Modest Suggestion: Let's Actually See the Inspector General Report Before Jumping to Conclusions About It

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Posted: Dec 03, 2019 1:05 PM
Modest Suggestion: Let's Actually See the Inspector General Report Before Jumping to Conclusions About It

The race is on to pre-frame the Justice Department Inspector General's report on the Russia/Trump investigation and potential FISA abuses therein.  We've gotten a few dribs and drabs from leaks, suggesting that some wrongdoing was uncovered, but not systemic corruption or overt partisan bias.  We know that the IG has treated certain figures quite harshly (and appropriately so) in the recent past, with others receiving less severe rebukes.  And we're seeing a number of the relevant players appearing to get out in front of what's coming -- including Lisa Page, who is playing the victim card:

"I'm done being quiet," she said Sunday night in a tweet linking to the Daily Beast interview.  Page, who left the FBI in May 2018, said "it's almost impossible to describe" the feeling of being attacked by Trump. "It's like being punched in the gut. My heart drops to my stomach when I realize he has tweeted about me again...He’s demeaning me and my career. It’s sickening," she told The Daily Beast... it's also very intimidating because he’s still the president of the United States. And when the president accuses you of treason by name, despite the fact that I know there's no fathomable way that I have committed any crime at all, let alone treason, he's still somebody in a position to actually do something about that. To try to further destroy my life."...In a June 2018 report, the Justice Department inspector general's office said it was "deeply troubled" by the anti-Trump texts between Page and Strzok – who was fired from the FBI in August 2018 – but "did not find evidence to connect the political views expressed in these messages to the specific investigative decisions"...Page said she had been inaccurately depicted by a "cherry-picked selection of my texts" and did not remember the messages about Trump when she first learned her texts were being investigated. 

As well as Attorney General Bill Barr, who (reportedly) disagrees with a forthcoming central finding from IG Michael Horowitz:

Attorney General William P. Barr has told associates he disagrees with the Justice Department’s inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. The Justice Department’s inspector general, Michael Horo­witz, is due to release his long-awaited findings in a week, but behind the scenes at the Justice Department, disagreement has surfaced about one of Horowitz’s central conclusions on the origins of the Russia investigation. The discord could be the prelude to a major fissure within federal law enforcement on the controversial question of investigating a presidential campaign. Barr has not been swayed by Horowitz’s rationale for concluding that the FBI had sufficient basis to open an investigation on July 31, 2016, these people said.

Reactions like this have, in turn, elicited responses from others. Barr critics say he's once again politicizing the DOJ, this time by undermining its internal watchdog. Perhaps he has sought to privately erode faith in Horowitz's determinations for political reasons, which would be outrageous.  Perhaps he knows more about what the Durham probe is unearthing and is quietly reminding people that Horowitz won't have the final word on the overall subject (see update).  Or perhaps the anonymous sources quoted in the Post story aren't characterizing Barr's actions fairly.  Meanwhile, Page's detractors are blasting what they see as myopic damage control. As for her allegation that her hugely problematic anti-Trump texts were "cherry picked" for partisan reasons, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is pushing back on that that theory:

Rosenstein said that there was no political motive to the disclosure and that he had no choice but to release the texts, which had been the subject of an Inspector General’s investigation into possible political bias. “To the best of my knowledge, career Department of Justice officials determined in December 2017 that those text messages were NOT personal,” he wrote. “They were official government records related to FBI business and there was no legal basis to withhold them, so they should be released as requested by Congress.” Rosenstein said the IG’s office had “no objection” to releasing the messages. “I consistently defended the right of Department of Justice employees to express political opinions and even make political contributions,” he continued. “However, the Inspector General concluded that the FBI employees ‘demonstrated extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism’ by exchanging messages that ‘appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the [Hillary Clinton email] and Russia investigations, raising a question as to whether Strzok’s and Page’s political opinions may have affected investigative decisions.’”

More charitably, Rosenstein adds that in his opinion, "Ms. Page received more opprobrium than she deserved for her mistakes, but the Department of Justice is not to blame.”  Elsewhere, in an apparent retort to the anti-Barr chorus, the DOG put out the following statement affirming Horowitz's professionalism, and urging people to actually read the report he produces:


This is exactly the correct message and tone.  Overall, this deluge of advanced spin is exhausting and mostly pointless.  It reminds me of the furor over Barr's top-line summary of Mueller's findings, which sparked so much over-the-top consternation and fulmination; after all, we all got to see virtually the entire report in relatively short order.  Let's wait and see.  My best guess is that Horowitz will lambaste the FBI and DOJ on a number of fronts, while declining to nuke their handling of the case completely, yet providing plenty of fodder for their critics along the way: "Mr. Horowitz's mixed bag of conclusions is likely to give new ammunition to both Mr. Trump's defenders and critics in the long-running partisan fight over the Russia investigation," the New York Times reported last week.  This is similar to the balancing act he performed on the Hillary emails probe (I still maintain that she got off far too leniently, but that's another matter).  In short, amid a deluge of hot takes, this is my relatively cold take:


Horowitz's work will be released December 9, with scheduled Senate testimony two days later.  Durham's investigation has expanded in scope and seriousness and remains ongoing, operating on an unknown timeline. 

UPDATE - This Durham detail seems...significant: