‘He seemed to be pretty involved. And yet, on some pretty significant issues in your report, he just doesn’t recall…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) A week since his first Congressional appearance to discuss the FBI’s handling of a controversial domestic surveillance probe against the Trump campaign, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz filled in some of the gaps during a return visit Wednesday.
In the shadow of a looming House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, Horowitz’s follow-up appearance before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee seemed destined to create a much smaller ripple than his prior testimony before the Judiciary Committee.
Following repeated spin from Democrats and key FBI officials who have claimed that the IG report found no bias within agency ranks, HSGAC chair Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., pressed Horowitz to elaborate on what his conclusions actually meant regarding the political underpinnings of top investigative officials.
“What you’re saying—this is what I want to clarify, because I think this has been misconstrued and misused, depending on where you put it: You’re not saying that that bias did not potentially influence,” Johnson pressed Horowitz. “You’re just saying that you have no evidence that it did. Is that an accurate statement?”
Horowitz, who emphasized at last week’s hearing that the report did not exonerate top officials such as former FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, explained that his conclusion was narrowly focused on the decision by FBI counterintelligence chief Bill Priestap to open the “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Trump’s alleged Russia ties.
“Because that decision was isol—was made by one person—we knew who made the decision, understanding that there were questions raised by people above and below him,” Horowitz said. “As to the other decisions … we don’t reach a motivation conclusion precisely because of the concerns we have on that.”
As Johnson pressed further about what evidence would be needed to determine bias, Horowitz again emphasized that its direct role in a decision-making process was the essential parameter and not simply is presence.
“We’re not concluding that someone’s biased simply because they supported one candidate or the other,” Horowitz said, noting that agents’ misuse of FBI devices to express political opinions did raise other serious legal issues not addressed in his report.
“… What we’re looking at are what are the comments so significant that it concerned us that they might have caused them to influence decisions that were made,” he said.
In a nod to the other high-profile case that began with an inspector general complaint—the Ukraine probe fielded by Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson—Horowitz said that whistleblowers were one of the ways such a determination might be reached absent direct, incriminating evidence.
Horowitz candidly conceded that the shocking text-message exchanges between FBI lovebirds Peter Strzok and Lisa Page—as well as overtly anti-Trump messages from low-level attorney Kevin Clinesmith and others down the line—had indeed shown bias but failed to meet his standard since the perpetrators had no final decision-making authority.
However, the inspector general observed that the lack of oversight, disinterest and claims of ignorance from decision-makers like Comey and McCabe also provided a substantial basis for further investigation and accountability.
Closure on their role in what Trump supporters maintain was a clear-cut, partisan conspiracy will likely come from the broader, ongoing criminal investigation in the Justice Department being led by special prosecutor John Durham.
The Missing Link?
Johnson again sought to drill in on McCabe, whom Horowitz has criticized in previous reports for failing to recuse himself from a parallel FBI investigation on Hillary Clinton—despite a conflict of interest involving the political ties of McCabe’s wife, Jill, and then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime Clinton flunkie.
Johnson said McCabe’s decision to stack the deck on the Russia investigation by hand-picking Strzok to lead it—against the advice of others within the agency—suggested the deputy director’s unofficial influence may have been a missing link in the chain of bias that was overlooked by the inspector general’s report.
Steele, a retired British spy, had been fired from the FBI as a resource after he was found to have shopped his report to far-left Mother Jones magazine and other national media outlets.
Despite major red flags, the FBI later used Steele’s innuendo as the primary basis for a series of warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court.
At the hearing Wednesday, Johnson said not everything seemed to add up concerning McCabe’s role in the investigation.
“He seemed to be pretty involved,” Johnson said. “And yet, on some pretty significant issues in your report, he just doesn’t recall. Do you find those memory lapses credible?”
Horowitz demurred, however, saying his investigators “don’t make a determination or credibility finding on that issue” within the report.
McCabe, currently a CNN analyst, struck an indignant tone last week at the suggestion that his motives may have been less-than-savory.
He complained to anchor Chris Cuomo that he had been terrorized by Trump’s past accusations against him.
“To spend your life dedicated to protecting America and upholding the Constitution” McCabe lamented, “and then to be accused by the President of treason and suggest—and have him further put the suggestion out that the proper penalty for us would be death—I can’t describe to you how revolting that is and quite honestly terrifying.”