Watchdog: FBI made 'fundamental' errors in Russia probe

WASHINGTON, Dec 11 (Reuters) - Two separate U.S. Department of Justice reviews are likely to reach opposite conclusions about whether the FBI investigation of Donald Trump's 2016 campaign had sufficient cause to look into any ties with Russia, an official watchdog told Congress on Wednesday.

The department's Inspector General Michael Horowitz told lawmakers that he and a U.S. prosecutor conducting a separate review disagreed about a fundamental question of the politically sensitive inquiry.

In a 434-page report released on Monday, Horowitz concluded that the FBI had enough evidence in 2016 to open a full counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Horowitz said prosecutor John Durham told him last month that he believed the FBI should have opened a more limited investigation. He said he was not swayed by Durham's argument.

"None of the discussions changed our findings," Horowitz told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Durham's office declined to comment.

10 PHOTOS
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz
See Gallery
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies during a Judiciary Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies during a Judiciary Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Adam Hickey, Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division, and Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz are sworn in during a Judiciary Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies during a Judiciary Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 29: Michael Horowitz, inspector General with the Department of Justice, in his office on August, 29, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: Michael Horowitz, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled 'Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections' in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday, the committee withdrew its subpoena for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as he agreed to turn over documents and continue negotiating about being interviewed by the committee. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 30: Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz (R) testifies with National Intelligence Community Inspector General Charles McCullough (L) and Homeland Security Department Inspector General John Roth before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about the lessons learned about intelligence and information sharing after the Boston Marathon bombings April 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Despite errors and inaccuracies in the information itself, the inspectors general said that sharing between different law enforcement agencies was successful prior to the April 15, 2013 bombing that left three people dead and scores injured. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Michael Horowitz, inspector general with the U.S. Department Of Justice (DOJ), swears in to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. The hearing is entitled Oversight of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and Attempts to Influence U.S. Elections: Lessons Learned from Current and Prior Administrations. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bill Priestap (L), assistant director for the FBI's Counterintelligence Division; and and Michael Horowitz, inspector general of the Justice Department; chat before the Senate Judiciary Committee Full committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC on July 26, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 05: Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during a hearing August 5, 2015 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on the topic of 'All Means All: The Justice Department's Failure to Comply With Its Legal Obligation to Ensure Inspector General Access to All Records Needed For Independent Oversight.' (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Barr, who was appointed by Republican President Trump, has repeatedly criticized the FBI's investigation and assigned Durham in May to examine it, while Horowitz's review was already underway. Democrats have accused Durham's review of being politically motivated.

Horowitz's review did not find evidence that the FBI had been motivated by political bias, as Trump and other Republicans have said.

But Horowitz also said the FBI made what he described as "basic and fundamental errors" that overstated its case as it sought court approval to wiretap a Trump campaign aide.

Horowitz's testimony indicated that the Justice Department may never provide a clear answer about the legitimacy of the investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia, which ultimately was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller detailed a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States and help Trump win.

Mueller documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign figures and Moscow but found insufficient evidence of a criminal conspiracy.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said he agreed with Horowitz's conclusions and has taken steps to curb the abuses outlined in the report.

Attorney General William Barr said on Tuesday that Horowitz had been too "deferential" to the FBI, which he said may have acted in "bad faith."

Durham said on Monday that he did not agree with Horowitz about how the case was opened. His review will likely wrap up in the spring or summer of next year, during the height of Trump's re-election campaign.

Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee chose to emphasize different aspects of Horowitz's report.

Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel's Republican chairman, said the investigation, even if it had been opened on legitimate grounds, evolved into a "massive criminal conspiracy."

"People at the highest levels of the government took the law in their own hands," he said.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the panel's top Democrat, said the report had knocked down Trump's accusations that a "Deep State" of bureaucrats had worked to undermine his political prospects.

"Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias," she said.

Horowitz's work on the issue is not done. He said his office is examining whether FBI agents in New York improperly leaked information to Trump ally Rudy Giuliani in an effort to pressure then-FBI Director James Comey to re-open an investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's email use.

"What's proving to be very hard is the substance of the communications, but we can prove the contacts," Horowitz said.

Democrats say Comey hurt Clinton's candidacy when he said he was re-opening the investigation shortly before the election. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan; editing by Grant McCool)

Read Full Story