WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s inspector general on Wednesday painted a bleak portrait of the FBI as a dysfunctional agency that severely mishandled its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation, but told lawmakers he had no evidence that the mistakes were intentional or undertaken out of political bias rather than “gross incompetence and negligence.”
While Democrats emphasized that the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, had debunked President Donald Trump’s accusations that the FBI conspired to overthrow his presidency, Horowitz insisted that his report was no exoneration — citing the serious errors, omissions and misleading statements he found in court wiretap filings.
“It doesn’t vindicate anybody at the FBI who touched this, including the leadership,” Horowitz told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Since it was released Monday, Horowitz’s report has largely been interpreted through a political lens. Because it debunked Trump’s conspiracy theories and concluded that investigators had a legitimate and lawful basis to open the inquiry, some — like the FBI director at the time, James Comey — have portrayed it as vindication.
But Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee, argued that the most important finding was instead the portrayal of a systemic and cultural failure of accountability at the FBI that permitted grievous mistakes to make their way into filings seeking court permission to wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
Horowitz’s findings about the wiretap applications should disturb all Americans, Graham said. “My goal is to make sure that people, when this is over — whether you like Trump, hate Trump, don’t care about Trump — you look at this as more than a few irregularities,” he said.
The bureau first obtained court permission to wiretap Page in October 2016, and obtained three extensions of that order in 2017. Horowitz’s report found lapses in all four filings.
“There is no planet on which I think this report indicates that things were OK within the FBI,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
Republicans also argued that the failings should be viewed through the lens of text messages in which FBI officials expressed political opposition to Trump, challenging Horowitz’s conclusion that he had found no evidence of an anti-Trump plot at the bureau.
“It looks like they were trying to skate along the edges and get away with something,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “I can’t imagine they did it than any other reason than a political motivation,” he added.
Horowitz emphasized that while he found no evidence that the errors and omissions in the surveillance materials were intentional, he also said he was unsatisfied with the explanations for the mistakes — such as that officials were busy with other investigative tasks.