DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz Testifies Before Congress

Dec 11, 2019
Originally published on December 11, 2019 6:42 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's been two days since the Justice Department's inspector general released a huge report on the early stages of the Russia investigation. And since then, President Trump has criticized the conduct of the FBI. The attorney general has disputed some of the report's findings. Well, today the inspector general himself spoke on Capitol Hill.

NPR's justice correspondent Ryan Lucas was watching and joins us now with the details. Welcome to the studio.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thank you.

CORNISH: Remind us exactly what the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, concluded in his report.

LUCAS: So Horowitz found that the FBI had enough evidence to open its investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. He also found no evidence that political bias played a role in the decision to open that investigation, but Horowitz also testified about serious problems that he uncovered with the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Let's take a listen.

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MICHAEL HOROWITZ: We found and, as we outlined here, 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.

LUCAS: The fact that the FBI was sloppy in a case that related to a presidential campaign, Horowitz said, raises a lot of questions about how the FBI handles investigations that aren't as high-profile.

CORNISH: And the Russia investigation, of course, has been at the heart of some of Washington's most bitter partisan battles. How did that play out at today's hearing?

LUCAS: So Republicans and Democrats focused on very different aspects of this report. The committee's Republican chairman, Lindsey Graham, is a close ally of the president. And Graham offered at a pretty blistering 40-minute opening statement. He focused on the problems with the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page.

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LINDSEY GRAHAM: What happened here is not a few irregularities. What happened here is the system failed. People at the highest level of our government took the law in their own hands.

LUCAS: Now, Democrats acknowledged the problems with the Page surveillance, but they repeatedly pointed to two other headlines in the report - that the FBI's investigation was properly opened and that the inspector general found no evidence of political bias. Here's the committee's top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: This was not a politically motivated investigation. There is no deep state. Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts not bias.

LUCAS: And Democrats were quick to point out that the report's findings contradict the president's claims that the investigation was driven by political animus.

CORNISH: It sounds like both Republicans and Democrats agree that things went wrong in the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page, but do you get the sense that anything will change?

LUCAS: So the FBI director, Christopher Wray, has promised to address the issues at the bureau. And at today's hearing, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed about the need to take a look at what's known as the FISA process. That is what the FBI has to do to get approval from the secretive court that signs off on surveillance on Americans for purposes of foreign intelligence. Republicans and Democrats both talked about maybe changing that process so the sort of dysfunction that's detailed in the inspector general's report doesn't happen in the future.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, the attorney general, William Barr, of course, has disagreed with some of the inspector general's findings, been very public about that. How did Horowitz respond?

LUCAS: So he was asked about that at today's hearing. Barr has taken the very unusual move, really, of publicly disputing the conclusion that the FBI had sufficient evidence to open its investigation. Barr says that the evidence in this case was extremely flimsy, was very thin. Horowitz says, look. The attorney general is welcome to his opinion. But Horowitz says that he - for himself, he's standing by his report.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas.

Thanks for your reporting.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.