Justice Department Watchdog Started 10 New Investigations of FBI Since Last Year

Several probes appear to be linked to bureau's actions before 2016 presidential election
June 4, 2019 Updated: June 10, 2019

The government watchdog tasked with oversight of the FBI has initiated 10 new investigations of the bureau since last year, according to a review of archived versions of the page tracking the agency’s ongoing work.

The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is best known for its ongoing investigation of the FBI’s use of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump-campaign associate Carter Page. The inspector general has nearly completed that investigation and is expected to release a report in the coming weeks.

But the FISA inquiry is one of at least six inspector general inquiries which appear to be directly related to FBI and DOJ activities targeting the Trump campaign before the 2016 presidential election. All six of the investigations were made public on the OIG’s Ongoing Work page between January 2018 and April this year.

The inspector general’s office declined to provide the exact dates when each investigation was initiated and declined to provide further information about the inquiries.

In three separate investigations, the inspector general is reviewing the FBI’s use of undercover operations, confidential human sources, and covert contracts. Evidence made public since the 2016 election suggests that all three of these bureau components were involved in the counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign.

The inspector general is also scrutinizing how the FBI handles misconduct investigations of its employees. This probe may include the many FBI officials who have either been fired from or left the bureau since 2017. The fired FBI officials include Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.

The watchdog inquiry into the FBI confidential human sources program may in part focus on former British spy Christopher Steele. The bureau hired Steele in 2016 and paid him to provide raw intelligence from his notorious anti-Trump dossier. The bureau fired Steele after learning that he provided the same intelligence to news media in violation of the rules for confidential human sources.

Before firing Steele, the bureau used information from his dossier as evidence to obtain a warrant to surveil Page. Top FBI and DOJ officials signed off on the warrant despite evidence that Steele was biased against Trump and without verifying the claims in his dossier. The application for the FISA warrant omitted the fact that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the dossier.

In one of the most recent disclosures about Steele, notes by State Department official Kathleen Kavalec show that the FBI was likely aware that Steele was not a reliable source well before securing a warrant using Steele’s dossier as evidence. Notably, the OIG is assessing “the FBI’s process of determining reliability and appropriateness of confidential human sources.”

The FBI also used at least one undercover agent, Stefan Halper, to target Trump-campaign associates, including Page and George Papadopoulos. Another undercover agent, Azra Turk, worked alongside Halper to target Papadopoulos, but it is not known if she was sent by the FBI or another agency.

The watchdog’s scrutiny of the FBI’s covert contracts is likely to cover more than one component since these agreements are used by different branches of the bureau. Steele’s contract with the FBI was likely covert. Halper was an FBI informant and worked for a think tank paid by the Department of Defense.

The inspector general is also looking into the DOJ’s “use of immigration sponsorship programs.” This probe may review how Steele lobbied DOJ official Bruce Ohr for a visa for Russia billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

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