While there’s word that the Justice Department Inspector General’s (IG) report on potential surveillance abuses to investigate a former member of the Trump campaign is being finalized, there’s reason to believe it could still be months before the public actually sees it.
The IG, Michael Horowitz, sent a letter to some congressional committees on Sept. 13, informing them that a draft of the report has been submitted to the Justice Department (DOJ) and the FBI for classification review. That means the agencies now have to determine which parts of the report need to be redacted before it’s publicly released. If past classification reviews are any indication, this process may take months.
It’s been, for instance, nearly a year since the House intelligence committee voted to release 53 transcripts of interviews it conducted during its investigation of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election.
The transcripts were sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which then sent them to relevant agencies for classification reviews. The committee still hasn’t received them back, according to Jack Langer, spokesman for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the committee.
There may be a greater urgency to have the IG report released more quickly. On the other hand, there may also be people within the DOJ and FBI who have an opposing interest in what the public should and shouldn’t see.
It’s long been alleged that the government is using classification as a tool to withhold information from the public for questionable reasons.
Just recently, former federal prosecutor Sidney Powell said in court documents that the government redacted the word “not” in a report to make it look like a whistleblower in a secretive Defense Department think tank leaked classified information. The report actually said that the whistleblower didn’t leak classified information.
Powell is representing Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, former national security adviser to President Donald Trump and a former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. Flynn pleaded guilty nearly two years ago to lying to the FBI, but after hiring Powell in recent months, he seems to have mounted a legal offensive.
Powell is demanding a plethora of documents related to the surveillance of the Trump campaign, alleging the documents contain exculpatory information and the government has engaged in misconduct by withholding them.
Horowitz has been investigating the FBI’s use of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page. The FISA applications relied on an unverified opposition research dossier that was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
Top FBI and DOJ officials signed off on the FISA application amid evidence that Steele’s dossier was unverified and that he was biased against Trump. The FISA application omitted that the Clinton campaign funded the dossier, as well as exculpatory details of Page’s assistance to the FBI.
In his letter, Horowitz said his team had reviewed more than 1 million records and conducted over 100 interviews, noting that several of the witnesses only recently agreed to be interviewed.
It was reported in June that Steele had reached a deal with the IG to answer questions about his work for the FBI.
Horowitz isn’t the only one probing the alleged misconduct into surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. Earlier this year, Attorney General William Barr assigned U.S. Attorney John Durham in Connecticut to investigate whether spying on the Trump campaign was adequately predicated.
Durham is scrutinizing the conduct of several current and former senior FBI officials, including former Director James Comey, former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and former Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok. Those officials were involved in obtaining the Page warrant and deployed at least two spies to target Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Janita Kan and Ivan Pentchoukov contributed to this report.