Watchdog expected to find Russia probe valid, despite flaws

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department’s internal watchdog will release a highly anticipated report
Monday that is expected to reject President Donald Trump’s claims that the Russia investigation was
illegitimate and tainted by political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors
during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.
The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an
adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one
that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. It began in secret during Trump’s 2016 presidential run and
was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.
The report comes as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress centered on his efforts to press
Ukraine to investigate a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden — a probe the president also claims is
politically biased.
Still, the release of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review is unlikely to quell the partisan
battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation for years. It’s also not the last word: A separate
internal investigation continues, overseen by Trump’s attorney general, William Barr and led by a U.S.
attorney, John Durham. That investigation is criminal in nature, and Republicans may look to it to
uncover wrongdoing that the inspector general wasn’t examining.
Trump tweeted Sunday: "I.G. report out tomorrow. That will be the big story!"
He previously has said that he was awaiting Horowitz’s report but that Durham’s report may be even more
important.
Horowitz’s report is expected to identify errors and misjudgments by some law enforcement officials,
including by an FBI lawyer suspected of altering a document related to the surveillance of a former
Trump campaign aide. Those findings probably will fuel arguments by Trump and his supporters that the
investigation was flawed from the start.
But the report will not endorse some of the president’s theories on the investigation, including that it
was a baseless "witch hunt" or that he was targeted by an Obama administration Justice
Department desperate to see Republican Trump lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
It also is not expected to undo Mueller’s findings or call into question his conclusion that Russia
interfered in that election in order to benefit the Trump campaign and that Russians had repeated
contacts with Trump associates.
Some of the findings were described to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity by people who were
not authorized to discuss a draft of the report before its release. The AP has not viewed a copy of the
document.
It is unclear how Barr, a strong defender of Trump, will respond to Horowitz’s findings. He has told
Congress that he believed "spying" on the Trump campaign did occur and has raised public
questions about whether the counterintelligence investigation was done correctly.
The FBI opened its investigation in July 2016 after receiving information from an Australian diplomat
that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been told before it was publicly known that
Russia had dirt on the Clinton campaign in the form of thousands of stolen emails.
By that point, the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, an act that a private security firm —
and ultimately U.S. intelligence agencies — attributed to Russia. Prosecutors allege that Papadopoulos
learned about the stolen emails from a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulous pleaded
guilty to lying to the FBI about that interaction.
The investigation was taken over in May 2017 by Mueller, who charged six Trump associates with various
crimes as well as 25 Russians accused of interfering in the election either through hacking or a social
media disinformation campaign. Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy
between the Trump campaign and Russia.
He examined multiple episodes in which Trump sought to seize control of the investigation, including by
firing James Comey as FBI director, but declined to decide on whether Trump had illegally obstructed
justice.
The inspector general’s investigation began in early 2018. It focuses in part on the FBI’s surveillance
of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The FBI applied in the fall of 2016 for a warrant from
the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page’s communications, with officials
expressing concern that he may have been targeted for recruitment by the Russian government.
Page was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to hear testimony
from Horowitz on Wednesday, said he expected the report would be "damning" about the process
of obtaining the warrant.
"I’m looking for evidence of whether or not they manipulated the facts to get the warrant,"
Graham, R-S.C., said on Fox News Channel’s "Sunday Morning Futures."
The warrant was renewed several times, including during the Trump administration. Republicans have
attacked the procedures because the application relied in part on information gathered by an ex-British
intelligence operative, Christopher Steele, whose opposition research into the Trump campaign’s
connections to Russia was funded by Democrats and the Clinton campaign.
In pursuing the warrant, the Justice Department referred to Steele as "reliable" from previous
dealings with him. Though officials told the court that they suspected the research was aimed at
discrediting the Trump campaign, they did not reveal that the work had been paid for by Democrats,
according to documents released last year.
Steele’s research was compiled into a dossier that was provided to the FBI after it had already opened
its investigation.
The report also examined the interactions that senior Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr had with
Steele, whom he had met years earlier through a shared professional interest in countering Russian
organized crime. Ohr passed along to the FBI information that he had received from Steele but did not
alert his Justice Department bosses to those conversations.
Ohr has since been a regular target of Trump’s ire, in part because his wife worked as a contractor for
Fusion GPS, the political research firm that hired Steele for the investigation.
This is the latest in a series of reports that Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor and an Obama
appointee to the watchdog role, has released on FBI actions in politically charged investigations.
Last year, he criticized Comey for a news conference announcing the conclusion of the Clinton email
investigation, and for then alerting Congress months later that the probe had been effectively reopened.
In that report, too, Horowitz did not find that Comey’s actions had been guided by partisan bias.