DOJ Watchdog Will Defend His FBI-Russia Probe Findings
NOEL KING, HOST:
The Justice Department watchdog, a man named Michael Horowitz, says the FBI was justified in investigating the 2016 Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. But Mr. Horowitz also made clear that the FBI cut corners and made many missteps in seeking surveillance warrants for a Trump campaign adviser named Carter Page. Horowitz is testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, and NPR's national security correspondent Greg Myre has been following this. Hey, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: All right, so we are in the middle of a presidential impeachment at this moment. Why is the Justice Department going back to the start of the Russia investigation?
MYRE: Because this report was undertaken almost two years ago, and at that time, this was the burning question among Republicans. Why was the Russia investigation started? Was it legitimate? And quite frankly, the timing is pretty good for them. They're happy to change the channel right now and talk about something besides impeachment. And they also are trying to make the suggestion that if the beginning of the Russia investigation was flawed, well, then everything that followed was also flawed.
And I spoke with Steve Harper, who has maintained an encyclopedic timeline for justsecurity.org, and he says he expects the Republicans to focus on the part of this report that talks about 17 FBI mistakes and omissions for their surveillance warrants on Carter Page. Let's have a listen.
STEVEN HARPER: I think you're going to see a real attempt to amplify, you know, the so-called 17 mistakes that the FBI - you're going to hear that over and over again - 17 mistakes, 17 mistakes, 17 mistakes.
MYRE: So he stresses, this is one small part of a large investigation, but he does think it fits in with the Republican narrative.
KING: Let me ask you about that narrative. The report says the FBI investigation was justified; President Trump says, ah, but parts of it break in my favor. What is he arguing?
MYRE: Well, it really fits with his notion that the FBI was out to get him. I mean, we've heard him attack James Comey, the former FBI director, for years now. He fired Comey. But now he's going after Christopher Wray, the current director, very hard. And in a tweet yesterday, he said, with that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken. So he's back at war with the FBI and the security agencies and what he calls the deep state.
KING: Democrats clearly do not want to lose control of this story around what's in this report. What are they saying?
MYRE: Right. So in broad strokes, it really does support the Democrats. There was ample evidence to begin this investigation. There's no evidence of political bias or political motivation when it was carried out. And it looks at four people in the beginning, and three of them have been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes. The fourth is Carter Page, who focuses - is a central figure in this because he was surveilled so closely by the FBI. But the Democrats really don't want to dwell on this. They don't want to relitigate something that effectively has been established.
KING: We should note, this report is not the final word on the Russia investigation; there's more coming.
MYRE: Right. So Attorney General William Barr has been very, very critical in the past two days, and he gave a long interview on MSNBC. He said the FBI overreached. And let's have a listen to how he's talking about this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
WILLIAM BARR: I think when you step back here and say, what was this all based on, it's not sufficient. Remember - there was and never has been any evidence of collusion. And yet this campaign and the president's administration has been dominated by this investigation into what turns out to be completely baseless.
MYRE: So we should be very clear about what we just heard from William Barr. The report says that there were very good, solid reasons to open this investigation by the FBI, which eventually became the Mueller investigation. Nonetheless, Barr has ordered his own investigation, and he says this will be broader and will look at the CIA and foreign intelligence services. So there's more to come.
KING: NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thank you so much.
MYRE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.