Watchdog finds no bias in FBI’s Russia investigation
President Trump’s claim that the FBI’s Russia investigation was a politically motivated “witch hunt” intended to thwart his election was dealt a blow last week after several media outlets reported that the Justice Department’s internal watchdog had found no evidence of a “deep state” conspiracy. The final report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz is not expected to be released until Dec. 9. But officials familiar with a draft told The Washington Post that the IG will conclude that senior FBI officials did not act out of partisan bias and that they met the legal threshold for launching an investigation into potential links between Trump’s election campaign and Russian intelligence in 2016.
Horowitz’s report is expected to find that a low-level FBI lawyer, identified by The Wall Street Journal as Kevin Clinesmith, altered an email that was included in an application to renew a warrant for the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Clinesmith resigned this year after the alteration was discovered. Horowitz has reportedly referred Clinesmith’s case to U.S. Attorney John Durham for criminal review. Durham is leading a parallel investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation at the order of Attorney General William Barr.
What the columnists said
“Trump may want to tamp down his expectations,” said Chris Sommerfeldt in the New York Daily News. All this report will do is debunk the “right-wing conspiracy theories” he has spouted over the past two years. It will absolve FBI brass, including former FBI director James Comey and deputy director Andrew McCabe, of initiating the Russia investigation “out of political spite.” It will show that Joseph Mifsud, a Kremlin-connected professor who told ex–Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that Moscow had dirt on Hillary Clinton, was never an FBI informant. And it will prove that the unverified dossier about Trump’s Russia connections compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele was not used to open the investigation.
The report may not be a bombshell, said Kaylee McGhee in WashingtonExaminer.com, but “Republicans will be able to use it to Trump’s advantage.” Trump is currently fighting an impeachment investigation that depends on testimony and allegations from the intelligence community. By making the public aware of corner cutting and abuse by agency employees like Clinesmith—who texted “Viva le resistance” to another FBI attorney after Trump’s election—the GOP can “undermine the legitimacy of the Democrats’ efforts.”
What a dud for Trump’s defenders on Fox News, said Erik Wemple in The Washington Post. Sean Hannity has been predicting for months that this report will “shock the conscience.” Instead, the IG will show why the FBI was right to fret about Team Trump’s ties to Russia. That said, the report is “said to be around 500 pages and contains some critical content.” Fox News will surely find plenty of fodder for its “first-rate distortion machine.”