Attorney General William Barr
Credit: The United States Department of Justice/WikiMedia Commons

According to the report just released by the Justice Department’s Inspector General, the FBI initiated investigations of four people in August 2016, including George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page. We might note that three of those men were convicted of felonies by the Mueller team. On Page, the Mueller report states that “the investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” And yet Page wasn’t exactly exonerated.

Investigators separately scrutinized a trip Page took to Moscow in July of 2016, where he delivered two speeches criticizing US policy toward Russia. Page met with several friends and associates, according to the report, and informed Trump campaign officials of “strong support” for the then candidate Trump within the Russian government.

What follows are redactions and an admission by the special counsel that aspects of Page’s travel to Russia are still unknown:

“The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated with in Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia – as described in his emails with the Campaign – were not fully explained.”

Carter Page resigned his advisory role with the Trump campaign in September 2016, and as the IG report states, the FBI submitted its first FISA warrant to surveil him in October. Horowitz also documented that no other FISA warrants were submitted for the other three men under investigation.

I point to all of that because the portion of the IG report that will garner the most attention from Trump’s enablers is that Horowitz identified 17 significant inaccuracies and omissions in the FISA applications to surveil Carter Page, primarily related to its reliance on the Steele dossier. To the extent those are, in fact, “significant,” they had no impact on the prosecution of Trump associates as a result of the investigation, or the extensive contacts Mueller documented between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

The two most profound findings in the IG report are that (1) the FBI had sufficient evidence to open the investigation, and (2) they uncovered “no documentary or testimonial evidence” that political bias affected how officials conducted the investigation. Horowitz also affirmed what Mueller reported: that the FBI launched its investigation based on a report from Australian intelligence services that George Papadopoulos was bragging to one of their agents that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.

None of that stopped Attorney General Barr from saying that “the Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” The U.S. attorney that Barr tasked with investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, John Durham, said that “we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”

It has become increasingly clear that Barr and Durham are looking into the the role of former CIA Director John Brennan in the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation. One avenue they are exploring is the “Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities and Intentions” that was released in January 2017.

Many of the conspiracy theorists claiming that Brennan was the “plotter-in-chief” out to destroy Trump have been asserting that the former CIA director promoted the Steele dossier, insisting that it be included in the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA).

Another question is whether the Steele dossier influenced the ICA’s production. Brennan has insisted in congressional testimony that the dossier was “not in any way used as the basis for the intelligence community’s assessment,” and that he was unaware of the fact that Hillary Clinton’s campaign had funded it. But multiple accounts, including in RealClearInvestigations, report that the dossier was inserted as an appendix to the ICA, and that Brennan personally advocated its inclusion.

I would note that that article was written by Aaron Maté, who rejects the idea that Russia hacked the DNC. The links he included go to an article by Paul Sperry, the conspiracist who was the first to out the person he believes to be the whistleblower, and Fox News. Senator Rand Paul was totally on board with all of that.

Here’s what Horowitz had to say about that.

Starting in December 2016, FBI staff participated in an interagency effort to assess the Russian government’s intentions and actions concerning the 2016 U.S. elections. We learned that whether and how to present Steele’s reporting in the Intelligence Community Assessment (ICA) was a topic of significant discussion between the FBI and the other agencies participating in it. According to FBI staff, as the interagency editing process for the ICA progressed, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) expressed concern about the lack of vetting for the Steele election reporting and asserted it did not merit inclusion in the body of the report. An FBI Intel Section Chief told us the CIA viewed it as “internet rumor.”

So if, as the Washington Post reported, Durham hasn’t been able to come up with evidence for the conspiracy theory that Papadopoulos was set up by Brennan, and now we learn that the sources the CIA director relied on to ring the alarm bells about Trump and Russia had nothing to do with the Steele dossier, it is difficult to imagine how Barr will concoct evidence to undermine the origins of the investigation. That’s because it is the attorney general that has launched a witch hunt with zero evidence.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.