DOJ watchdog expected to say FBI erred, but absolve top leaders of anti-Trump bias: report

A Justice Department watchdog is expected to strongly criticize FBI officials for being careless in their pursuit of obtaining wiretaps on a former Trump campaign aide during the start of the Russia probe, but not find they were acting with a bias toward President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE, The New York Times reported Friday afternoon.

But the highly anticipated report from the Department of Justice inspector general (IG) is also expected to say top agency leaders did not act with a bias toward against President Trump in terms of how they undertook the probe.

In particular, the DOJ IG, Michael Horowitz, faulted Kevin Clinesmith, a lower-level lawyer, for altering an email that bureau officials then incorporated in their effort to renew a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Carter Page. 

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The DOJ watchdog has referred his findings about Clinesmith, who resigned two months ago, to prosecutors for a potential criminal charge, the Times reported.

Horowitz also reportedly found omissions and errors in documents seeking the wiretap for Page, who had served previously on the Trump campaign and was suspected of working as an unregistered foreign agent in 2016.

And while the Times reports that Horowitz will sharply rebuke the top brass at the FBI over their handling of the counterintelligence probe — which was examining whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia— his investigation did not find that anti-Trump bias among senior leaders like former FBI director James ComeyJames Brien ComeySteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Judge will not dismiss McCabe's case against DOJ Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate MORE, deputy director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeJudge will not dismiss McCabe's case against DOJ Graham: Comey to testify about FBI's Russia probe, Mueller declined invitation Barr criticizes DOJ in speech declaring all agency power 'is invested in the attorney general' MORE, and former counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok influenced the investigation.

While the report, set to be publicly released Dec. 9, appears to confirm long-held GOP allegations that officials did not follow the proper protocols in obtaining the Page FISA warrant, the report also disputes their allegations that individuals like Comey, McCabe and Strzok acted on biases towards the president.

Horowitz's report also debunks claims that the so-called Steele dossier compiled by the former British spy Christopher Steele was used by officials to launch the investigation, as well as allegations that some of the information came from the CIA officials.

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Democrats and Republicans are likely to seize on different parts of the report, particularly at a time when House Democrats' impeachment inquiry is looming over the Trump administration. 

The FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page in October of 2016 and renewed the wiretap three subsequent times.

And during one of those renewal processes, Clinesmith is said to have altered an email from an official working at another federal agency by adding his own personal assertion to a message laying out several factual assertions, allowing his view point to appear as if was the author of the email rather than his own, the Times reports.

This manipulated email was then added into a group of documents Clinesmith compiled for another FBI official to read ahead of them signing an affidavit that is given to the surveillance court, which attests under the penalty of perjury that the information in the wiretap application is both "true and correct." 

Clinesmith, who worked on both the investigation into Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFox News poll: Biden ahead of Trump in Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio Trump, Biden court Black business owners in final election sprint The power of incumbency: How Trump is using the Oval Office to win reelection MORE's email server and the Russia probe, was removed from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE's team after Horowitz discovered text messages sent from officials that disparaged Trump.

Horowitz's referral has reportedly been sent to Connecticut U.S. Attorney John DurhamJohn DurhamSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Barr's Russia investigator has put some focus on Clinton Foundation: report Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE, who was assigned by Attorney General William BarrBill BarrHillicon Valley: Subpoenas for Facebook, Google and Twitter on the cards | Wray rebuffs mail-in voting conspiracies | Reps. raise mass surveillance concerns Bipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs YouTube to battle mail-in voting misinformation with info panel on videos MORE to probe the origins of the Russia investigation. The referral suggests that Durham's inquiry could turn into a criminal investigation.