Inspector General Report Unveils Systemic Problems at FBI

December 12, 2019

The Inspector General's conclusions show that the FBI's new standards for investigations are so low, everyone should be worried.

The Inspector General's conclusions show that the FBI's new standards for investigations are so low, everyone should be worried.


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Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Finally, the much anticipated inspector general report which looked into the origins of the Russia investigation is out. In short, the report finds that the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, which eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, was justified. Second, it also found that the investigation itself was riddled with dysfunctions and errors. As such, the report gave ammunition to both Democrats and to Republicans.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who is a staunch defender of President Trump, chaired a hearing with Inspector General Horowitz on Wednesday. Graham pointed out how the FBI IG report criticized the way surveillance, under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act or FISA was abused among other things.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: The former FBI Director James Comey said this week that your report vindicates him. Is that a fair assessment of your report?

MICHAEL HOROWITZ: You know, I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Okay. Let’s assume that there was a lawful predicate to open up a counterintelligence investigation. What has been described as a few irregularities, becomes a massive criminal conspiracy, over time, to defraud the FISA Court, to illegally surveil an American citizen, and to keep an operation open against a sitting President of the United States, violating every norm known to the rule of law. It was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life. The old FBI, the FBI that had a chip on his shoulder, and wanted to intimidate people, and find out what was going on in your life and the law be damned.

GREG WILPERT: The IG report puts people who have been victims of FBI abuse in a quandary. On the one hand, just as Senator Graham suggests, they can feel vindicated that the FBI’s own internal investigation shows a pattern of FBI mistakes and overreach. On the other hand, it gives President Trump additional fodder to claim that he’s a persecuted president, the victim of a witch hunt, as he likes to call it.

Joining me now to discuss inspector general Michael Horowitz’s investigation into the Russia investigation is Coleen Raleigh. She’s a retired FBI agent and former legal counsel to the FBI. Also, she is known as an FBI whistleblower. Thanks for joining us today, Coleen.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Yes, thank you.

GREG WILPERT: So the last time we had you on, last October, we were comparing the FBI’s investigation into the Clinton emails with the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s Russia involvement. Back then, you pointed out that Inspector General Horowitz basically vindicated the FBI’s actions, with regard to the Hillary Clinton’s emails. And as we saw in the clip earlier, though, Horowitz says that this investigation vindicates no one. Is that your sense too? What do you make of this IG report?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Yeah, I think when Horowitz found these at least 17 omissions and exaggerations, and mistakes in the FISA declarations and paperwork that went to the judges, I think that is quite damning. I don’t think it’s well known, really, what he found out about the predication. I think that’s still a little bit murky. Just simply because he did not have access to all of the witnesses who are out of the country. For instance, that went into the Steele dossier, etc. But I think his findings on the abuse of the FISA process, obviously he said they don’t vindicate anyone, and I think that that would be correct. This was pretty egregious.

GREG WILPERT: So I want to turn to those issues, in detail. I mean, first, the origins of the investigation that is of the predication, as you mentioned. The IG report says that the investigation was basically launched legitimately, but it seems that the bar for such legitimacy is extremely low. Is it not?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, it’s what is called the thinnest of suspicion. And you know how this all started, where you can launch a counter-terrorism or a counter-intelligence investigation on the thinnest of suspicions. This actually started under Mueller and Ashcroft. After 9/11, they watered down the attorney general guidelines to the point where it required almost nothing. Mike German, one of my former FBI agents, wrote a whole book about how the FBI, after 9/11, and again this was under Mueller, and especially under Ashcroft. They basically removed the protections that the Church Committee had instituted, after all of J. Edgar Hoover abuses.

And so while it’s perfectly correct for Lindsay Graham to bring up Hoover, and to say, “Look, the FBI’s back to the old days.” What Lindsey Graham isn’t bringing up is that this happened with Ashcroft and Mueller, right after 9/11 in the Bush Administration. It happened over a series of years and now, yes, you can launch. If you think about why the politicians were okay with this at the time. Because they thought, “Okay, it’s only going to be used against terrorists and Muslims. And as long as the FBI can investigate other people and not me, it won’t be turned on me.” Then they were okay with that.

And I think Lindsey Graham, you can see that his angsty in his anger now, he’s realized that when they lowered the bar to almost nothing, that it could be turned on others not just used on terrorism, and people that they don’t care for. It could be used on politicians. And that’s precisely what’s happened. And, in fact, the Democrats should not be complacent about this, either. Because it could easily be turned on them. It the problem is that it allows for political motivation, when you don’t have any requirement for an actual evidence predicate. You know, everybody’s talking about evidence and predicate, but really no evidentiary predicate is now required.

GREG WILPERT: Well that’s exactly the other issue, the politicization, that I want to turn to. But with respect to the investigation itself, whereas we mentioned, Horowitz found numerous flaws that have been pointed out, now. What does this mean though, ultimately, for the FBI’s politically charged investigations? I mean it’s not too farfetched to say, based on these reports, that if the FBI is investigating someone that likes, presumably, or maybe isn’t completely opposed to, such as Hillary Clinton, it will be a fair investigation. But if it investigates someone it doesn’t like presumably somebody such as Donald Trump or maybe, back in the past, as Martin Luther King. Which isn’t to say that they are the same; that then, the investigation will be mishandled. What do you think?

