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Margaret Valenti breaks down the findings in the Oversight and Review Division’s review of the Crossfire Hurricane FBI agents’ investigation into key members of the 2016 Trump campaign and their well-known efforts to help Russia interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Within the “Review of Four FISA Applications and Other Aspects of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane Investigation” released by the Oversight and Review Division is a litany of bureaucratic mishaps by the FBI and a glimpse into the investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign. The review states that “the OIG [Oversight and Review Division] examined more than one million documents that were in the Department’s and FBI’s possession and conducted over 170 interviews involving more than 100 witnesses.”
The report concludes that there was reasonable evidence to start an investigation into the Trump Campaign and its interactions with Russia. Additionally, the report concludes that there was sound reasoning behind the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications allowing the surveillance of many Trump campaign members, particularly Carter Page. However, there was valuable information that the FBI agents on the case did not mention to their superiors who approved the surveillance. Some of the superiors say in the report that their decisions would not be the same if they knew that information.
Another interesting aspect of the review was the admission by many within the FBI that the Steele dossier, the primary document in the case, was relied on heavily by the investigative team even though the information was flawed in many ways. According to the report, the dossier supplied valuable information into what happened within the Trump campaign and is the leading proof why many of the initial investigations were opened into Papadopoulos, Manafort, Page, and Flynn, all key members of the Trump campaign in 2016.
However, the report was flawed in that it was politically motivated and had information that was never fact-checked, or, if they did a fact check, the fact-checking was not thorough. In many instances, the individuals Steele got his information from did not corroborate his testimony when interviewed by the FBI.
The review concludes that the initiation of the investigation was not politically motivated nor was there any deep-state conspiracy to destroy the Trump campaign. Instead, it seems as if the FBI did not follow protocol in conducting its investigation specifically about its reliance on unverified information from a politically motivated source to gain FISA approvals to surveil individuals within the Trump campaign. Additionally, there are multiple recommendations that the OIG gives to the FBI in the review to correct the problems that they found with the investigation.
The investigation, called Crossfire Hurricane, started with the information given to the FBI by a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG) who informed the FBI that George Papadopoulos, a key member of the Trump campaign, indicated that “the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).” The FBI also had credible information prior to this disclosure to suggest that Russia interfered and continued to interfere in the 2016 election process.
Throughout the process, the FBI used multiple techniques to investigate those involved in conspiring with Russia in its attempts to influence the U.S. elections. Many of those individuals were a part of the Trump campaign, but the Trump campaign itself did not become the subject of an investigation. However, it was the Steele dossier that would start investigations into those connected to the Trump campaign. The Steele dossier had many flaws, both since it started out as a politically motivated document, with the intention of digging up dirt on Donald Trump, and that the dossier itself was unreliable.
The group, Fusion GPS, works in research and intelligence and hired Steele and his team to investigate the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russia during the 2016 election. At the time of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, Steele, a former intelligence officer, was also with the FBI as a confidential human source (CHS). When Steele revealed he was a source for an article about the investigation, his work as a CHS stopped. Instead, the FBI relied on then associate Deputy Attorney general Bruce Ohr as an intermediary, something the review points to as problematic and against the procedure.
Why Fusion GPS was investigating the Trump campaign and the connections to Russia is unclear. There was no direct connection explicitly delineated in the review to any other party. Redacted portions still appear in the review about ongoing matters as there are other investigations that stem from Crossfire Hurricane.
The recommendations by the OIG revolve around the lack of a proper chain of command and the withholding of information by the agents working on the Crossfire Hurricane investigation that the FBI considered vital in the decision-making process. It is the view of the OIG that the agents working FBI were either woefully ignorant or unaware of how these processes work. The review states that “the agents and SSAs also did not follow, or appear to even know, the requirements in the Woods Procedures.” The Woods Procedures ensure that the information given to a FISA court for the approval of certain surveillance procedures is reliable, factual, and accurately presented to the court.
While the FBI agents who were a part of Crossfire Hurricane did not follow procedures as they should, the review also acknowledges that this is not the only case they see where FBI agents do not follow protocol. Also, the review acknowledges that the conduct of the FBI agents during the investigation does not negate the validity of the information found and the later investigations started, nor does it show a politically motivated conspiracy against the Trump campaign. The review makes it clear that while the agents did not follow some protocols and there was information withheld, there was enough evidence obtained by the FBI to call for most of the actions taken during the investigation.
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