DOJ watchdog: Durham said 'preliminary' FBI Trump probe was justified

DOJ watchdog: Durham said 'preliminary' FBI Trump probe was justified
© Greg Nash

Justice Department Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz said that John DurhamJohn DurhamTrump tweets test Attorney General Barr The Hill's Morning Report - Sanders on the rise as Nevada debate looms A tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice MORE, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut conducting a separate probe into the origins of the Russia investigation, told him he believed the FBI would have been justified in opening a “preliminary investigation” into associates of the Trump campaign in 2016, but not a full investigation.

Senators questioned Horowitz Wednesday during a Judiciary Committee hearing about Durham’s terse public statement, issued shortly after the IG's report was released Monday, disagreeing with some of its conclusions “as to predication and how the FBI case was opened."

Horowitz told the committee that he was “surprised” by the statement and noted that he met with Durham, who is spearheading the Justice Department’s separate inquiry into the origins of the Russian interference probe, in November to discuss his findings.

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“We did discuss the opening issue. He said that he did not necessarily agree with our conclusion about the opening of a full counterintelligence investigation, which is what this was,” Horowitz said under questioning from Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinLobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress Loeffler under fire for stock trades amid coronavirus outbreak MORE (D-Calif.).

“But there is also an investigative means by which the FBI can move forward with an investigation, it’s called a preliminary investigation,” Horowitz continued. “[Durham] said during the meeting that the information from the friendly foreign government was, in his view, sufficient to support the preliminary investigation.”

Horowitz said that some of the steps the FBI took in its investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia — dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane” — would have been allowed under a preliminary investigation.  

Horowitz’s more than 400-page report says the FBI had an adequate predicate for launching the counterintelligence investigation into associates of the Trump campaign, but it is also heavily critical of the FBI’s handling of a surveillance warrant to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Horowitz has referred evidence he found that an FBI lawyer altered a document used to obtain the Page warrant to Durham for possible criminal prosecution.

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Horowitz reiterated Wednesday that the FBI opened the investigation in July 2016 after receiving information from a friendly foreign government about George PapadopoulosGeorge Demetrios PapadopoulosFree Roger Stone A tale of two lies: Stone, McCabe and the danger of a double standard for justice California Democrat Christy Smith launches first TV ad in bid for Katie Hill's former House seat MORE, another ex-Trump campaign adviser, saying the Russians had harmful information on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillary Clinton on US leading in coronavirus cases: Trump 'did promise "America First"' Democratic fears rise again as coronavirus pushes Biden to sidelines Clintons send pizza to NY hospital staff treating coronavirus MORE.

Durham and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocratic Senators urge FTC to prevent coronavirus price gouging Maduro pushes back on DOJ charges, calls Trump 'racist cowboy' DOJ charges Venezuela's Maduro with drug trafficking MORE both issued statements disagreeing with Horowitz’s conclusion about the investigation being justified on Monday.

“Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Durham said Monday. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” 

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Connecticut declined to comment on Wednesday.

“I was surprised by the statement. I didn’t necessarily know it was going to be released on Monday,” Horowitz told the Senate panel.

Barr elaborated on his disagreement in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, saying he thought the case was “flimsy” and that the FBI was not justified to take the investigative steps that it did.

Barr also said that it was possible agents acted in “bad faith” and seemed to dismiss Horowitz’s finding that agents did not act on political bias in opening the probe, saying it would be “premature” to reach a conclusion on motivations until after Durham’s investigation.

Horowitz also said Tuesday that he communicated his findings to Barr and that the attorney general did not give him any information to change his conclusions about the investigation being justified.

“None of the discussions changed our findings here,” Horowitz said.