COLEEN ROWLEY: This is precisely why you have to have a standard that applies across the board. And that evidentiary standard that’s required to open an investigation, the evidentiary standard that’s required for a search warrant or a FISA, it has to be the same for use in terrorism as for public corruption, as for a bank robbery, etc. It has to be the same. Because, as soon as you lower it to nothing, thinking it will only be used against people you don’t like, the tables will be turned on you. And no party should be, now understand this, it’s quite easy to fix. The one thing they have to do, for starters, is they have to go back to the old attorney general guidelines that did require evidence and predicates in order to send an informant, in order to do a FISA, or to do a search warrant.

So that’s easily fixable. And I would say one of the things that really, I thought, was very bizarre on the part of the IG is; somewhere along in those 400 pages, he either said or implied that there should be higher level approvals in the FBI for instituting an investigation that’s politically sensitive. So for instance, of a political campaign. And right now, that the lower levels were allowed to open the investigation of the Trump Campaign. This was apparently the saving grace for Comey, that he was not involved. If he had been involved in the decision making of opening the investigation, he could have been accused of all kinds of political bias. And, in fact, it was a lower level.

And so Horowitz is saying, “Oh, it should be raised up to the higher levels.” I would totally disagree with that. It should remain on the professional, lower career levels, and not be made by political appointees, who are typically the people at the top. So the political appointees are going to be the directors, etc. And if they’re the ones who are allowed to make these decisions, they will be, justifiably, accused of bias. It should be a consistent standard. The standard does need to be raised beyond a thin suspicion, and then it should apply across the board.

GREG WILPERT: Now one part of the IG report that’s interesting, is how it seems to have completely debunked the so called Steele dossier. This was research that had been commissioned to dig into the allegations of Trump’s involvement with Russia. We’ve got a clip here of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, where she mentions how the investigation was legitimate and was not actually based on the dossier.

Sen. Feinstein: This was not a politically motivated investigation. There is no deep state. Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias. Secondly, the inspector general confirmed that there was an adequate predicate, meaning a legitimate factual and legal basis to investigate. The basis was not, as some have claimed, the so called Steele dossier. In fact, reporting from Mr. Steele played no role in opening the investigation.

GREG WILPERT: However, Feinstein fails to mention how the dossier was, nonetheless, used, once the investigation began. It was used to justify surveillance operations, for example. Now, despite this, the IG report debunks all of the dossier’s main claims, it seems. It was the basis for the long running Russia-gate series, particularly, that were presented to us on MSNBC and among others. What do you make of the Steele dossier, as it is treated in the IGA report?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I think the IG report is correct about that Steele dossier. It was never firsthand information. Christopher Steele, the former spy, he was using second and third-hand information. So, at the very least, that information needed to be verified by the FBI. And FBI Director Comey said it was never verified. He admitted it was not verified. So right there, even if you don’t know all of the facts of what’s in the Steele dossier, you know that it should never have formed the major part of the probable cause for the FISA. I think Horowitz was limited. He was not allowed to really look into the real early origins of opening the investigation. And this involves foreign witnesses, like this murky character, [Myth-Sud 00:12:10], and who said something to somebody else about, “We’re going to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

There’s been mistakes made about what he actually said, because it was also repeated to the Australian official, who then notified the FBI. That, apparently, is the origin that Feinstein is referring to. However, I don’t think Feinstein really knows the facts either. And Horowitz was really not allowed to look into all of that very much, because he had limitations upon what he was allowed to do. I think John Durham, who’s apparently got a wider jurisdiction and he’s going to have more power to look into those things, he will be more of the authority about the actual origins. Dianne Feinstein, of course, has always been very protective of the NSA and the CIA. I remember when Snowden’s documents came out, about the spine on Americans, she was standing up there, defending the NSA as having done nothing wrong. So she just kind of takes that stance.

And I always found it funny that the Torture Report came out of her office. Because as a rule, she’s been much more protective of the so-called intelligence community or whatever. There’s not necessarily a deep state, but there are different actors. They all have different motivations. You can’t attribute a monolithic motivation when you have any activity that re that involves a lot of different people. Because every person is going to have a different mindset. So it’s kind of silly to say, “Oh, they weren’t politically motivated.” When you’re talking about more than one person, it’s impossible to attribute a monolithic intent to a group of people. So we’re just going to have to see how this plays out with the next investigation that US Attorney John Durham is doing.

But I think the Horowitz Report does furnish a start, and we’ll see if there’s any reform. Congress would be silly not to institute some reform, after what they’ve just witnessed.

GREG WILPERT: Yeah, and the FBI director is said to have initiated something like 40 reforms, as well, as a result of this report.

COLEEN ROWLEY: But, you know what? Raising the approval level to the political appointees will be the exact opposite of what they need to do. They need to raise the standard of evidence required to investigate, and to get these intrusive surveillances, and then they need to apply it across the board. Then they, basically, need to go back to the old Church Committee findings, and we’ll see if FBI directors raise things that correlate with what they need to do. Oftentimes, they do window dressing if they don’t really want to fix the problem. And because these problems originated, like I said, right after 9/11, with Ashcroft and Mueller at the helm. And nobody is saying that, because they put Mueller up on a pedestal. Well, Muller presided over the disintegration of the FBI. Read Mike German’s book about it.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. On that note, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Coleen Rowley, retired FBI agent and former legal counsel for the FBI. Thanks again, Coleen, for having joined us today.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Thank you.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.