The Comey FBI's 17 most alarming failures in the Russia probe

Fired FBI Director James Comey long defended the FBI's Russia probe but an internal watchdog found alarming missteps, including intentionally misleading the FISA court.

Last Updated:
February 5, 2020 - 6:31pm

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz identified 17 serious omissions, inaccuracies and failures involving the FBI’s conduct in the Russia collusion investigation and its pursuit of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant targeting the Trump campaign.

The significant failings are laid bare in a report made public Monday that showed the FBI withheld from the FISA court misgivings about its star informant Christopher Steele, as well as evidence of innocence against targets like former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

Here is the list of the 17 flagged failures in the FBI’s handling of FISA warrants in 2016 and 2017, as described in Horowitz’s own words.

1. Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application;

2. Included a source characterization statement asserting that Steele’s prior reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” which overstated the significance of Steele’s past reporting and was not approved by Steele’s handling agent, as required by the Woods Procedures;

3. Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) INFORMATION REDACTED

4. Asserted that the FBI had assessed that Steele did not directly provide to the press information in the September 23 Yahoo News article based on the premise that Steele had told the FBI that he only shared his election-related research with the FBI and Fusion GPS, his client; this premise was incorrect and contradicted by documentation in the Woods File- Steele had told the FBI that he also gave his information to the State Department;

5. Omitted Papadopoulos’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in September 2016 denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like Wikileaks in the release of emails;

6. Omitted Page’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in August 2016 that Page had “literally never met” or “said one word to” Paul Manafort and that Manafort had not responded to any of Page’s emails; if true, those statements were in tension with claims in Report 95 that Page was participating in a conspiracy with Russia by acting as an intermediary for Manafort on behalf of the Trump campaign; and

7. Included Page’s consensually monitored statements to an FBI CHS in October 2016 that the FBI believed supported its theory that Page was an agent of Russia but omitted other statements Page made that were inconsistent with its theory, including denying having met with Sechin and Divyekin, or even knowing who Divyekin was; if true, those statements contradicted the claims in Report 94 that Page had met secretly with Sechin and Divyekin about future cooperation with Russia and shared derogatory information about candidate Clinton.

8. Omitted the fact that Steele’s Primary Sub-source, who the FBI found credible, had made statements in January 2017 raising significant questions about the reliability of allegations included in the FISA applications, including, for example, that he/she had no discussion with Person 1 concerning WikiLeaks and there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and the Trump team, and that he/she did not report to Steele in July 2016 that Page had met with Sechin;

9. Omitted Page’s prior relationship with another U.S. government agency, despite being reminded by the other agency in June 2017, prior to the filing of the final renewal application, about Page’s past status with that other agency; instead of including this information in the final renewal application, the OGC Attorney altered an email from the other agency so that the email stated that Page was “not a source” for the other agency, which the FBI affiant relied upon in signing the final renewal application;

10. Omitted information from persons who previously had professional contacts with Steele or had direct knowledge of his work-related performance, including statements that Steele had no history of reporting in bad faith but “[d]emonstrates lack of self-awareness, poor judgment,” “pursued people with political risk but no intelligence value,” “didn’t always exercise great judgment,” and it was “not clear what he would have done to validate” his reporting;

11. Omitted information obtained from Ohr about Steele and his election reporting, including that (1) Steele’s reporting was going to Clinton’s presidential campaign and others, (2) Simpson was paying Steele to discuss his reporting with the media, and (3) Steele was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being the U.S. President”;

12. Failed to update the description of Steele after information became known to the Crossfire Hurricane team, from Ohr and others, that provided greater clarity on the political origins and connections of Steele’s reporting, including that Simpson was hired by someone associated with the Democratic Party and/or the DNC;

13. Failed to correct the assertion in the first FISA application that the FBI did not believe that Steele directly provided information to the reporter who wrote the September 23 Yahoo News article, even though there was no information in the Woods File to support this claim and even after certain Crossfire Hurricane officials learned in 2017, before the third renewal application, of an admission that Steele made in a court filing about his interactions with the news media in the late summer and early fall of 2016;

14. Omitted the finding from a FBI source validation report that Steele was suitable for continued operation but that his past contributions to the FBI’s criminal program had been ” minimally corroborated,” and instead continued to assert in the source characterization statement that Steele’s prior reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings”;

15. Omitted Papadopoulos’s statements to an FBI CHS in late October 2016 denying that the Trump campaign was involved in the circumstances of the DNC email hack;

16. Omitted Joseph Mifsud’s denials to the FBI that he supplied Papadopoulos with the information Papadopoulos shared with the FFG (suggesting that the campaign received an offer or suggestion of assistance from Russia); and

17. Omitted information indicating that Page played no role in the Republican platform change on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine as alleged in the Report 95, which was inconsistent with a factual assertion relied upon to support probable cause in all four FISA applications.