Titanic Failure: What The Horowitz Report Actually Says About The Russian Investigation

I previously discussed the bizarre narrative in the media that the main takeaway from the Horowitz report was the debunking of a conspiracy theory. Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on some of the actual findings of the Horowitz report. The report shows that there was not credible evidence to maintain the investigation and that the Steele Dossier was essential to securing the FISA investigation despite repeated media statements to the contrary.

Here is the column:

The analysis of the report by Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz greatly depends, as is often the case, on which cable news channel you watch. Indeed, many people might be excused for concluding that Horowitz spent 476 pages to primarily conclude one thing, which is that the Justice Department acted within its guidelines in starting its investigation into the 2016 campaign of President Trump.

Horowitz did say that the original decision to investigate was within the discretionary standard of the Justice Department. That standard for the predication of an investigation is low, simply requiring “articulable facts.” He said that, since this is a low discretionary standard, he cannot say it was inappropriate to start. United States Attorney John Durham, who is heading the parallel investigation at the Justice Department, took the unusual step to issue a statement that he did not believe the evidence supported that conclusion at the very beginning of the investigation.

Attorney General William Barr also issued a statement disagreeing with the threshold statement. In fact, the Justice Department has a standard that requires the least intrusive means of investigating such entities as presidential campaigns, particularly when it comes to campaigns of the opposing party. That threshold finding is then followed by the remainder of the report, which is highly damaging and unsettling. Horowitz finds a litany of false and even falsified representations used to continue the secret investigation targeting the Trump campaign and its associates.

This is akin to reviewing the Titanic and saying that the captain was not unreasonable in starting the voyage. The question is what occurred when the icebergs began appearing. Horowitz says that investigative icebergs appeared rather early on, and the Justice Department not only failed to report that to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court but removed evidence that its investigation was on a collision course with the facts.

The investigation was largely based on a May 2016 conversation between Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London. Papadopolous reportedly said he heard that Russia had thousands of emails from Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. That was viewed as revealing possible prior knowledge of the WikiLeaks release two months later, which was then used to open four investigations targeting the campaign and Trump associates.

Notably, Democrats and the media lambasted Trump for saying the Justice Department had been “spying” on his campaign, and many said it was just an investigation into figures like Carter Page. Horowitz describes poorly founded investigations that included undercover FBI agents and a variety of different sources. What they really discovered is the main point of the Horowitz report.

From the outset, the Justice Department failed to interview several key individuals or vet critical information and sources in the Steele dossier. Justice Department officials insisted to Horowitz that they choose not to interview campaign officials because they were unsure if the campaign was compromised and did not want to tip off the Russians. However, the inspector general report says the Russians were directly told about the allegations repeatedly by then CIA Director John Brennan and, ultimately, President Obama. So the Russians were informed, but no one contacted the Trump campaign so as not to inform the Russians?

Meanwhile, the allegations quickly fell apart. Horowitz details how all of the evidence proved exculpatory of any collusion or conspiracy with the Russians. Even worse, another agency that appears to be the CIA told the FBI that Page was actually working for the agency in Russia as an “operational contact” gathering intelligence. The FBI was told this repeatedly, yet it never reported it to the FISA court approving the secret investigation of Page. His claim to have worked with the federal government was widely dismissed.

Worse yet, Horowitz found that investigators and the Justice Department concluded there was no probable cause on Page to support its FISA investigation. That is when there was an intervention from the top of the FBI, ordering investigators to look at the Steele dossier funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign instead.

Who told investigators to turn to the dossier? Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. He was fired over his conduct in the investigation after earlier internal investigations. Horowitz contradicts the media claim that the dossier was just a small part of the case presented to the FISA court. He finds that it was essential to seeking FISA warrants. Horowitz also finds no sharing of information with FISA judges that undermined the credibility of the dossier or Christopher Steele himself. Surprisingly little effort was made to fully investigate the dossier when McCabe directed investigators to it, yet investigators soon learned that critical facts reported to the FISA court were false. FISA judges were told that a Yahoo News article was an independent corroboration of the Steele dossier, but Horowitz confirms that Steele was the source of that article. Therefore, Steele was used to corroborate Steele on allegations that were later deemed unfounded.

The report also said that Steele was viewed as reliable and was used as a source in prior cases, yet Horowitz found no support for that and, in fact, found that the past representations of Steele were flagged as unreliable. His veracity was not the only questionable thing unveiled in the report. Steele relied on a character who, Horowitz determined, had a dubious reputation and may have been under investigation as a possible double agent for Russia. Other instances were also clearly misrepresented.

