The Justice Department’s internal watchdog said that FBI agents involved in the investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election failed to “meet the basic obligation” to ensure that the court applications to monitor a former Trump campaign staffer were “scrupulously accurate.”
“We identified significant inaccuracies and omissions in each of the four applications: 7 in the first FISA application and a total of 17 by the final renewal application,” Michael Horowitz testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
He said his team couldn’t determine whether correcting the misstatements and omissions would have “resulted in a different outcome.”
But “the Department’s decision makers and the court should have been given complete and accurate information so that they could meaningfully evaluate probable cause before authorizing the surveillance of a U.S. person associated with a presidential campaign,” he said.
“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams; on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations; after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” Horowitz continued.
He said the FBI team first thought about going to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to seek an order to target the Trump campaign aide, Carter Page, in August 2016, agency attorneys considered that it was a “close call” whether they had developed the necessary probable cause to get the order.
An order was not requested at the time.
But a month later, after FBI agents received information about Page’s alleged contacts with Russian officials from the report compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele they informed the department they were ready to move ahead with the FISA order.
“FBI and Department officials told us the Steele reporting ‘pushed [the FISA proposal] over the line’ in terms of establishing probable cause, and we concluded that the Steele reporting played a central and essential role in the decision to seek a FISA order,” Horowitz will say.
“FBI leadership supported relying on Steele’s reporting to seek a FISA order targeting Page after being advised of, and giving consideration to, concerns expressed by a Department attorney that Steele may have been hired by someone associated with a rival candidate or campaign.”