WASHINGTON DC (December 10, 2019) — Prepared floor remarks by Senator Charles "Chuck" Grassley on the Inspector General report on Russia investigation and FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]:
On Monday of this week, the Justice Department Inspector General released his report on the Justice Department and FBI investigation into the debunked theory that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.
I’ve pushed to shine a light on the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation for more than two and a half years. It’s been a long road. When information is embarrassing, the FBI has a way of fighting tooth and nail to keep it a secret. To keep it heavily classified. To hide behind vague, procedural excuses about protecting the integrity of ongoing investigations. They put up a wall, and you have to keep swinging in order to crack it.
I started looking into the origins of the FBI’s corrupted Russia investigation in March 2017, when it became clear that the FBI had used Christopher Steele’s work to investigate then-candidate Trump. This was done even though it knew Steele was working for Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm paid by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign.
When the FBI didn’t answer my questions, I used my authority as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold up the nomination of Deputy Attorney General [Rod Jay] Rosenstein. That got the Judiciary Committee a briefing. It consisted of a lot of veiled half-answers and assertions that Christopher Steele was reliable.
In June 2017, I asked the FBI to produce all of the FISA applications related to its Russia investigation. After six months of wrangling, in December 2017, Senators [Lindsey] Graham, [Dianne] Feinstein, and I were permitted to review the four FISA applications in which the FBI sought authority to surveil former Trump Campaign staffer Carter Page, as well as a number of classified documents relating to Mr Steele.
I also directed my staff to look in public places that others were ignoring, including Mr Steele’s court filings in London. What they found was that Mr Steele had admitted to passing some of the contents of his dossier far and wide to media organizations. That raised questions about whether information Steele gathered was open to manipulation or even just part of one big feedback loop. We also learned that, according to the FBI, Steele had told the FBI that he had not spoken to the media about his findings, in direct contradiction to what he said to a court in London.
After reviewing all of this information, Sen Graham and I wrote a letter referring Mr Steele to the FBI for potential violations of 18 USC 1001. That is, lying to the FBI. At the heart of our referral was an eight-page memorandum that laid out much of what we had learned from my investigative efforts by that point. We now know from the IG report that the FBI top brass was aware of Mr Steele’s statements to a British Court in Spring 2017 but never accessed those filings and never considered telling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that its assurances about Steele’s third-party contacts were wrong.
As soon as the referral went out, I began pushing the FBI to declassify as much of it as possible. The FBI resisted my efforts every step of the way. My fight to make information in the referral memo public was helped along indirectly by President Trump, who declassified a memo prepared by the House Intelligence Committee that touched a number of the same topics.
In February 2018, Sen Graham and I also wrote Inspector General [Michael] Horowitz to call his attention to everything that we had learned and request that he conduct a comprehensive review of improper political influence, misconduct, and mismanagement of the FBI’s Russia investigation.
My efforts have been based on my investigative activity and also the overriding need for more transparency from our government. Transparency brings accountability. After the release of the Russia report, there better be accountability.
The Inspector General’s findings ought to concern every single member of this chamber. We the People have a profound, deep, and abiding respect for our fundamental constitutional rights. These fundamental rights have not been granted or created by the government. They are God-given, inalienable, and self-evident.
The Inspector General’s report shows that despite all the checks we’ve put in place to ensure the government won’t infringe on those rights without proper cause, it’s still possible for bad actors to lie, to withhold information, and to doctor documents in order to get around those safeguards to achieve their own goals.
The Inspector General report has finally let some light shine on the wrongdoing that occurred with the Justice Department and FBI during the Russia investigation.
Let’s start with the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier played a “central” and “essential” role in the Russia investigation, according to the Inspector General report. Before the FBI got it, they tried to open a FISA on Carter Page, but there wasn’t enough evidence. Once the dossier was acquired, that was the tipping point for the FBI to tell a court that it had probable cause that an American citizen was an agent of a foreign government.
