Attorney General William Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray released a statement on Tuesday announcing a package of reforms for the country’s legendary investigative agency.
They said the reforms “will empower the FBI to build a more robust internal compliance program … that will ensure, among other things, the accuracy of [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] applications, as well as the active oversight of applications targeting federal elected officials, candidates for federal elected office, and their staffs.
Those reforms include the establishment of an FBI Office of Internal Auditing along with protocols to ensure the accuracy of FISA applications.
It became clear that such reforms were needed after the findings of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz were made public last December — that the FBI’s so-called “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation of the Trump presidential campaign in 2016 was a travesty.
Michael Horowitz “uncovered 17 major mistakes in the FBI’s applications — errors that were so substantial, they prompted a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to issue a rare public rebuke of the FBI,” as Reuters reported.
Just one example of those major mistakes: documents initiating the probe violated all the existing agency protocols. FBI agent Peter Strzok both proposed and approved the surveillance, in effect appointing himself to oversee his own case, an absurd procedure that in itself invalidates it. Thus, the Barr-Wray mandate for a new mechanism to ensure that the agency follows its own rules.
Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI, who knows something about the way things are supposed to be done there, had this to say in an opinion piece in The Hill in May: “Those of us who have speculated there was insufficient cause for beginning the investigation could not have imagined the actual opening document was this feeble. It is as if it were written by someone who had no experience as an FBI agent.
“Ultimately, there was no attempt by Strzok to articulate any factors that address the elements of FARA (Foreign Agent Registration Act). He couldn’t, because there are none. Instead, there was a weak attempt to allege some kind of cooperation with Russians by unknown individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign, again, with no supporting facts listed,” Brock wrote.
There is no attempt by the FBI to deny or paper over what happened. Wray himself admitted that Horowitz’ report “describes conduct that was unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an organization. … That’s why I immediately ordered more than 40 corrective actions,” well before Tuesday’s announcement.
The Barr-Wray statement does not go so far as to allege criminal or even malign political intent. It merely outlines, in restrained fashion, certain inexcusable abuses and the measures necessary to correct them.
In other words, the FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign may not have been illegal or malicious, but it was at the very least improper.
Brock, however, did call Hurricane Crossfire “illicit” and said that it will likely serve as the evidentiary basis of a criminal trial once U.S. Attorney John Durham, appointed by Barr to examine the Russia case, is ready to file charges.
In fact, Horowitz’ revelations have already led to charges against former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to doctoring an email used to justify surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
While the statement on Tuesday was mostly about the reforms rather than the abuses, and was written in a clear, though restrained style, Barr concluded with a stern warning:
“What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again.”
It is beyond doubt that the President, as he has repeatedly said, was wrongfully targeted. Or, in the President’s terminology, it was a “witch hunt.”
The truth coming to light is always a welcome event. Unfortunately, it does not make reparation to the American people for four years of misery, four years of cooked-up allegations, of a shadow of suspicion that was cast over its highest elected official, borne of political motivations and personal enmity.
If Barr and Wray would not say it, Brock has, characterizing Crossfire Hurricane as “sprung from the mind of someone who despised Donald Trump, and then blessed by inexperienced leadership at the highest levels who harbored their own now well-established biases.”
The bureau and politicians who seized upon the flimsiest material to launch a campaign of vilification of a sitting President have brought shame upon the nation.