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Inspector General Report Will Revisit Origins Of FBI's Russia Inquiry


Perhaps you read all 448 pages of the Mueller report about Russia and the Trump campaign, and you still want more. Well, another thick report lands Monday. This one will focus on how the FBI and the Justice Department conducted themselves during the early stages of the investigation into the Trump campaign in 2016. NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre is here to give us a preview.

Greg, thank you so much for joining us.

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: So who ordered this report?

MYRE: Well, we don't know precisely. What we do know is that Michael Horowitz, who is the inspector general at the Justice Department, has been spending a lot of the last two years looking into whether the FBI had legitimate reasons to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in October of 2016 and get a warrant to surveil Carter Page, who's a foreign policy adviser - was a foreign policy adviser during the Trump campaign.

Page is only one part of the bigger picture. But President Trump and many supporters often point to the Carter Page case and say this was part of what they're calling the politically motivated witch hunt.

MARTIN: OK. So since it's been a while since we first heard Carter Page's name, could you just remind us how he fits into this?

MYRE: Right. So he had a long history with Russia before he joined the Trump campaign. But let's focus on the election year of 2016. In March, Trump was visiting the Washington Post, and he sort of offered some names of his foreign policy team. And he mentioned Carter Page, who was by no means a household name.

And then in July, a few months later, Page travels to Moscow, gives a commencement address there. He expresses opposition to U.S. policy and U.S. sanctions against Russia. And he also met with at least one Russian government official - something he would deny for a while afterwards.

But as news reports came out about his Russian contacts in September, he abruptly quit the campaign, where he'd had a very limited role to begin with. And then the FBI began surveilling him for a year, where they would have had access to his phone calls, his emails, his text.

MARTIN: So one assumes that the Democrats and the Republicans have very different things that they're going to be looking for in this report because this has been the pattern all along. They've been looking for things to support competing narratives. What do you think each side's going to be looking for here?

MYRE: So the Democrats are hoping this report will show once again what they say is a very solid foundation for investigating Carter Page and others in Trump's world who had Russian contacts. So I spoke with Steve Harper, a lawyer who's maintained this encyclopedic record of the Trump-Russia timeline for the website justsecurity.org. Here's what he had to say.

STEVE HARPER: It sounds like the report is likely to essentially say that all of the Trump and Republican talking points for the last three years about Carter Page and FISA warrants have been smoke - smoke and mirrors and without any basis.

MYRE: But Harper also says that Republicans are likely to find some ammo as well. There's already media reports that the FBI or Justice Department may have cut a few corners in this process, that a lawyer may have doctored an email to support a renewal of the surveillance warrant. So we should note six people in the Trump orbit have been convicted or pleaded guilty so far. But Republicans may also point out that Carter Page was closely monitored for a year, and he's never been charged with a crime.

MARTIN: So what can you tell us about the inspector general at the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz?

MYRE: So he'd been doing this job for seven years and has had a number of high-profile reports and has a strong reputation as serious, thorough, nonpartisan. And Republicans have cheered some of his findings in the past. Just last year, Horowitz was sharply critical of the former FBI director, Jim Comey, in the way that he handled Hillary Clinton's email controversy during the 2016 campaign.

MARTIN: You know, as you pointed out earlier, we don't really know the origin of this report. But having said that, given that Michael Horowitz has been well respected in the past, do you think this is going to be the final word on all these issues on the Russia investigation?

MYRE: Well, that is clear. No, it's not the last word. Attorney General William Barr has ordered a separate investigation, and this one is led by a federal prosecutor, John Durham. Barr says this will also look into the origins of the Russia investigation. But he says it will be broader, and it will examine the role of the CIA and others. So stay tuned.

MARTIN: That is NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre.

Greg, thank you.

MYRE: My pleasure.


Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.