By Gregg Re
Published December 10, 2019
In the hours after U.S. Attorney John Durham announced Monday that he did not "agree" with key findings by Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz, speculation swirled over what Durham has uncovered in his ongoing review into potential surveillance abuses against President Trump's team.
Durham's inquiry has had a broader scope than Horowitz's, including a focus on foreign actors as well as the CIA, while Horowitz concentrated his attention on the DOJ and FBI.
Additionally, Durham's criminal review has had additional investigative resources not available to Horowitz.
"Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened," Durham said in his statement, adding that his "investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department" and "has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S."
Still, Horowitz's report offered several clues as to potential avenues that Durham may be pursuing. For example, Horowitz noted that the FBI omitted exculpatory statements by former Trump aide George Papadopoulos in its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant application to surveil another ex-Trump aide, Carter Page.
Horowitz noted that the bureau, in its FISA application and subsequent renewals, completely failed to mention that Page had been "approved as an operational contact" and served as a valuable asset, presumably for the CIA, from 2008 to 2013.
Papadopoulos previously told Fox News he was convinced the CIA was behind an "operation" in which he met intelligence community informants in London in late 2016 who tried to probe whether the Trump campaign had ties to Russia. He later said he would head to Greece to obtain money in a safe from the FBI or CIA that he said was intended to entrap him.
Even though Papadopoulos told a confidential FBI source that "to his knowledge, no one associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like Wikileaks in the release of [Clinton/DNC] emails," the FISA application conspicuously "did not include the statements Papadopoulos made to this [confidential source] that were in conflict with information included in the FISA application," Horowitz found.
The FISA application also omitted "Page's consensually monitored statements" to an FBI confidential informant in August 2016 that Page had 'literally never met' or 'said one word' to Paul Manafort," contrary to the FBI's claims that Page was conspiring with Russia by "acting as an intermediary for Manafort." And, the FISA documents omitted key statements by Maltese Professor Joseph Mifsud to the FBI, including Mifsud's assertion that he had "no advance knowledge" that Russia had any hacked emails, and therefore "did not make any offers or proffer any information to Papadopoulos" when the two met.
Additionally, according to Horowitz's report, the CIA viewed the now-discredited dossier from British ex-spy Christopher Steele as an "internet rumor," even though key bureau officials including former FBI Director James Comey sought to include the dossier in its highly sensitive intelligence community assessment on Russian interference, known as the ICA.
Sources previously told Fox News that a late-2016 email chain indicated Comey told bureau subordinates that then-CIA Director John Brennan insisted the dossier be included in the ICA. A Brennan representative pointed the finger back at Comey.
The FBI also relied on the dossier to obtain its secret surveillance warrant to surveil Page, and an FBI lawyer told Horowitz that probable cause against Page was "probably 50/50" without the dossier. Horowitz found that the FISA application's basis to argue that there was probable cause to surveil Page "drew almost entirely" from Steele's dossier.
It has long been reported that the ultimately successful Page application relied heavily on information from Steele – whose anti-Trump views have been well-documented – and cited Page’s suspected Russia ties. In its warrant application, the FBI inaccurately assured the FISA court on numerous occasions that a Yahoo News article independently corroborated Steele's claims about Page's Russian contacts, and did not clearly state that Steele worked for a firm hired by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The FBI told the FISA court it did "not believe that [Steele] directly provided ... to the press" information concerning Page. However, Horowitz wrote that he found "no documentation demonstrating that Steele was asked by the FBI whether he was the source of the Yahoo News article disclosure or told the FBI he was not."
And, even after the FBI obtained information that "more strongly indicated that Steele had directly provided information to Yahoo News around the time of the Sept. 23 article," Horowitz found, "no revisions were made to the FBI's assessment, contained in Renewal Application No. 3, that Steele had not directly provided the information to the press."
Contrary to repeated on-air assurances by CNN analyst Asha Rangappa, who prominently bills herself as a "former FBI special agent" even though she worked as a university admissions officer for most of her career after serving only a brief time in the bureau, Horowitz found that the FBI did not verify several key facts in subsequent renewal applications for the Page FISA warrant. In some cases, evidence available to the FBI actually contradicted claims in the FISA application.
"The agents ... also did not follow, or appear to even know, the requirements in the Woods Procedures to re-verify the factual assertions from previous [FISA] applications," Horowitz wrote. For example, Horowitz found, the FBI inaccurately asserted to the FISA court that Page "did not provide any specific details" to refute or clarify media reporting about his activities with Russian agents. Additionally, the FBI inaccurately told the court that Page made "vague statements" to minimize his Russian contacts.
Separately, Horowitz found that the FBI offered to pay Steele "significantly" for information pertaining to Michael Flynn, Trump's ex-national security advisor who is fighting to overturn his guilty plea on one count of making false statements to the FBI. Flynn, who suffered financial pressures leading up to the guilty plea, has accused the FBI of hiding exculpatory evidence, doctoring key witness reports, and seeking to create a process crime for political reasons.
Much of the Steele dossier has been proved discredited or unsubstantiated, including the dossier's claims that the Trump campaign was paying hackers in the United States out of a non-existent Russian consulate in Miami, or that ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to conspire with Russians.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller also was unable to substantiate the dossier's claims that Page had received a promise of a large payment relating to the sale of a 19-percent share of Rosneft, a Russian oil giant, or that a lurid blackmail tape involving the president existed.
Horowitz's report similarly found no evidence to support that bribery claim, even after a review of text messages from a source cited by the FBI.
Horowitz's report Monday said his investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding efforts to launch that 2016 probe and to seek a highly controversial FISA warrant to surveil Page in the early months of the investigation. Still, it found "significant concerns with how certain aspects of the investigation were conducted and supervised."
Fox News' Alex Pappas contributed to this report.