As we await the Attorney General's press conference and the release of the long-anticipated Mueller report, Politico is out with a story about the potential direction of an ongoing Inspector General investigation into the origins of the Trump/Russia probe that Mueller inherited. I have long defended the Special Counsel's integrity and authority, but I've also raised concerns about the extent to which a salacious and uncorroborated dossier -- which was funded by a political party -- was used by that same party's Justice Department to justify spying on American citizens tied to the opposing party's presidential campaign.
We know from key Senate documents that the infamous Steele Dossier, elements of which are either totally unproven or affirmatively discredited, played an outsized and ethically-questionable role in FISA applications used to approve the deployment of surveillance and human intelligence against figures within Trump's circle. We also know that the overtly partisan nature of the dossier's funders was relegated to a vague footnote in the FISA documents, and that Steele's work continued to be cited by the Justice Department in renewal requests even after the FBI cut Steele loose for lying to them. Another established fact is that the interaction that came closest to "collusion" -- the notorious Trump Tower encounter -- featured a Kremlin-linked attorney who met with the founder of Fusion GPS (the Democratic opposition research organization that facilitated the Steele dossier on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign) before and after that meeting on that very day. She also reportedly passed along GPS-authored materials.
Attorney General Barr rankled Democrats last week when he asserted that spying occurred (it manifestly did), and that while he's not alleging malfeasance, he believes there are important questions that need to be answered. According to Politico, it sounds like the non-partisan, Obama-appointed Inspector General at the Department of Justice agrees -- and may be crafting a report that will severely undermine the credibility of Christopher Steele, the foreign spy who assembled the salacious and unverified file on Trump:
Several people interviewed by the Inspector General’s office over the past year tell POLITICO that Horowitz’s team has been intensely focused on gauging Steele’s credibility as a source for the bureau. One former U.S. official left the interview with the impression that the Inspector General’s final report “is going to try and deeply undermine” Steele...The inspector general’s office has concluded that Steele inflated his worth to the bureau in [a separate 2010] case, and did little more than introduce agents to a journalist who had obtained hacked documents...Horowitz’s probe also appears set to cast doubt on the veracity of the information Steele provided about Page that the FBI included in its application for a FISA warrant...The FBI began receiving Steele’s Trump-Russia memos directly. But the bureau cooled on the relationship after learning that Steele had described his Trump campaign research to reporters. (Two sources familiar with Steele’s actions insist that his research technically belonged to his clients, Fusion GPS and the Democratic National Committee, not to the FBI—so he had no obligation to keep it secret.)
There is no reason whatsoever to believe that the Inspector General (who issued a fairly stinging report on the Hillary emails probe, which resulted in the firing of Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok) would be motivated by any anti-Steele agenda. If he is, in fact, going to impeach the credibility of Steele, it'll be because he has reason to do so. And if he determines that the FBI was wrong to lean so heavily on Steele for as long as they did (finally severing ties after he lied about leaking), that would cast a new and significant shadow on the provenance of the counterintelligence investigation that has hung over our politics for two years. Let's wait and see what the IG finds; Barr recently told lawmakers that the findings are set to be made public in May or June. If the IG strongly erodes the credibility of Steele, whose work product was so central to the Russia investigation's early stages and continuation, that would only buttress Barr's point that an even more holistic approach to assessing that overall investigation is warranted.
I'll leave you with two reminders of countervailing factors: First, if a 'deep state' conspiracy had really set out to prevent Trump from becoming president (see the worst of the Strzok/Page texts), one would think that the existence of the counterintelligence investigation into Trumpworld's ties to Moscow would have been strategically leaked in the fall of 2016. Trump barely threaded the electoral college needle as it is, so a bombshell of that magnitude very well could have nuked his campaign. That coup de grace leak never came. And second, former GOP Congressman Trey Gowdy, who I admire and trust, has stated publicly that based on the intelligence he's seen about controversial pieces of the Russia investigation, he is entirely comfortable with the FBI's actions. These two realities are solid reasons to tap the breaks on any pronouncements that the 'collusion hoaxers' are about to be exposed once and for all. Conservatives should not fall into the same trap in which the resistance-minded Left now finds itself ensnared: Counting on the outcome of a secret investigation to vindicate the partisan convictions they've harbored all along.