DOJ IG Testifies To FBI Lapses, Finds No Political Motivation In Trump Campaign Probe : The NPR Politics Podcast Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about his investigation into origin of the FBI's probe of the 2016 Trump campaign. His report, unveiled on Monday, substantiates Republican claims of numerous process issues within the bureau, though finds no evidence that the start of the probe was politically motivated.

On the other side of the Capitol Building, the House Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on Wednesday night and Thursday to finalize the text of the two articles of impeachment against President Trump, ahead of a full House vote likely next week.

This episode: Congressional correspondent Susan Davis, White House correspondent Tamara Keith, and Justice department correspondent Ryan Lucas.


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DOJ IG Testifies To FBI Lapses, Finds No Political Motivation In Trump Campaign Probe

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TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, there. Want to see the NPR POLITICS PODCAST in person? Well, we have a live show coming up in Chicago on January 10, and we would love to see you there. To grab a ticket, just head over to OK, here's the show.

KIM: Hi, this is Kim (ph) from Addison, Ill., where I am walking into my first ever wedding dress appointment. This podcast was recorded at...


1:38 p.m. on Wednesday, December 11.

KIM: Things may have changed by the time you hear this. Maybe I'll have said yes to the dress.



DAVIS: Woah, congratulations.

KEITH: I'm going to give her the single best piece of advice I give all brides that they always come back and tell me it was the best piece of advice they got. Get more than one pair of shoes.

DAVIS: You mean like the nice shoes and...

KEITH: And then your party shoes.

DAVIS: ...Then the dance flip flops?

KEITH: Exactly.


RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: I have nothing to that conversation.

DAVIS: (Laughter) Hey, there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

LUCAS: And I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

DAVIS: Another day, another hearing on Capitol Hill. But today, it was not my problem, Ryan. I am happy to pass the congressional hearing baton over to you, good sir.

LUCAS: Joy, joy.

DAVIS: (Laughter) So Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing today. Let's get into it.

LUCAS: So, yeah, this was a hearing on the Justice Department inspector general's report on various aspects of the Russia investigation, the early stages of the Russia investigation. This is Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He's done a number of very kind of politically sensitive reports in the past couple of years. And this is just the latest one.

DAVIS: Who ordered the report?

LUCAS: This is something that the inspector general initiated after a request from the attorney general and members of Congress about questions - they had a lot of questions about how surveillance was conducted on a former Trump campaign foreign policy aide, Carter Page - we've talked a lot about on the podcast. And so they submitted all of these questions to Horowitz. And then in March of 2018, he announced that he was formally opening this investigation.

DAVIS: And this is sort of like origin story of the Russia investigation.

LUCAS: It's looking at how the FBI opened the investigation, whether there was any sort of political motivation in the decision to open the investigation, and then specifically on matters involving the surveillance of Page.

DAVIS: Which, Tam, is, like, the central core political nerve to strike with this president, right?

KEITH: This president has been eagerly awaiting this report, had been tweeting about it. Essentially, the president has this theory that, in part, Horowitz was testing, that he was spied on, that his campaign was spied on, that the FBI was out to get him.

DAVIS: And abused power.

KEITH: Right. And, you know, he frequently, as he did at his rally last night, quotes text messages exchanged between these two key characters in the investigation, Strzok and Page. He is obsessed with this investigation and how it started and in some way trying to exonerate himself through it all.

LUCAS: The president has basically boiled it down to - to take his argument, it boils down to it was a witch hunt. It was a hoax. That's what this investigation was. That's his line.

DAVIS: And before we get to the hearing today, let's just refresh people on what the report actually said. It's over 400 pages, and there's a couple core key findings.

LUCAS: The top-line findings are basically this - that the inspector general concluded that the FBI had sufficient evidence to open this investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The inspector general also found no evidence of political bias affecting the decision to open the investigation. And those are two key points that push back against the claims that the president has made.

But the other big point here is bad news for the FBI, and that is that Horowitz found serious problems with the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page, 17 significant errors or omissions in the applications that it made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is the court that oversees the surveillance process. So there was information that the FBI had that would have potentially - made the Justice Department decide that they could not seek surveillance on Page that the FBI did not inform the Justice Department of.

DAVIS: OK. So the lack of evidence of political bias in the decision-making process, the fact that they - he concludes there was a proper legal basis for that surveillance, that's clearly what the Democrats on the committee wanted to focus on, including the top Democrat on the committee, Dianne Feinstein of California.


DIANNE FEINSTEIN: On the question of bias, Inspector General Horowitz found no evidence that political or anti-Trump bias was at play.

DAVIS: But the fact that this report does puncture some holes in the Republican presumption of what happened in the FBI has not moved Republicans at all off of sort of the severity of the report. I mean, they still say that the conclusions in here are very damaging.

LUCAS: Absolutely. I mean, what they're doing, though, is focusing on the other side of the report, which is the problems with the FBI's surveillance of Carter Page. They're essentially setting aside this question of political bias to say, OK, we'll grant you that maybe you didn't find evidence of political bias, but we can't say that necessarily there was no political bias. And what they'll also do is point out that the threshold to open an investigation like this is very low. They're focusing on that rather than the fact that the evidence that they had met that threshold.

So it's a different take on it. They're coming at it from a different angle. But what they are really hitting again and again and again is the serious problems with the FBI's surveillance of Page. And those are legitimate problems, and Horowitz makes it very clear in his report.

DAVIS: Well, also, if you think that the FBI was that sloppy in the handling of the Carter Page surveillance, who was a priority guy in a presidential campaign, it does raise the question about, is the FBI just being sloppy in how they handle this process?

