WASHINGTON — The Justice Department’s independent inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is expected to release a much-anticipated report on Monday that will delve into the early stages of the F.B.I.’s investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia’s 2016 election-interference operation.
The high-stakes case has pervaded throughout official Washington for more than three years, upending Republicans’ longstanding support for federal law enforcement, overturning the bureau’s leadership and igniting scrutiny that has continued long past the exhaustive special counsel’s report released in April.
President Trump and his allies mounted a counteroffensive that was part defense, part redirection — accusing the F.B.I. of engaging in an unlawful attempted coup and raising many conspiracy theories. Their allegations fell to Mr. Horowitz to investigate, and we expect his report to address a handful of major questions.
Does Mr. Trump’s ‘witch hunt’ theory hold up?
This conspiracy theory is multifaceted and complex, but the report is expected to debunk its essential elements.
The president’s narrative, for which he has offered little evidence, is essentially that a cabal of politically biased law enforcement and intelligence officials — a “deep state” — set out to sabotage and spy on his campaign because they were opposed to his election and wanted to undermine him if he won. Under this narrative, there was a wide-reaching conspiracy to use false opposition research funded by Democrats to justify opening an investigation that would allow them to infiltrate and spy on the Trump campaign, wiretap a former Trump campaign adviser and sabotage Mr. Trump’s presidency.
According to people briefed on a draft of his report, Mr. Horowitz did not find evidence supporting the narrative that Mr. Trump and his allies have spent the better part of three years promulgating.
Then what did the F.B.I. get wrong?
The report is expected to fault the F.B.I. and the Justice Department for bureaucratic shortcomings.
Mr. Horowitz closely scrutinized every aspect of the early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, interviewing all of the main and secondary players and going through all of the paperwork from each stage in search of mistakes, procedural fouls or deliberate wrongdoing. While his inquiry is not expected to support Mr. Trump’s accusations, that does not mean Mr. Horowitz found no serious flaws.
He is expected to say that law enforcement officials failed to coordinate properly and made numerous errors and omissions related to the application seeking a federal court’s permission to wiretap Carter Page, a former Trump foreign adviser, and three renewals of the court order.
Were there problems with the opening of the Russia investigation?
The F.B.I.’s decision to open the investigation met the legal threshold and was not undertaken out of political bias, Mr. Horowitz is expected to conclude.
The F.B.I. opened the investigation into links between Russia and the Trump campaign, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, on July 30, 2016. Mr. Trump’s allies have suggested that this action was an unjustified act undertaken for political reasons.
They have also repeatedly claimed that the F.B.I. did so on the basis of dubious information contained in a dossier of claimed links between Mr. Trump and Russia that was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who had been commissioned to conduct opposition research by a firm in a project ultimately financed by Democrats.
Mr. Horowitz is also expected to conclude that information from the Steele dossier was not used to justify opening the inquiry.
Were there problems with the use of informants?
While Mr. Horowitz is expected to conclude that the F.B.I. did not attempt to place informants or undercover agents inside the Trump campaign, it is not clear what else he will say about their use.
As part of the Russia investigation, F.B.I. agents authorized the use of at least one informant to figure out whether Mr. Page and George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign adviser, were working with the Russians. The informant met with the two men while they were still associated with the campaign. The use of the informant, Stefan A. Halper, a Cambridge professor, has led President Trump and his allies to accuse the F.B.I. of spying on his campaign. The F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, has defended the bureau against accusations of spying.
Mr. Horowitz’s team scrutinized the F.B.I.’s roster of informants for any work they might have done in connection with the Russia investigation. But he found that the F.B.I. did not try to infiltrate the campaign itself, according to people briefed on a draft of his report.
The inspector general is also expected to say that Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who met with Mr. Papadopoulos and offered him dirt on Hillary Clinton, was not an F.B.I. informant, debunking a right-wing conspiracy theory. The inspector general is also said to have received no indication from the C.I.A. that the professor worked for the spy agency, either.
What were the problems with the Carter Page wiretap?
The report is expected to debunk or reject critiques and claims by Mr. Trump and his allies about the wiretap. But it will also unearth other issues with it.
In October 2016, the Justice Department obtained permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Mr. Page, who had recently stepped down from his role as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. Mr. Page had close ties to Russia, which he had visited in the summer of 2016, and had previously interacted with Russia’s foreign spy service. The wiretap application, which portrayed Mr. Page as a suspected unregistered agent of a foreign power, was ultimately extended three times — twice by the Trump administration.
Though Mr. Horowitz is expected to undermine Mr. Trump’s claims about investigators’ pursuit of a wiretap, including how they portrayed information from the Steele dossier, he is expected to say that the paperwork was bungled in other ways no one was talking about.
Among his expected findings is that investigators should have told the court in the paperwork that Mr. Page had given information to the C.I.A. in the past about his overseas contacts. Mr. Page has described himself as an unpaid confidential intelligence source to the C.I.A. and F.B.I.
Mr. Horowitz is also expected to say that, as part of one of the renewals of the wiretap, Kevin Clinesmith, a low-level F.B.I. lawyer working on the case, altered an email from another agency that he sent to a colleague who then signed an affidavit attesting to the accuracy of a packet of information, including that email. Mr. Horowitz has made a criminal referral about Mr. Clinesmith for possibly making a false statement that misled his colleague.
What about former officials whom Mr. Trump has vilified?
The report is expected to absolve them of taking investigative action out of bias against Mr. Trump.
Mr. Trump and his allies have demonized a group of top F.B.I. officials who oversaw the opening and early stages of the Trump-Russia investigation, portraying them as a cabal who launched a witch hunt in a politicized coup attempt. These include the former director, James B. Comey; the former deputy and acting director, Andrew G. McCabe; Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence agent; Lisa Page, a former F.B.I. lawyer who worked on the case; and James A. Baker, the former general counsel.
During an earlier examination into the handling of investigations into Mrs. Clinton’s personal email server, Mr. Horowitz uncovered the fact that Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page had sent text messages to each other expressing animus toward Mr. Trump while working on the Russia case. He also found messages by Mr. Clinesmith indicating that he did not like Mr. Trump or his policies. The findings led Mr. Mueller to remove Mr. Strzok and Mr. Clinesmith from the special counsel team.
But as he also did in his report on the Clinton email investigation, Mr. Horowitz is expected to say that, while these text messages demonstrated bad judgment and cast a cloud over the bureau, he found no evidence that any of the actions they took with the investigation stemmed from their personal political views, people familiar with the draft said.
Separately, Mr. Trump’s allies have vilified a senior Justice Department expert in Russian organized crime, Bruce G. Ohr, who knew and met with Mr. Steele even after the F.B.I. had officially severed its relationship with Mr. Steele for speaking to the press about his dossier. Mr. Ohr’s wife, Nellie, was a researcher at Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that hired Mr. Steele.
The report is expected to criticize Mr. Ohr for failing to keep his supervisors in the loop about his continued meetings with Mr. Steele, but it is not expected to say that Mr. Ohr was part of any attempted coup.
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