I hadn’t planned on saying much about the upcoming IG report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz. To do so seems, in a way, to be legitimizing the leaks, when their release is obviously part of a strategy to minimize damage from the report. The real time for commentary will be when the full report is released December 9 and when Horowitz testifies before Lindsay Graham’s Senate Judiciary Committee December 11.
But that was before Margot Cleveland, senior contributor to THE FEDERALIST, had an excellent column relating to it.
Personally, I haven’t had much hope that the IG report will be as hard-hitting as it needs to be. It’s one of those internal self-investigations that typically go the extra mile to excuse bureaucratic misconduct. Certainly I’ve had no reason to expect that FBI Director Christopher Wray would support more than a cursory look at the misbehavior, and there’s no telling what he might decide to take out. Also, Horowitz is limited when it comes to investigatory tools: he can’t impanel a grand jury or even subpoena witnesses. So even though some commentators have said their sources told them the Horowitz report would expose shocking behavior, I was still skeptical. After all, Horowitz is the IG who acknowledged wrongdoing by the FBI in their “Mid-Year Exam” investigation into Hillary’s emails but who essentially let it go, saying there was no evidence that officials’ political bias changed the outcome of the investigation. That nonsensical conclusion, more than anything else, told me to keep my expectations super-low.
But Sara Carter, on Sean Hannity’s show Monday night, said her sources tell her that “Horowitz’s report is so significant because of Kevin Clinesmith --- this is the FBI lawyer that worked directly under General Counsel James Baker. And if he altered documents...A number of people within the Bureau, particularly within the FBI that were involved in actually approving those FISA warrants on Carter Page, are really worried right now. They’re worried about the fact that those documents were altered and those three renewals were altered. So, we’re gonna find out on December 9 for sure.”
Color me skeptical (for sure). But when Attorney General Bill Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to do an official investigation, I became more of a believer. Unlike Horowitz, Durham has subpoena power outside the FBI and DOJ; he can interview officials at the Pentagon and the Office of Net Assessment, where FBI informant Stefan Halper was based and got paid; he can travel the world and put all the pieces together if he is so inclined (and he seems to be, as he has followed the trail to Europe). So he seems to be on the right track. Hey, I’ll bet he could even interview so-called “whistleblower” (really just a leaker) Eric Ciaramella, if he can find him.
Durham’s powers are even more important now in light of Adam Schiff’s tightly-controlled impeachment “inquiry” hearings. Schiff wants us to think that Ukraine didn’t interfere with our election at all in 2016 because, you know, it was Russia-Russia-Russia that did, as if that were some kind of “either/or” situation. Yes, we know Russia did some things, but Democrats will ultimately have to admit that Ukraine did some things, too, big things, and in “collusion” with THEM. That’s why they force the “Russia” narrative.
But DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said last Wednesday that “U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election. While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”
But back to Horowitz. The purpose of his upcoming report is to determine the propriety of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance order to surveil (SPY ON) Carter Page, an American citizen. As expected, we’ve already had leaks; on Thursday, CNN broke the story that “a former FBI lawyer is under criminal investigation after allegedly altering a document” related to the 2016 FISA applications. Cleveland points out that while the media are focusing on this revelation, they’re ignoring “blockbuster” findings from another report that Horowitz released last Tuesday.
That report summarized the IG’s audit of the FBI’s Confidential Human Source (CHS) validation processes. (Christopher Steele was a CHS.) The media did little more than quote from the press release, but Cleveland found “four potential blockbusters” in the 63-page document.
First of all, the audit –- I’m greatly summarizing here –- found that information about a CHS, such as the recommendation of a polygraph, that might tend to be exculpatory of a defendant in court or to impeach a prosecution witness could simply go undocumented in the CHS’s validation report. Multiple FBI officials said they “believe that field offices do not want negative information documented in a CHS file due to criminal discovery concerns and concerns about the CHS’s ability to testify.”
This is outrageous. Who’s running things around there, Andrew Weissmann? (I’m kidding, sort of.) Cleveland’s article cites one defense attorney who calls this “a form of evidence tampering.” And a defense attorney wouldn’t even know this dishonesty was going on.
The IG report goes on to cite another major problem with failing to document the problems with a CHS: it can put sensitive information and even other agents at risk. Cleveland uses Steele (Source #1 in the Carter Page FISA) as an example here, saying that in light of what we’ve learned about how they “validate” a source, there’s no way for us to know how far they might have gone to whitewash Steele’s validation report.
Thirdly, the IG report also shows that the FBI did not even maintain validation reports for sub-sources. (These are the people who fed information to Christopher Steele.) Yet those are the real sources; Steele was essentially just passing along hearsay. Wow, this explains a lot. In fact, as bad as it is, there’s nothing in this “blockbuster” report that shocks me.
Oddly, a CHS who is used to gather foreign intelligence is exempt from the usual renewal process that other informants undergo every five years. Not that this would matter much if they’re leaving negative information out of the files.
The fourth area of concern deals with FBI agents and the media. As Cleveland explains, “a legal problem does arise if the media and the FBI maintain a closed circuit of intel, with the Department of Justice using press reports to ‘verify’ FBI sources.” We know that’s exactly what happened with the “dossier.”
It’s good that they documented their problems, but, given what we already knew about what the FBI and DOJ were doing with Steele, the failings of their policy are hardly surprising. I agree with Ms. Cleveland that we should be outraged, but I’m saving most of my outrage for when the FBI blames what was done to Carter Page –- and, by extension, Trump –- on “bad policy” like this, letting the perpetrators skate once again.
And I'm waiting for the Durham report.