WASHINGTON — A long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s inspector general to be released on Monday is expected to criticize aspects of the early stages of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation but essentially exonerate former bureau leaders of President Trump’s accusations that they engaged in a politicized conspiracy to sabotage him.
The report is broadly expected to reject Mr. Trump’s allegations that the inquiry was a “deep state” plot to take him down for political reasons, according to people briefed on a draft. Investigators are said to have found no evidence of political bias in official actions, determined that the F.B.I. had sufficient suspicions in 2016 to lawfully open the investigation and concluded that officials never tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign itself, such as by placing any informants or undercover agents inside it.
But the inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, is also said to have uncovered substantial dysfunction and carelessness in one part of the sprawling inquiry: the F.B.I.’s preparation of applications for a court wiretap order targeting Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser with ties to Russia.
Though Mr. Horowitz is said to rebuff conservatives’ accusations that the wiretap application was part of an anti-Trump conspiracy, he found that one low-ranking F.B.I. lawyer altered a related document and referred the lawyer for possible prosecution. The lawyer had also sent text messages to a colleague indicating that he did not like Mr. Trump.
The findings on the wiretap application showed that when it mattered most — with the stakes the greatest and no room for error — F.B.I. officials still made mistakes in wielding a powerful surveillance tool. Mr. Horowitz’s discovery calls into question the bureau’s surveillance practices in routine cases without such high-stakes political implications.
At more than 400 pages, the exhaustive report by an independent official is likely to stand as a definitive accounting of the F.B.I.’s actions in the early stages of the Russia investigation, and early accounts suggest a complex impact. By debunking conservative conspiracy theories yet sharply criticizing law enforcement actions that have not been the subject of public debate, Mr. Horowitz’s mixed findings may offer vindication for both critics and allies of Mr. Trump.
Signs have emerged that Mr. Trump and his allies may try to reject the findings they dislike. In recent days, associates of Attorney General William P. Barr have let it be known that he is skeptical of Mr. Horowitz’s expected conclusion that officials had a proper and lawful basis to open the Russia investigation.
If Mr. Barr presses forward with that view publicly, the debate over the legitimacy of the F.B.I.’s actions — which grew into the special counsel investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III — may continue. Mr. Barr has publicly said he thinks the Trump campaign was subjected to “spying” and tapped John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, to lead yet another investigation into the Russia inquiry.
Even if the report largely exonerates F.B.I. officials of the president’s most inflammatory accusations, Mr. Trump’s persistent attacks have nonetheless already damaged the bureau’s reputation. Top officials were fired, while others left the bureau.
Mr. Trump’s frequent F.B.I. targets participated in Mr. Horowitz’s investigation, sitting for hours of interviews. That list includes James B. Comey, the former director; Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy and acting director; James A. Baker, the former general counsel; Lisa Page, a former senior counsel to Mr. McCabe; and Peter Strzok, a former senior counterintelligence agent. Another former senior counterintelligence official who was deeply involved in the Russia investigation, Bill Priestap, is also cited repeatedly in the report.
Mr. Horowitz had previously uncovered text messages that Ms. Page and Mr. Strzok had exchanged on their work phones expressing hostility toward Mr. Trump, but the report is said to find no evidence that any investigative steps they took were unjustified and stemmed from their personal political opinions. He made a similar finding about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which involved many of the same law enforcement officials.
Much of the new report is said to focus on the paperwork associated with the wiretapping of Mr. Page, who was first approved for targeting in October 2016, about a month after he had stepped down from the Trump campaign. The Justice Department obtained three renewals of a secretive surveillance court’s permission to eavesdrop on Mr. Page — two under the Trump administration.
Several of the contentious issues surrounding the wiretap center on the applications’ inclusion of information from a notorious dossier of unproven claims about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia that had been compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British spy who was conducting opposition research that was funded by Democrats. Law enforcement officials included it as part of the basis for their suspicions that Mr. Page was an unregistered agent of a foreign power — Russia.
Mr. Trump’s allies have argued that law enforcement officials abused their powers by using opposition research to get a wiretap and that the Justice Department should have done more to alert the court that Mr. Trump’s political opponents had funded Mr. Steele’s efforts.
A lengthy footnote in the application told the court that the information was most likely opposition research but did not specifically name the funders: the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. It is standard practice not to explicitly name Americans or American organizations in such sensitive documents; Mr. Trump, for example, is referred to as “Candidate #1.”
The full scope of Mr. Horowitz’s verdicts on such issues remained unclear ahead of his report’s release. But the people familiar with a draft of it suggested that he focused his criticism of the wiretap application instead on other issues that have not been part of the political debate.
Mr. Horowitz, for example, is said to have criticized law enforcement officials for omitting certain facts that they should have presented to the court — including that Mr. Page had previously provided information to the C.I.A. about his contacts with foreigners — and for overstating Mr. Steele’s prior value as an F.B.I. informant. The report explores at length Mr. Steele’s relationship with the F.B.I.
Despite the particular attention it has received, the wiretap of Mr. Page was but a very small piece of a much larger, sprawling F.B.I. investigation into Russian interference. Investigators obtained nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed hundreds of witnesses, according to the special counsel’s report.
In addition, the inspector general looked at the role of a Justice Department official named Bruce G. Ohr, who has been vilified by Mr. Trump and his allies because he was in contact with Mr. Steele and because his wife worked for the political research firm that employed Mr. Steele. The inspector general is said to criticize Mr. Ohr for failing to keep his supervisors informed of his actions, but does not accuse him of being part of a conspiracy.
The most serious problem that Mr. Horowitz apparently found involved an F.B.I. lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, assigned to assist the Russia investigation team. The report is said to accuse him of altering an email that he then showed to a colleague who had to sign an affidavit attesting to the accuracy of a renewal application for the Carter Page wiretap.
Mr. Horowitz has referred his findings about Mr. Clinesmith to prosecutors for a potential criminal investigation for making a false statement.
Mr. Clinesmith left the Russia investigation in February 2018 after the inspector general identified him as another one of the handful of F.B.I. officials who expressed animus toward Mr. Trump’s election as president. He resigned from the bureau in September, after the inspector general’s team interviewed him. Mr. Horowitz has said those text messages were troubling and cast a cloud over the F.B.I.
The report is also expected to find that Mr. Steele’s information was not used in the opening of the Russia investigation, as Mr. Trump’s allies have frequently suggested.
Instead, it apparently confirms that the F.B.I. opened the inquiry after WikiLeaks began publicly releasing hacked Democratic emails and officials learned that a Trump campaign aide had previously bragged to a pair of Australian diplomats of knowing that Russia had dirt on Mrs. Clinton in the form of hacked emails it was willing to release anonymously to help Mr. Trump.
That campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, has subsequently accused the person who told him about Russia’s possession of those emails, a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud, of being an F.B.I. and C.I.A. asset engaged in a conspiracy to entrap the Trump campaign. But Mr. Horowitz is said to have found no evidence to corroborate that theory, either.
Mr. Papadopoulos was later convicted of lying to the F.B.I. about his interactions with Mr. Mifsud, who has said he was not a secret agent. Mr. Trump has also raised the specter of the conspiracy involving Mr. Mifsud.
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