Justice Department Watchdog Finds No Bias By The FBI In The Russia Investigation
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Throughout our program today, we've been examining a new report on the origins of the FBI's probe into the 2016 campaign and Russia. Now, though, let's take a step back and look at why we're still talking about Russia when the national political conversation has turned to Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry. To provide some perspective, NPR's Greg Myre is with us now.
Welcome back to the studio.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.
CORNISH: Very simply, why are we getting this report now?
MYRE: Well, you sort of have to go back two years. And this, at that time, was the burning question for the Republicans. Was the FBI justified in launching the investigation into the Trump campaign and links to Russia? What about these conspiracy theories that were out there? We were in the throes of the Mueller investigation, and it was not clear how it would end.
And so that's when the Justice Department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, began this investigation. And it's taken him all this time to find an answer. And it's an answer that goes on for more than 400 pages.
CORNISH: And what are the big conclusions here?
MYRE: Well, depends who you ask. The Democrats and the Republicans are both going to find plenty of ammo to relitigate 2016. The report found the FBI had sufficient information to launch this investigation. There's no evidence that the decision was tainted by any political bias. Conspiracy theories that we've been hearing from Republicans are essentially shot down.
The Democrats will agree with all this, but I don't know that they really want to go back and fight that battle since their focus is on Ukraine right now. Republicans, meanwhile, are already jumping on Horowitz's report, which shows 17 significant inaccuracies and omissions in the FBI's pursuit of a surveillance warrant against one Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
CORNISH: Now, we haven't heard much about Carter Page for a while, so give us the background there.
MYRE: Right. So Carter Page was a minor figure in the Trump campaign. He emerged when candidate Trump visited The Washington Post, something we wouldn't see these days. And he volunteered the name of his foreign policy advisers. Let's have a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: OK, you ready?
UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST: Taking notes.
TRUMP: Waleed Faris, who you probably know; Ph.D., adviser to the House of Representatives caucus and is a counterterrorism expert. Carter Page, Ph.D. George Papadopoulos - he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.
MYRE: So Carter Page and George Papadopoulos - both were very little known. A lot of people were scratching their heads at this time. But they became very key figures in the Russia investigation. Papadopoulos had a conversation about dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign. This actually led to the opening of the FBI investigation in July of 2016.
The next month, the FBI begins investigating reports that Page has contacts with the Russian government. And in October, they go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to get a warrant to listen to Carter Page, who had already left the Trump campaign by this point.
CORNISH: And the inspector general's report criticizes the FBI's handling of these warrants for Page. So what did the FBI do wrong?
MYRE: Well, they cut corners. And a lot of this seems related to the Steele dossier, which was put together by the former British spy, Christopher Steele. The FBI didn't share some information - that some of the information was not corroborated, or there was a questionable reliability about Steele's sources. The FBI also failed to inform the court that Page had a relationship with, what they say, another government agency. Now, it's not named, but it appears to be the CIA. Meanwhile, Page is a regular guest on cable TV at this time.
CORNISH: Now, the report is not the final word on Russia and its investigation. Where do we go from here?
MYRE: Well, Republicans really seem like they may want to start a counter-narrative to all the impeachment hearing. Horowitz will testify Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is headed by Lindsey Graham. And Graham is already speaking out about today's reports. Let's have a listen here.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LINDSEY GRAHAM: What I will not tolerate is how it got off the rails and how the FBI and the Department of Justice, to continue this investigation, continually lied to the court, misled the court, manufactured evidence to hurt an American citizen and to continue an operation against the president of the United States.
MYRE: So there's Lindsey Graham. Attorney General William Barr has already weighed in. He's saying the FBI launched an intrusive investigation, and he believes that it wasn't justified. Barr has ordered another report, so this is not going to be the last report. It's supposed to be broader, look at the CIA and other agencies. That investigation is headed by John Durham, who already has come out today and says he disagrees with some of the conclusions in today's report. So...
CORNISH: And Carter Page - did he have anything to say today or in the past?
MYRE: He's been silent, but we do expect him to reemerge and, perhaps, comment.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Greg Myre.
Thanks so much.
MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.