ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The government's investigation of Russia and President Trump's campaign has been caught in a political tug of war since the very beginning. Trump often called the probe a witch hunt. His critics say it was a legitimate search for foreign influence on a U.S. election. Today, the Justice Department's internal watchdog, the independent inspector general, released a much anticipated report on the investigation.
NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been going through its 400 or so pages, and he's here in the studio with us now. Hi, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
SHAPIRO: Remind us what the inspector general was looking into. Why this report?
LUCAS: So the inspector general focused on the early stages of the investigation - so the FBI's decision to open its investigation in July of 2016, its use of surveillance on a former Trump campaign aide, its use of the Trump-Russia dossier that was compiled by a former British spy and a couple of other subjects. This was not an assessment of the entire Russia investigation, that two-plus-year project that was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller. This inquiry had a much narrower focus.
SHAPIRO: And what are the big takeaways from the report?
LUCAS: So there is a lot in here. As you said, this is more than 400 pages, but there are a couple of big headlines. The inspector general says the FBI had sufficient evidence to open its investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. In law enforcement speak, it was a properly predicated investigation.
SHAPIRO: As opposed to the claims from President Trump that it came purely out of political bias.
LUCAS: Right, right. The inspector general also says he found no evidence of political bias in the FBI's decision to open this investigation. And as you've noted, these conclusions contradict the president's allegations that this was a witch hunt and that senior FBI officials opened this in order to bring him down.
SHAPIRO: Apart from the finding that there was not evidence of political bias, there were criticisms of the way the FBI conducted this investigation, specifically into one Trump campaign aide. Tell us about that.
LUCAS: That's right. The report documents a number of serious problems with the FBI's applications to get court approval for surveillance of former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. It identifies at least 17 significant errors or omissions - so information that FBI agents should have provided to those who had to approve the surveillance applications.
SHAPIRO: If those errors or omissions were not a reflection of bias, does the report say why they were made?
LUCAS: Well, the inspector general says he asked but didn't get satisfactory answers. In most instances, the agents or supervisors said they didn't know or they didn't recall why the information wasn't shared with Justice Department lawyers who had to sign off on these applications. The FBI agents said maybe it was oversight or they didn't believe that the information was significant. But the inspector general says that all of these errors and omissions added up. They made the case for surveillance appear stronger than it actually was.
SHAPIRO: Democrats and Republicans had been anticipating this report. They had been spinning ahead of its release for the last couple days. Now that it's out, what are they saying?
LUCAS: Well, the president says that the findings are far worse than what he thought was possible. And he described the investigation as a, quote, "attempted overthrow." The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, he took the opposite view. He said the report debunks conspiracy theories about the investigation.
The most interesting reactions, though, frankly, have been from inside the Justice Department. The FBI director, Christopher Wray, says the bureau accepts the inspector general's findings. He says he's ordered corrective steps to address the report's recommendations, and he says that the FBI won't hesitate to take disciplinary action against specific individuals if that's warranted.
And then there's the attorney general, William Barr. He said in a statement that, quote, "the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken." That is a viewpoint that will resonate with the president and with his supporters.
SHAPIRO: So this may be the end of a chapter, but it's not the end of the story because the attorney general has asked a U.S. attorney to conduct a very similar overlapping investigation. How is that audit going to compare with this one?
LUCAS: That's right. So Barr appointed the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, John Durham, to conduct that investigation. Durham is looking into similar issues but is understood to be looking at U.S. spy agencies and foreign intelligence services as well, which is not something that Horowitz did. Durham actually released his own statement today. And he said that based on the evidence that he's collected so far in his investigation, he disagrees with some of the inspector general's conclusions, particularly about how the FBI opened its investigation.
SHAPIRO: OK. So more to come.
NPR's Ryan Lucas, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
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