Former FBI Director James Comey admitted fault following last week’s Justice Department Inspector General’s report that detailed at least 17 serious errors during the launch of the agency’s investigation into Trump’s campaign.
Comey had previously defended the FBI’s use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts during the investigation, but Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI’s investigative team made errors and omissions when applying for a warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. Horowitz, in a Senate hearing, criticized the “entire chain of command” at the FBI and Justice Department for their failures in handling the warrant. Comey was in charge of the FBI when the investigation was launched.
“He’s right, I was wrong,” Comey told “Fox News Sunday” about how the FBI used the FISA system, adding that “I was overconfident as director in our procedures.”
Horowitz said the FBI’s investigation into Russian election interference and alleged connections to the Trump campaign was properly initiated, but he said there is a “low threshold” for that to happen. In the report, the inspector general said there was no documentary or testimonial evidence implying that the investigation was started due to political bias. However, when he was prodded about the bias claim during the Senate hearing, Horowitz didn’t rule it out.
During a line of questioning, Horowitz replied to Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), “I think it’s fair for people to sit there and look at all of these 17 events and wonder how it could be purely incompetence.”
He also said that he “agrees completely” with the assertion that someone at the FBI needs to be fired. The “culture” also needs to be “changed” at the FBI, he told senators.
In the Fox interview, Comey downplayed the role that former British spy Christopher Steele’s unverified information played in the FISA process. There were “significant questions” raised about the “reliability of the Steele dossier that was used in the Carter Page FISA applications,” Horowitz concluded, adding that “the FISA applications relied entirely on information from the Steele reporting to support the allegation that Page was coordinating with the Russian government on 2016 U.S. presidential election activities.”
The Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for Steele’s work, a fact the FBI did not disclose in the warrant application. A number of FBI officials directly involved in preparing and signing the FISA warrants have all either left or been fired from the bureau, including Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.
Comey told the news outlet that Steele’s work was “not a huge part of the presentation to the court,” but he noted that “it was the one that convinced the lawyers” to move forward on the warrant.
The former FBI chief claimed the Bureau didn’t intentionally commit wrongdoing, but he said there was “real sloppiness” at the FBI. “I was responsible for this,” he said.
In 2018, Comey told MSNBC that the FISA process is “incredibly rigorous” and criticized Republicans of the Page FISA warrant for trying to interject politics into the process. And after the IG report was released on Dec. 6, Comey said the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s campaign “was just good people trying to protect America.” That was before Horowitz went in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and faulted the FBI’s leadership.
In a statement to the Judiciary Committee, Horowitz said he’s “deeply concerned” that numerous “basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations.”
And it came “after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI; even though the information sought through use of FISA authority related so closely to an ongoing presidential campaign; and even though those involved with the investigation knew that their actions were likely to be subjected to close scrutiny,” the inspector general remarked.