The source relied on by Steele was presented as conveying damaging information on Trump. When this source was interviewed, he said he had no direct information and was conveying bar talk. He denied telling other details to Steele. This was all known to the Justice Department, but it still asked for warrant renewals from the FISA court without correcting the record or revealing exculpatory information discovered by investigators. That included the failure to tell the court that Page was working with the CIA. Finally, Horowitz found that an FBI lawyer doctored a critical email to hide the fact that Page was really working for us and not the Russians.

Despite this shockingly damning report, much of the media is reporting only that Horowitz did not find it unreasonable to start the investigation, and ignoring a litany of false representations and falsifications of evidence to keep the secret investigation going. Nothing was found to support any of those allegations, and special counsel Robert Mueller also confirmed there was no support for collusion and conspiracy allegations repeated continuously for two years by many experts and members of Congress.

In other words, when the Titanic set sail, there was no reason for it not to. Then there was that fateful iceberg. Like the crew of the Titanic, the FBI knew investigative icebergs floated around its Russia investigation, but not only did it not reduce speed, it actively suppressed the countervailing reports. Despite the many conflicts to its FISA application and renewals, the FBI leadership, including McCabe, plowed ahead into the darkness.

Jonathan Turley is the chair of public interest law at George Washington University and served as the last lead counsel in a Senate impeachment trial. He testified as a Republican witness in House Judiciary Committee hearing in the Trump impeachment inquiry. Follow him @JonathanTurley.

241 thoughts on “Titanic Failure: What The Horowitz Report Actually Says About The Russian Investigation”

  1. Thank you! You are the rational unbiased mind very rare today, both in academia and the news media, dispite your political leanings. As an independent voter , you provide a lens for me into political corruption that is undeniable in our justice department (FBI, CIA, NSA Etc) and government. I have lost all respect for the Congress after viewing the biased appeachment hearings! You were one of the few voices of reason!!

    1. I agree.

      What I most respect about Turley is that at times, his legal opinion is at odds with his personal opinion about the person or matter in question. It engenders trust, when someone puts their personal feelings aside, and judges something right or wrong.

      I wish more would take off politics colored glasses and come to more just opinions.

  2. I didn’t look at Wikipedia regarding the term psychotic.

    Plenty of professionals have weighed in on Trump’s mental state; see TNYT.

    But CBT demonstrates the tendency here to just Make Stuff Up.

    1. Plenty of professionals have weighed in on Trump’s mental state; see TNYT.

      And non-professionals. Guess what they all have in common? None of them have actually examined him in their professional (or amateur) capacity. That makes them all unprofessional, partisan posers.

    2. It is unethical for psychologists to diagnose someone without examining them.

      However, anyone may suffer from political poisoning and abandon their principles.

      I noticed you keep calling him psychotic. Is this going to be the 19th false allegation, soon to be abandoned and forgotten about? Have you ever met a real psychotic person?

      Many of us are so very tired of Democrats calling people names they disagree with. I find it ironic that Democrats hate Trump for returning that fire. How does it feel to have someone return insults? It’s still not even close to the way Democrats harass conservatives, and have done so for decades.

    3. David Benson said,

      “Plenty of professionals have weighed in on Trump’s mental state; see TNYT.”

      Rabidly anti-Trump NPR managed to take the APA admonition against psychoanalyzing Trump without ever examining him, and yet they still managed to say they should continue to do it. At least they admitted it was unethical. So if it’s against a Republican, OK!

      “Earlier this week the American Psychiatric Association cautioned psychiatrists against taking part in a feverish new national hobby.

      Catching Pokémon wasn’t mentioned. Psychoanalyzing Donald Trump was.

      On the organization’s website, APA President Maria A. Oquendo wrote: “The unique atmosphere of this year’s election cycle may lead some to want to psychoanalyze the candidates, but to do so would not only be unethical, it would be irresponsible.”

      Oquendo was referring to the “Goldwater Rule,” a guideline adopted by the APA after a 1964 survey of psychiatrists found that nearly half of those polled felt that GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater was psychologically unfit to be president.”


      One should note that the accusations against Goldwater’s pschylogical fitness was due to constant, false character assassination, much like we see Democrats doing today. This is a weapon they have specialized and honed. Very unethical. From then, on, we have seen every Republican candidate and president called vile names and deemed mentally unfit.

