23:21 GMT +317 January 2020
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    US Attorney John Durham, who is heading an investigation of Russiagate's origins for the Justice Department, has criticized the DOJ inspector general’s internal report on the subject. The IG found major faults but no bias in the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to authorize spying on Donald Trump campaign affiliates.

    In a statement Monday, Durham said that he had advised DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz prior to the IG report’s release “that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

    Durham seemed to criticize the narrow scope of Horowitz’s investigation, noting that “our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the US and outside of the US.” By contrast, Horowitz’s probe looked only at internal processes.

    The IG report, which was also released on Monday, found “serious performance failures” in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) chain of command, noting 17 "significant errors or omissions'' in how the law enforcement agency applied to the FISC for secret surveillance warrants for four officials in Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign - George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn -  for an operation dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.”

    The court granted warrants in the summer and fall of 2016 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) following conclusions they were “coordinating, wittingly or unwittingly,” with a purported plan by the Russian government to interfere in the election. However, a number of “factual misstatements and omissions … made it appear that the information supporting probable cause was stronger than was actually the case,” Horowitz wrote.

    Moreover, the inspector general found that “agents and supervisors did not give appropriate attention or treatment to the facts that cut against probable cause” or reassess information supporting it as new data was gathered, failing to follow the extremely stringent “Woods procedures” for reverifying information in FISC applications.

    Sputnik reported in June, citing FBI memos obtained by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Citizens United, that FBI agents were fully aware of the political agenda held by Orbis Business Intelligence founder Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent-turned private investigator who was contracted by the Democratic National Committee to do opposition research into Trump, at the time they submitted their report to the FISC. Evidence provided by Steele provided the basis for the first FISA warrant to surveil Page, then an adviser to Trump’s campaign.

    The FBI claimed to have solicited information from Steele for the first time in July 2016, but the FOIA documents reveal he had received “admonishment” training on being a good source from the FBI as early as February of that year.

    Horowitz not only advised that the entire FBI chain of command for the incident be retrained in FISA procedures, but he also announced the Office of Inspector General would open a new audit of the FBI’s compliance with the Woods Procedures, building on the Monday report.

    Despite this, IG did not find “documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents who assisted OI in preparing the applications,” nor that FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director William Priestap’s decision to open the investigation “was in compliance with Department and FBI policies, and we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced his decision.”

    Attorney General William Barr also issued a statement Monday that supported Durham’s comments, noting the IG report “makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a US presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He criticized the FBI for pushing forward with the probe well into Trump’s presidency, despite it being clear that, “from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory.”

    After Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued his report in April on the nearly two-year-long Russian collusion investigation and revealed that no evidence for collusion between Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government had ever been uncovered, Barr ordered Durham to open a new probe exploring how the Russiagate probe got started if there was no evidence for it.

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    Tags:
    Christopher Steele, Carter Page, Attorney General, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), probe, Russiagate, Inspector General Michael Horowitz
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