Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his office is looking into any influence the political bias of FBI official Peter Strzok may have had on the launching of the investigation of Russian meddling into the 2016 election.
The investigation led to a large spying operation against the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump. It has turned up evidence that Russia tried to influence the election, but no evidence that this effort was coordinated with the Trump campaign.
Some Republican lawmakers have suspected the investigation was launched for political reasons.
Strzok, former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, was one of the leading investigators and was chastised in the June 14 Office of the Inspector General (IG) report for texts with his mistress, Lisa Page, the special counsel to former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
Strzok’s messages were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, [implied] a willingness to take official action to impact a presidential candidate’s electoral prospects,” stated the report, which specifically examined the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information.
The IG is working on another report on the Russia probe.
Horowitz testified on June 19 at a hearing of the House oversight and judiciary committees, where the judiciary committee chair, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), asked whether Strzok’s bias influenced the launching of the Russia investigation.
“That’s a matter we’ve got under review and are looking at right now,” Horowitz said.
Based on leaks to The New York Times, the FBI started probing the Trump campaign’s alleged links with Russia on July 31, 2016, after Australians had passed intelligence to the FBI earlier that month about a drunken conversation between volunteer Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and the top Australian diplomat in Britain, Alexander Downer.
Downer said Papadopoulos told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.
But that rationale fell apart with the revelation that an FBI informant, Stefan Halper, was already snooping on the Trump campaign before that date.
Moreover, the man who was supposed to tell Papadopoulos about the “dirt” on Clinton had extensive ties to Western intelligence.
Also, texts between Strzok and Page suggest that the FBI initiated an offensive counterintelligence operation against the Trump campaign as early as December 2015.
A group of congressmen has already demanded a criminal investigation of McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and former Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente over their roles in surveillance of Trump campaign volunteer adviser Carter Page.
The officials intentionally withheld from the FISA Court that the warrant application to spy on Page heavily relied on the now infamous Steele dossier, according to a memo by the Republican majority of the House intelligence committee.
The dossier was put together by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 British intelligence agent, using second- and third-hand sources close to the Kremlin. The dossier was characterized as “salacious and unverified” by Comey.
Steele was paid for his work by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.