We now know, this “central” and “essential” document was not even a finished product. It was based on single-source reporting and Steele wasn’t even the original source. He had a primary sub-source that used multiple sources that we now know didn’t even have direct access to the people they were reporting on. And some of these sources were Russian government officials! We’re talking many, many levels of hearsay.
Well, the FBI got around to interviewing that primary sub-source, but only after the FBI opened a FISA warrant on Carter Page. Think about that. The FBI used one of the most powerful and invasive investigative tools without first verifying the information it provided the court.
That primary sub-source raised the following issues:
1. Steele had reliability issues.
2. The primary sub-source had not seen the dossier until it was made public.
3. Steele misstated and exaggerated claims.
4. The primary sub-source didn’t think his/her material would be in the report.
5. Much of the information in the dossier was based on rumors including conversations “over beers” and were made in “jest.”
6. None of the material in the dossier had been corroborated.
After the FBI acquired this information, subsequent FISA renewals continued to rely on the Steele information, with no revisions or notice to the court that the primary sub-source contradicted Steele.
Simply said, that’s fraud on the court.
So the FBI couldn’t get a FISA warrant until they got the dossier, and then kept renewing the warrant despite very clear evidence that the dossier was faulty. Looks to me like the FBI couldn’t get their way, so they used whatever information they could — no matter if it was false or not — to accomplish their end goal: To pursue an inquiry into Trump’s campaign.
We all know about one of [Peter] Strzok’s and Page’s infamous text exchanges:
Page: Trump’s not ever going to become president, right? Right?!
Strzok: No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.
The FBI had a plan and they’d do anything to keep it going.
The information loop was contaminated from the start and nobody at the FBI seemed to give a rip. They just wanted to continue the investigation into Trump. A part of that investigation included using defensive briefings for the Trump campaign as a means to collect information relevant to the Russia investigation and Flynn investigation.
The FBI decided not to defensively brief the Trump campaign on alleged Russian attempts to interfere with the election — information that served as a predicate to opening the inquiry.
But, the FBI did decide to use the briefings as intelligence gathering operations.
Why wouldn’t the FBI simply give the Trump campaign a heads-up on any and all threats? Why hide the ball? We know they did so for prior presidential campaigns. Again, the FBI had a plan and they’d do anything to keep it going.
Another disturbing finding in the report is that the FBI recorded Page and Papadopoulos before the FISA warrant issued. But, it’s unclear who the FBI used to record them. Did they work for another government? Was it a spy?
In those recordings, both of them offered exculpatory evidence that was withheld from the FISA court, including:
1. Denials that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails
2. That Page had never met or said one word to Paul Manafort and that Manafort never responded to Page’s emails.
To that second point, the dossier said Page participated in a conspiracy with Russia to act as an intermediary for Manafort on behalf of the Trump campaign. None of this was accurate.
The Steele dossier served a “central” and “essential” role in the FBI’s investigation yet it was filled with inaccurate and false statements. The FBI knew about those faults all along and did nothing to apprise the court.
In fact, the FBI actively altered documents to make a better case for themselves. One FBI official altered an e-mail from another government agency to say that Page “was not a source” for that agency when in fact he was. The FBI relied on that false statement to renew the FISA. That means that the FBI used Page’s work apparently for the American government as evidence that he was a Russian agent.
The FBI couldn’t get their way unless they literally falsified documents to a court to spy on an American citizen working for the Trump campaign. That ought to shock the conscience of everyone in the country. If it can happen to Carter Page, it can happen to anyone.
The Inspector General report also specifically identifies 17 errors and omissions during the Carter Page FISA process and additional errors in the Woods Procedures. Wrong and incomplete information was passed through the chain of command for those approving the FISAs. After the Inspector General interviewed within the FBI chain of command, he had the following to say:
"In most instances, the agents and supervisors told us that they either did not know or recall why the information was not shared with the Office of Intelligence, that the failure to do so may have been an oversight, that they did not recognize at the time the relevance of the information to the FISA application, or that they did not believe the missing information to be significant."