LUCAS: If an investigation as explosive and politically sensitive as one that touches on a campaign to be president of the United States is not being done perfectly, even when people know that they're going to be under intense scrutiny, yes. What does that say about all the other investigations that are going on? And that's a point that both Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, made, as well as the committee's chairman, Lindsey Graham.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: What happened here is not a few irregularities. What happened here is the system failed. People at the highest level of our government took the law in their own hands.

LUCAS: Now, there's an important point to make here, and I think that it may get lost. What this report is about is the FBI's surveillance of Page, the early stages of the Russia investigation. This is not a report about the full two-year Mueller - what became the Mueller investigation. And that's important when you listen to things like that last quote from Graham. Do not think that he is talking about the full Russia investigation. It is about a very specific, narrow surveillance of Page. It's that issue.

DAVIS: And last night on the campaign trail, Tam, President Trump had a lot to say about this.

KEITH: Oh, he had so much to say about it. And he essentially disputed the parts of the inspector general's report that he didn't like or didn't agree with his view. And he highlighted the parts that worked for him. It was kind of like his rhetoric really didn't change from before the report to after the report. But he was really, really tough on the FBI.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look how they've hurt people. They've destroyed the lives of people that were great people, that are still great people. Their lives have been destroyed by scum, OK? By scum.

DAVIS: I can understand - politically speaking, not legally speaking - how the president continues to make this point that there were people inside the FBI who didn't like Trump, who didn't want him to be president, who were caught on official channels sort of being derogatory about him and the chances of him winning. But that is different than having your own political bias affect your work, even though I don't think the president or his supporters see that distinction. They see a record of FBI employees talking smack about the president, and that helps him.

KEITH: Though the report also had FBI employees saying, yeah, he won. This was like a come-from-behind surprise thing at a Super Bowl. I mean, people have bias. Like, all people bring their views to their lives. They don't necessarily let it affect their work. The president is arguing that it did affect their work. What Horowitz seems to have found is that he can't see evidence that it affected at least the start of the investigation.

DAVIS: And, Ryan, this is not the last investigation into the investigations that is taking place under the DOJ.

LUCAS: This is not the end of the road, my friends. We've got...

KEITH: The road never ends.

LUCAS: ...A long road ahead. That's right. There's another investigation that's being led by the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, a man by the name of John Durham. The attorney general, Will Barr, put Durham in charge of this investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. It sounds like it's pretty similar to Horowitz's. It is. There is a lot of overlap. Durham has a broader remit, though. He can look at what U.S. intelligence agencies were doing. He can look at what foreign intelligence agencies were doing. Remember; Durham has traveled overseas with Barr in some instances to meet with foreign intelligence officials. One trip was to Rome, for example. That has been publicized.

So Trump has already said, keep an eye on Durham. Durham's coming. That's the report that really matters.

DAVIS: He's putting a lot of expectations on this thing.

KEITH: Which is funny because before he was like, look for the Horowitz report. It's going to be the thing. Now he's like, I am really looking forward to Durham.


TRUMP: I look forward to Bull Durham's report. That's the one I look forward to.

DAVIS: Well, when it happens, we will be here to talk about it. We need to take a quick break. And when we get back, we'll talk about the next steps on impeachment.

And we're back. And, Tam, back to that campaign rally last night in Pennsylvania. The president was also hot to talk about impeachment still.

KEITH: Oh...


KEITH: ...He is so hot to talk about impeachment. And, you know, the articles of impeachment were announced the morning before his rally. And he was basically like, you know, I'm not that impressed.


TRUMP: This is impeachment light. This is the lightest impeachment in the history of our country by far. It's not even like an impeachment.

KEITH: It is an impeachment. We can fact check that.

DAVIS: Can we say, you can't just be a little bit impeached.


DAVIS: Like, you're not - you're never a little bit impeached. You're either impeached, or you're not impeached (laughter). There are only two articles, obstruction of Congress and abuse of power. The House Judiciary Committee is going to start the process of marking that up tonight. They're not going to start...

KEITH: OK, explain what a markup is.

DAVIS: I know. A markup is essentially when the committee has their last chance to change the text of the bill. People can offer amendments, final edits. They won't pass it out of committee until tomorrow at some point. But it is headed to the floor next week when Donald Trump will become the third president of the United States to be impeached. We presume that Democrats have the votes.

KEITH: If you want to stream the committee room on your phone, that is starting tonight.

DAVIS: That is starting tonight at 7:00 p.m. And they could go for hours, although they do not expect the substantive work. Any changes that could come to the articles of impeachment would happen on Thursday. They're actually splitting this process up for the sole purpose of having it happen during the day so they can basically ride the news cycle. They want everybody when they get home tomorrow night to be able to see that the articles of impeachment happened and get maximum attention to it.

LUCAS: How much like a Quentin Tarantino movie is a markup?

DAVIS: Take a Quentin Tarantino movie, and erase it...


DAVIS: ...And then record C-SPAN. And that's what a markup is like.

LUCAS: And that's what it's like. All right.

DAVIS: That is what it's like.

KEITH: So no blood?

DAVIS: No blood, no violence, no intrigue, very little drama.

LUCAS: Witty conversation.

DAVIS: And not a very good soundtrack. All right, that's a wrap for today. But we'll be back in your feeds tomorrow with any impeachment news or otherwise that you'd need to know about. And until then, if you like the show, leave us a review in Apple Podcast. It helps new listeners find us. And it's good for our self-esteem, which we need. We need it right now.

I'm Susan Davis. I cover Congress.

KEITH: I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

LUCAS: And I'm Ryan Lucas. I cover the Justice Department.

DAVIS: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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