The Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG)’s report Monday on the FBI’s use of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants found that the agency misled the FISA court, though not due to political bias.
It also found that the decision to initiate an investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was adequately founded — although Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham disagree.
Both Republicans and Democrats claimed that the report corroborated their respective political narratives. Republicans said that President Trump’s rights had been abused, and Democrats said no political bias was shown.
In that sense, the report offered a political draw. But in one key respect, it came down heavily on the side of the Republicans — and against the Democrats: as Breitbart News’ Kristina Wong reported, it vindicated Republican concerns about abuse of the FISA process.
More than that, it refuted the central claims that Democrats made in 2018, when they issued a memo in response to then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who had issued a four-page memo raising concerns about “the legitimacy and legality” of the FBI’s approaches to the FISA court, and suggesting “a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.”
The Democrats’ memo made several factual assertions, many of which were partly or fully refuted in the IG report:
- The Russia “dossier” by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was paid by Trump’s opponents, did not cause the FBI to initiate its investigation. Verdict: PARTLY TRUE. The IG states that the FBI had already started its investigation, thanks to a tip about George Papadopoulos, but that Steele’s information did convince the FBI to approach the FISA court for a warrant to start surveillance on Trump aide Carter Page.
- The DOJ’s October 2016 application to the FISA court “carefully” offered a “multi-pronged rationale” for surveillance of Carter Page. Verdict: FALSE. The FBI provided a “rationale” but also omitted exculpatory information about Page and about the campaign that the court needed before making its decision.
- The FBI was “transparent” with the FISA court about Steele’s sourcing. Verdict: FALSE. The IG found that the FBI left out important information that cast doubt on the sources and veracity of Steele’s information, and did not question Steele about his role as a source for a media article that the FBI also cited as verification.
- The FISA warrant “was not used to spy on Trump or his campaign” (original emphasis). Verdict: MOSTLY FALSE. It appears true — absent further information — that the FISA warrant was not used for general spying on Trump or the campaign. But the report indicates that the FBI did have sources who approached the campaign, and some who actually had a role in the campaign, suggesting some “spying” occurred. In arguing that no spying took place, the Democrats’ 2018 memo cited the fact that the FISA warrant was renewed as evidence that there was good reason to continue monitoring Page. However, the IG report concluded that the FBI repeated its mistakes and omissions in subsequent FISA warrant applications.
- DOJ official Bruce Ohr did nothing wrong, even though he continued to contact Steele via Fusion GPS, where his wife worked. Verdict: FALSE. The IG report found that Ohr’s continued contact with Steele was serious enough that it should have been reviewed by a supervisor, and Ohr committed a “lapse of judgment.”
- Lisa Page and Peter Strzok’s test messages were “irrelevant” to the investigation. Verdict: PARTLY TRUE. The DOJ IG found that while both were involved somewhat in the investigation, their bias was not, by itself, a decisive factor. The IG’s overall conclusion about political bias remains contested.
Durham’s investigations, which reportedly involve the impaneling of a criminal grand jury, may fill in more gaps.
One thing is certain, though: Nunes was right to raise concerns, and Democrats were wrong to stonewall him.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.