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Report finds no partisan bias by FBI in Russia probe

Del Quentin Wilber, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department's internal watchdog sharply criticized the FBI for its secret surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser but it found no evidence of partisan bias in the FBI's investigation of potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016, according to a report released Monday.

The report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI failed to provide accurate and complete information to Justice Department lawyers and made 17 "significant errors and omissions" in applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to justify the eavesdropping on the former adviser, Carter Page.

The report found the errors extended from line agents who investigated Page to their supervisors.

"We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams," Horowitz wrote.

He said the case involved "one of the most sensitive FBI investigations," had been briefed to the senior FBI officials, and that it was especially sensitive because it "related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign" and the agents " knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny."

Horowitz wrote that his team found no evidence that the investigation was launched or influenced by political bias, a chief allegation leveled against investigators by President Donald Trump and his allies. He also found the investigation into whether there were links between Trump associates and Russia was properly started in 2016.

Attorney General William Barr issued a statement that hailed the report, saying Horowitz had made clear "that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken."

Trump's allies have alleged that the Justice Department failed to adequately disclose to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that its application for a warrant on Page relied, in part, on unverified information from Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who compiled a dossier on Trump in 2016 that was ultimately funded by Democrats.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a public hearing Wednesday into Horowitz's findings.

 

The FBI first obtained warrants from the FISA court in October 2016 to conduct surveillance on Page, an oil industry consultant. It renewed those warrants three more times, the last time in June 2017.

The first warrant was obtained a few weeks after Page disclosed he had left his job as an unpaid foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign amid controversy over his contacts with Russian officials. Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway told CNN that September that Page was "not part of the campaign I'm running."

Page was not charged with any crimes. In an email to the Los Angeles Times, he wrote that the report was "an important first step in the process. It's by no means the final word."

Page has asked Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to permit him to testify at the hearing Wednesday, calling the FISA warrant process a "debacle."

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