A day after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court slammed the FBI over its handling of surveillance of a Trump campaign affiliate, a top Republican senator says the investigation into the Trump campaign should have been shut down instead of being ramped up.
“Had the public known what the FBI knew at that time, it’s hard to imagine public support for continuing the investigation, much less the appointment of a special counsel four months later,” according to an opening statement from Sen. Ron Johnson, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, that was obtained by The Federalist.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, an Obama appointee, will testify at the hearing about his report outlining the FBI’s many abuses. “With these abuses in mind, and in light of what became known early in the investigation, I strongly believe Crossfire Hurricane should have been shut down within the first few months of 2017,” Johnson plans to say.
The Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing last week that introduced the 400-plus page report from Horowitz to the country. Leaks to friendly media outlets prior to the report’s release suggested that the report would vindicate the FBI, and FBI Director James Comey defiantly proclaimed complete exoneration in an op-ed the Washington Post published.
Asked about Comey’s proclamation, though, Horowitz said, “The activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.” Comey was director of the FBI at the time of the abuses and signed multiple applications to surveil Trump campaign affiliate Carter Page.
The Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee was one of the few to perform critical oversight of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. The committee discovered some of the anti-Trump text messages that key players in Crossfire Hurricane were sending to each other.
Some of those texts, but by no means all, were lightly referenced in the inspector general report. While Horowitz acknowledged the extreme bias that the key players had against Trump, he said he could find no unequivocal evidence that their anti-Trump mistakes were directly related to their anti-Trump bias. Some committee members may be expected to explore the issue more.
Johnson hopes to clarify the “murky and unknown” role that Obama officials and intelligence community members played in the rollout of Crossfire Hurricane. The report was unclear on who initiated the contacts between Joseph Mifsud, Stefan Halper, and Azra Turk with Trump campaign affiliate George Papadopolous.
It was also unclear if Horowitz investigated whether the January 6 intelligence briefing given to President-elect Trump by Comey, John Brennan, and James Clapper was orchestrated to provide a news hook for publication of the Christopher Steele dossier. Andrew McCabe’s role in FISA abuse is alluded to in the report and may be discussed in the hearing.
The inspector ceneral’s ability to investigate wrongdoing is hampered by limits on who he can talk to. He is unable to compel testimony from people who do not work at the Justice Department, and it is easy to avoid answering his questions. Key players frequently told him they couldn’t recall what they were thinking or what they had done. Former Deputy Director of the FBI McCabe told investigators he did not recall key information more than two dozen times.
“The officials involved in this scandal had plenty of time to rehearse their carefully crafted answers to the IG’s questions, or to use time as an excuse for their lack of recall,” Johnson plans to note.
The committee had previously raised the alarm about the rampant leaking in the early days of the Trump administration. “An unprecedented number of leaks — 125 in the first 126 days — helped fuel the false narrative of Trump campaign collusion with Russia. The media was either duped by, or complicit in, using those leaks to perpetuate that false narrative,” the draft of the opening remarks says. For years, the Department of Justice has promised congressional overseers that leaks are taken seriously and will be prosecuted. The inspector general is also studying the matter.
The hearing begins at 10 a.m. Eastern.