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FBI probe into Russian interference in 2016 US election not politically driven, says watchdog report

The US Justice report rebuts Donald Trump’s claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign.

Trump told reporters today that the Russia investigation was an
Trump told reporters today that the Russia investigation was an "embarrassment" and a disgrace.
Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

A US JUSTICE Department report has concluded that political bias did not drive an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election – rebutting President Donald Trump’s claims that the FBI illegally spied on his campaign.

The DOJ inspector general found numerous procedural errors in the handling of the probe, which placed members of Trump’s election team under surveillance over their Russian contacts.

But it said the overall investigation, launched in July 2016 – and probes of Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn – were justified.

“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,” the report said.

The inspector general’s probe was opened after Trump repeatedly rejected the conclusions of US intelligence chiefs and the FBI that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign to boost Trump and hurt his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Trump repeatedly accused the FBI of “spying,” pointing to the opening of wiretap warrants on his campaign members under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

“It was an attempted coup or an attempted takedown of the president of the United States. It should never ever happen to anybody else, so it’s very important,” Trump said in May.

But inspector general Michael Horowitz said FBI officials who opened the secret and politically sensitive investigation, dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane,” had “reason to believe” that Russia was interfering.

It pointed to the key piece of information that sparked the probe, an Australian intelligence tip about Papadopoulos’ claim that Russians had offered him dirt on Clinton.

‘Conspiracy theories’

“The FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime,” it said.

The inspector general did say there were errors in FISA warrants issued against sometime campaign consultant Carter Page over his repeated Russian contacts.

And it criticized the FBI procedures for applying to the secret FISA tribunals for national security warrants.

Trump told reporters today that the Russia investigation was an “embarrassment” and a disgrace.

“It should never again happen to another president,” he said.

Democrats said the long-awaited report showed the hollowness of Trump’s attacks on the FBI as well as on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling and the Trump campaign.

The report “debunks the conspiracy theories about the Mueller report and the Russia investigation that President Trump and Republicans in Congress have pushed for years,” said senior House Democrats Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney.

“Those discredited conspiracy theories were attempts to deflect from the president’s serious and ongoing misconduct,” they said. 

The Mueller probe uncovered more than 100 contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russian government-linked individuals or entities from November of 2015 to January of 2017.

Mueller set out numerous instances of Trump impeding investigators, arguing that if the evidence collected during his 22-month probe cleared Trump of criminal wrongdoing, he would have said so.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the report showed the Russia investigation was opened “for an authorized purpose and with adequate factual predication.”

Attorney General Bill Barr, a Trump appointee, said however the report showed that the Russia inquiry was launched “on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”

© – AFP 2019

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