    4. For those who lack the moral compass to understand, or care, why diagnosing a public figure in absentia is wrong, here are more sources that explain why this is unethical:


      “The American Psychiatric Association urged members of its profession to uphold its decades-long principle that psychiatrists should never offer diagnostic opinions about people they haven’t personally examined, in light of President Trump’s impending medical exam and questions about his mental fitness.

      “We at the APA call for an end to psychiatrists providing professional opinions in the media about public figures whom they have not examined, whether it be on cable news appearances, books, or in social media,” the group wrote. “Arm-chair psychiatry or the use of psychiatry as a political tool is the misuse of psychiatry and is unacceptable and unethical.”

      David, since you support this sort of arm chair psychiatry, what does that say about your own judgement and ethics?

    5. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/30/diagnosed-donald-trump-goldwater-rule-mental-health

      “After his defeat, Goldwater sues Fact, a new, edgy, provocative magazine, for libel. Fact had asked 12,000 psychiatrists, none of whom had treated Goldwater, whether he was “psychologically fit” to be president. More than 9,000 did not respond; 571 declined to pass judgment; 600-plus declared him fit; and 1,189 answered “no”. Some offered diagnoses. Goldwater wins a $75,000 punitive settlement.

      Today, that article might have been “10 reasons why Barry Goldwater is too crazy for the Oval Office”. Then it was “The unconscious of a conservative: a special issue on the mind of Barry Goldwater”. The case led to the establishment of a 1973 edict (Section 7.3) that psychiatrists should not diagnose individuals they have not personally treated. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) sets out the Goldwater rule thus: “On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself/herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general. However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorisation for such a statement.”

      Kanye West, recently admitted to hospital, becomes the latest celebrity subject of printed conjecture
      More than ever, the rule is not adhered to. Specifically, articles on whether Donald Trump has narcissistic personality disorder abound, including a cover story in the Atlantic written by a psychologist and an article in Vanity Fair that asked five mental health professionals to assess Trump’s mental health – “Therapists weigh in!”. On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton said that she would “leave it to the psychiatrists to explain” some of Trump’s more outre policy positions.

      But this Goldwater-free zone isn’t limited to Trump. Kanye West, recently admitted to hospital, becomes the latest celebrity subject of printed conjecture as to whether his behaviour meets a mental health diagnosis. Even when celebrities are open about a diagnosis – for instance, as Catherine Zeta-Jones was in 2011 with bipolar disorder – psychiatrists are called in not just to offer insight into the condition (fine, helpful even) but to be asked: OK, but does she have this?

      There are multiple reasons why the Goldwater rule should be upheld. First: on a simple point of accuracy, diagnoses from afar often turn out to be wrong. Almost as wrong as self-diagnosis (who hasn’t convinced themselves of imminent death after browsing WebMD?). The second is that it undermines the strict confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship; it is unethical. Third, it can stigmatise both the individual labelled under the armchair diagnosis, and/or those living with the condition a person under scrutiny has been remotely diagnosed with.

      In the case of Trump, this would be people living with personality disorder (of which there are many subsets). In fact, narcissistic personality disorder was almost dropped as a singular diagnosis in the latest edition of the DSM, the American manual of mental disorders. But you wouldn’t know it from the tens of pieces that have diagnosed Trump with the condition.”

      In the Goldwater Case, Fact magazine asked 12,000 psychiatrists if he was fit for office. 9,000, or 75% did not respond. 571, or 4.8%, declined to judge. 5% declared him fit. 1,189, or 10% said he was not fit. So, 79.8% of psychiatrists did the ethical thing, and did not diagnose someone they’d never met. 10% did the unethical thing, and engaged in arm chair psychiatry. They were not representative of the psychiatric community. They only made up 10% of the whole. But their unethical conduct cost Barry Goldwater the election. This was so egregious that they actually made a rule out of this to prevent over excited politicized psychiatrists from repeating this blunder. Too many disregard their moral duty, and make the bad judgement to diagnose Trump from their computer screen.

      This is wrong.

      Democrats who don’t care that it’s wrong lack a moral compass. They should take a long look in the mirror. Such behavior is more damaging than a lay person calling someone names. It carries the weight of their profession, and may be considered a form of malpractice.

  3. There is an overall sentiment going on and it displays itself in a few ways. We all know that the complex world we see has problems. People will normally attribute the weird/explainable to crazy town or just the devil etc. What we have is a massive corruption operation going on and yes this can be occurring with many knowing what is going on and not telling. So you are going to have to decide in yourself a couple things. Do you want the guy to weed out the garden or be angry with the weed killer company that makes the toxic chemicals?

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