Regarding the last point — that they did not believe the missing information to be significant — the Inspector General noted that “we believe that case agents may have improperly substituted their own judgments in place of the judgment of the Office of Intelligence, or in the place of the court, to weigh the probative value of the information.”
That’s an extraordinary finding.
We all know about the politically charged anti-Trump texts that were exchanged among FBI officials, including an FBI lawyer who altered a document to support the FISA application. Clearly, that bias affected the decision-making process. Indeed, the inspector general noted that in light of the substantial and fundamental errors in the FISA process there are “significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process.”
For example, Stu Evans, the DOJ National Security Division official with oversight of the FISA process, did not even know that Bruce Ohr, another DOJ official, had been in communication with the FBI about the Russia investigation. He didn’t know that Ohr hadbeen interviewed by the FBI until he saw the Grassley/Graham referral.
Unfortunately, the Inspector General was not able to interview everyone involved in the chain of command to the extent he wanted to. For example, James Comey and Jim Baker (the former FBI General Counsel), did not request that their clearances be reinstated for interviews. That means the Inspector General was unable to ask them classified questions relating to their conduct. Comey claims that he’s transparent, but he clearly wasn’t in this case.
Moreover, Glenn Simpson and Jonathan Winer refused to sit for any interview at all. These individuals played key roles in the Russia investigation, and it’s a shame they didn’t speak up. What are they hiding?
From what I’ve seen, they’re hiding a lot.
Now, with all that said, the FBI’s FISA-related behavior has been so bad that the inspector general has initiated a comprehensive audit that will fully examine the FBI’s compliance with Woods Procedures.
In the past, when there’s been evidence of our government improperly infringing on the civil liberties of American citizens, we as a nation have firmly rejected that course of action. We’ve taken those moments as opportunities to strengthen our resolve and renew our commitment to the values we all share.
Under the leadership of J Edgar Hoover, the FBI would wiretap, recruit secret informants, and fix the paperwork in ways that trampled on the rights of ordinary Americans as a matter of practice. It was business as usual. That’s why, during the 1970s, this chamber undertook vigorous oversight efforts, under the leadership of the late Sen Frank Church, to shine a light on the excesses and abuses of our intelligence bureaucracy.
Based on what we learned from that inquiry, Congress passed the FISA Act. That legislation establishes protections to ensure that government bureaucrats can’t just spy on American citizens whenever they feel like it. In order to surveil an American citizen, the FBI must acquire a lawful order from a court of law. We give them that power along with an expectation that they’ll do their due diligence in using it. That they’ll provide the court full and accurate information. That they’ll follow the rule of law and their own internal guidelines. That they’ll respect the boundaries Congress has set for them instead of reverting to the free-wheeling, heavy-handed tactics they embraced in the past.
Most of the hard-working men and women of our DOJ and FBI today understand and respect those boundaries. However, it seems old habits really do die hard. Politics has crept back into the FBI’s work. The actions taken by Obama’s and Comey’s FBI sound an awful lot like the ones taken under Hoover.
Where do we go from here? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Transparency brings accountability, and it helps us take reasoned steps to ensure that the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated in the future.
After what I believe was far too long a wait, I’m happy to have finally received the Inspector General’s report. I thank Inspector General Horowitz and his staff for all their hard work. I am pleased to see that much of the Inspector General’s report is publicly available. Once again, this is due in no small part to President Trump’s unprecedented commitment to transparency. I appreciate the President’s willingness to grant Attorney General Barr broad declassification authority, and I appreciate Attorney General Barr’s willingness to use it to bring much of what happened out into the open. It’s an important first step toward ensuring accountability.
Of course, there are still many unanswered questions. Going forward, I eagerly await Mr. Durham’s findings with respect to how the Intelligence Community handled its part in the corrupted Russia investigation.
In that sense, I view this most recent inspector general report as one part in a multi-part act. Durham’s public comments make clear that he finds issue with whether the opening of the Russia investigation was properly predicated. His findings may prove critical to finally and fully understanding what happened during the Obama administration’s fabricated investigation into Trump.