It’s like deja vu all over again, Yogi Berra might say of the New York Times preview of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s review of the Trump-Russia investigation’s origins. Without the benefit of seeing the draft, much less the final product, the Gray Lady cites “people familiar” as saying Horowitz “found no evidence that the F.B.I. attempted to place undercover agents or informants inside Donald J. Trump’s campaign in 2016.”
No collusion, meet no spying. But as was the case with Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the devil is in the details. The FBI did, as we all know, use information to solicit information from Trump campaign team members, including Carter Page, who was ultimately never charged with a crime. Another, George Papadopoulos, was sentenced to 14 days behind bars for making false statements to investigators. He has already been released.
The Times story is reminiscent of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, which emphasized the special counsel’s inability to find a Trump-Russia criminal conspiracy or charge any Trump associated with an election-related crime connected to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. While that bottom line conclusion proved true, the full report also contained plenty of unflattering information. This feels like as much of a chance to get ahead of the planned Dec. 9 Horowitz report as the Barr summary looks now. Some named in the Horowitz investigation had an opportunity to review the findings.
Just as Barr noted Mueller’s more equivocal finding on obstruction of justice, the Times acknowledges a “mixed bag of conclusions” that is “likely to give new ammunition to both Mr. Trump’s defenders and critics in the long-running partisan fight over the Russia investigation.” Specifically: “Mr. Horowitz concluded that the F.B.I. was careless and unprofessional in pursuing the Page wiretap, and he referred his findings in one instance to prosecutors for potential criminal charges over the alteration of a document in 2017 by a front-line lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, 37, in connection with the wiretap application.”
“The F.B.I. did cite the dossier to some extent to apply for the wiretap on Mr. Page,” the Times reports elsewhere. “The inspector general will fault the F.B.I. for failing to tell the judges who approved the wiretap applications about potential problems with the dossier, the people familiar with the draft report said. F.B.I. agents have interviewed some of Mr. Steele’s sources and found that their information differed somewhat from his dossier.”
Like the Mueller report, this falls well short of the maximalist conspiracy claims in circulation. Partisans were unrealistic to expect such unambiguous findings from Mueller or Horowitz, which is why Democrats are writing their own uncomplicated narrative in the Trump-Ukraine impeachment proceedings. But if there was reason to be concerned about Trump-Russia contacts during the campaign, the investigators and corners they may have cut in probing the matter are not altogether unproblematic either—and the full report could shed more light on how.