined is somewhat less demonstrative of historic malfeasance in targeting Trump than the president would like to present.
He did, however, hold out hope for another review of the Russia probe, underway under the direction of Attorney General William P. Barr.
“I look forward to the Durham report, which is coming out in the not too distant future,” Trump said. “It’s got its own information, which is this information plus, plus, plus.”
Regardless of what it says, it’s bound to be historic, according to Trump. After all, the inspector general report was.
Not the one released Monday. The one released in June 2018.