I have a column out today on the Horowitz report in the Hill newspaper. As has become a common practice, the report was immediately and grotesquely misrepresented. On CNN, the takeaway was that the Inspector General “Debunks Trump conspiracy theory.” Chris Cillizza stated “That sound you just heard is the air coming out of the Trump conspiracy balloon.” It is all perfectly bizarre as are the attacks on both Attorney General Bill Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham for their disagreement on that one finding.
I have two initial caveats. First, I would have preferred that Durham had not gone public with his view. He has an ongoing investigation and does not belong in this public debate.
Second, what I am about to say should not be construed as elevating this threshold determination. It was not the critical finding of the report which is breathtaking in its findings of false and falsified information by the FBI. The standard for the predicate only requires an articulable basis to trigger a largely discretionary act to open an investigation. The more important issue is the FISA application since that requires sworn demonstration of proof to the standard of the statute. That was clearly not met in my view and Horowitz offers chilling evidence on that point.
That said, I understand the objection from Barr and Durham. I also understand why Horowitz reached his decision. From Horowitz’ perspective, the standard is so low that it is impossible to declare it wrong absent clear evidence of bias. The standard only requires an articulable basis to trigger a largely discretionary act to open an investigation. Nevertheless, I think that are reasons to question the opening of four investigations into the campaign of the opposing party. Indeed, if this were a Democratic campaign put under Republican investigation on these grounds, there would be calls for massive hearings today from every editorial page and Democratic office.
The Justice Department has always maintained a rule that it should use the “least intrusive means” in such investigations. Instead, the Justice Department unleashed undercover agents, confidential sources, and secret surveillance. It went straight to DefCon 1.
However, Horowitz focused on the discretionary element and concluded that at the outset no clear political bias was shown. That tenor changes later in the report as Horowitz notes the removal of exculpatory lines from the FISA application and the use of known false information, including the failure to inform the FISA court that Carter Page was actually working as an asset for the CIA.
In fact there were clearly key players who have already been found to have been biased and were fired from the FBI. Horowitz reports that they played key roles, including McCabe directly agents to the Steele Dossier after they found no probable cause for a FISA application. Horowitz found that a document was falsified to remove exculpatory information and other such lines were removed but no one — no one — would say who removed them. Horowitz also says that actions of the FBI still have not been explained in keeping the investigation going despite overwhelming exculpatory evidence that the Russian collusion allegation was untrue.
This gets back to my growing concern over the state of media analysis. This is a deeply troubling report and shows that the Russian collusion allegations were poorly founded and quickly debunked by the FBI. That is not being fully reported because it does not fit a narrative that has taken hold of the media. That is a major story in its own right.