Thursday, December 12, 2019

A gas-lighting-free analysis of what the DOJ Inspector General report did and did not conclude

The Department of Justice Inspector General’s report, in part, on page 411, concludes with two observations (emphases added).

Shortly after the FBI opened the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, the FBI conducted several consensually monitored meetings between FBI confidential human sources (CHS) and individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign, including a high-level campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation. We found that the CHS operations received the necessary approvals under FBI policy; that an Assistant Director knew about and approved of each operation, even in circumstances where a first-level supervisory special agent could have approved the operations; and that the operations were permitted under Department and FBI policy because their use was not for the sole purpose of monitoring activities protected by the First Amendment or the lawful exercise of other rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. We did not find any documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations. Additionally, we found no evidence that the FBI attempted to place any CHSs within the Trump campaign, recruit members of the Trump campaign as CHSs, or task CHSs to report on the Trump campaign.

However, we are concerned that, under applicable Department and FBI policy, it would have been sufficient for a first-level FBI supervisor to authorize the sensitive domestic CHS operations undertaken in Crossfire Hurricane, and that there is no applicable Department or FBI policy requiring the FBI to notify Department officials of a decision to task CHSs to consensually monitor conversations with members of a presidential campaign. Specifically, in Crossfire Hurricane, where one of the CHS operations involved consensually monitoring a high-level official on the Trump campaign who was not a subject of the investigation, and all of the operations had the potential to gather sensitive information of the campaign about protected First Amendment activity, we found no evidence that the FBI consulted with any Department officials before conducting the CHS operations-and no policy requiring the FBI to do so. We therefore believe that current Department and FBI policies are not sufficient to ensure appropriate oversight and accountability when such operations potentially implicate sensitive, constitutionally protected activity, and that requiring Department consultation, at a minimum, would be appropriate.

I provide these conclusions verbatim so that you can decide for yourselves what to believe about them. Here’s my take. Certainly the IG’s report debunks the Trumpian charge that the investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia were politically motivated. But also certainly the report faults the FBI for inadequate oversight of the processes for obtaining FISA warrants. The latter is accompanied by extensive recommendations which are fixable according to the FBI director Christoffer Wray. See Trump lashes out at FBI Director Wray for telling the truth about the IG report at vox.com. Wray won’t indulge Trump’s conspiracy theories, and the president isn’t happy about it.

The Inspector General did not find political bias or improper motivations impacting the opening of the investigation [into the Trump campaign], or the decision to use certain investigative tools during the investigation,” Wray said.

Wray went on to acknowledge that the report wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows for his bureau, adding, “The Inspector General did find a number of instances where employees either failed to follow our policies, neglected to exercise appropriate diligence, or in some other way fell short of the standard of conduct and performance that we and that I as director expect of all of our employees.”

And so on Tuesday morning, Trump lashed out on Wray on Twitter in a manner reminiscent of his public attacks on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions before his firing, and that fueled speculation about whether Wray — who he notably described as the “current” director of the FBI — might end up being the second FBI director kicked to the curb by Trump during his first term.

As you can now imagine, and probably already know, the Trumpublicans are seizing on the second conclusion that faults the FBI and disregard the first one that exonerates the FBI with respect to political bias. That is so extreme that AG Barr’s prosecutor John Dunham concluded against the IG report without, presumably, having even seen it. Here is more of the story in headlines.

IG Horowitz: I Had No Idea Durham Was Going to Rebuke My Findings.

Trump and Barr Escalate Attacks on F.B.I. Over Report on Russia Inquiry. The president suggested he lacked confidence in his own F.B.I. director, who did not share his negative view of a long-awaited inspector general report. So FBI director Wray may be the next high level agency head to get fired for disagreements with Trump. Trump’s troubles with his own handpicked FBI director reach new stage.

Finally, I quoted the IG report in an attempt to shield us all from the ongoing war on reality waged by Trump and his toadies. Following are excerpts from Steve Benen’s Tuesday morning article on how Republicans turn to gaslighting in response to Justice Dept report.

… Donald Trump reflected on a report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on the origins of the investigation into the Russia scandal.

“The IG report just came out, and I was just briefed on it, and it’s a disgrace what’s happened with respect to the things that were done to our country. It should never again happen to another President. It is incredible. Far worse than I would have ever thought possible. And it’s — it’s an embarrassment to our country. It’s dishonest. It’s everything that a lot of people thought it would be, except far worse. […]

“The report, actually — and especially when you look into it, and the details of the report — are far worse than anything I would have even imagined…. This was an overthrow of government. This was an attempted overthrow. And a lot of people who were in on it, and they got caught. They got caught red-handed.”

For those who actually “looked into it,” and read “the details of the report,” the president’s assertions yesterday were gibberish. Horowitz’s findings actually exposed Trump’s conspiracy theories as lies – which evidently led the president to believe it’d be a good idea to gaslight the public, assuming Americans wouldn’t know the difference.

But while Trump’s up-is-down posture was predictable, it’s worth appreciating the degree to which his allies scrambled to sell the public the same ridiculous fiction.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared on Fox News, for example, and said the Horowitz report pointing to “a government trying to overthrow a president,” which is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said. RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel argued that the inspector general’s findings proved that the FBI “spied on” the Trump campaign, which again, is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said.

Similarly, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said his takeaway from the inspector general’s findings was that partisans in the Justice Department “spied on a political opponent,” which is the opposite of what the Horowitz report actually said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who happens to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to describe the FBI’s investigation into the Russia scandal as a “criminal enterprise,” which in no way reflects what the Horowitz report actually said.

We’re left with a dynamic in which Republican leaders, en masse, have examined our reality, found it politically inconvenient, and replaced it with an alternate reality they find more satisfying.

The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein noted this morning that Trump’s GOP is trying to “shape reality for an audience enveloped in the conservative Information ecosystem,” indifferent to the truth. Brownstein added, “This is a level of systemic distortion U.S. politics hasn’t faced.”

I think that’s entirely right, though I’d add that it’s also a level of systemic distortion that our political system is ill-equipped to handle.

Update: Adding to the record, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters this morning that the IG report proved that “a law-enforcement agency spied on a presidential campaign.” That’s the opposite of the truth. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), meanwhile, argued that the Horowitz report showed that Carter Page was “falsely accused of being a Russian agent.” Again, that’s just not what the report said.

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