Washington • Sen. Mike Lee said Wednesday it was “absolutely crazy” anyone could argue a new independent report exonerated the FBI in its launching of an investigation into President Donald Trump and Russia election interference.
"There is no planet on which I think this report indicates that things were OK within the FBI,” Lee, R-Utah, said. "They most certainly were not.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on the inspector general’s review of the FBI’s probe into Trump’s potential connections with Russian interference in the 2016 election. The review was long-awaited by Republicans who claim the investigation was politically motivated but the inspector general found no such evidence.
Still, Lee said the report found damning actions by the FBI.
“This report is a scathing indictment of the FBI, of the agents that were involved,” Lee said, adding later, “Every American really should be terrified by this report.”
The inspector general’s report found no political bias in the FBI at the beginning or during the investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign but also found “serious performance failures” in the actions of some lower-level agency officials.
The report concluded the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to launch the investigation into Trump’s campaign, countering arguments by Trump and Republicans that a “deep state” operation was trying to take Trump down, though the review also found that some agents played up evidence damaging to Trump while downplaying information that didn’t fit that narrative.
Trump called the FBI’s effort an attempted “overthrow of government” — though he was still a candidate at the time of the initial investigation — while Democrats said the report rebuts Trump-spawned conspiracies that the FBI was out to get him.
“This was not a politically motivated investigation,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "There is no ‘deep state.’ Simply put, the FBI investigation was motivated by facts, not bias.”
Lee, on Wednesday, said his reading found a different conclusion.
“So we’re faced with two possibilities,” Lee said, “either one of these FBI agents purposely used the power of the federal government to wage a political war against a presidential candidate they despised or these agents were so incompetent that they allowed a paid foreign political operative to weaponize the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or FISA] program into a spying operation on a rival presidential political campaign.
“I'm not sure about you, but I'm not sure which one is worse,” Lee continued. “I am sure that neither conclusion is acceptable. They're both horrifying for slightly different reasons.”
Lee also went after the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who had rejected arguments by Trump and others that the FBI was acting with anti-Trump bias.
“The fact is these were agents who made their bias clear and they went after someone in part because they did not like his candidacy,” Lee charged. “And that's inexcusable.”
The Utah senator, a former federal prosecutor, said that even though Horowitz didn’t find bias, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
“Mr. Horowitz, is not the lack of evidence that you’re talking about itself evidence of bias? Isn’t the lack of evidence on bias evidence that we really should take as bias?”
Horowitz, who spoke briefly during Lee's nearly 10-minute speech at the hearing, said the exhaustive investigation couldn't find explicit bias.
Horowitz said the report leaves "open the possibility that for the reasons you indicated” there could have been bias by the FBI agents but “it’s unclear what the motivations were.”
It could be, the inspector general said, “on the one hand, gross incompetence, negligence. On the other hand, intentionality. And we’re in between. We weren’t in a position with the evidence we had to make that conclusion.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Rep. Chris Stewart, a Utah Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee, introduced legislation to fix what he says were problems uncovered in Horowitz’s probe with regard to orders granted by the FISA court, a secretive judicial hearing used to gain warrants out of public view.
Stewart's bill would require an impartial attorney to represent the rights of any U.S. citizen who might be targeted under the act, mandate the Department of Justice disclose any unverified information contained in its request and ensures a transcript of any FISA proceeding.
The bill would also require, when possible, that the same judge hear a case to prohibit judge shopping.
“The deceptive actions of a few high-ranking officials within the FBI and Department of Justice have eroded public trust in our federal institutions,” Stewart said in introducing his legislation. “They flattened internal guardrails, deceived the FISA court, and irreparably damaged the reputation of an innocent American. … My legislation will restore support in these tools by establishing new requirements on future FISA applications.”