Spinning The FISA Report Two Weeks Before Release

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It’s tempting to believe, when seeing a headline like this one at The Washington Post on Friday:

“Justice Dept. watchdog finds political bias did not taint top officials running the FBI’s Russia probe but documents errors”

that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on FISA abuses related to the Russia collusion probe is already out for consumption.

But of course, it’s not. It doesn’t come out until December 9, and Horowitz will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on December 11. It would seem prudent for the press to wait to start making assertions about what the report is expected to say via tips they’ve received.

The WaPo piece really downplays the “expectation”, in fact.  It notes Horowitz will simply be making observations about where the process for securing FISA warrants failed and making recommendations about how to fix that process. A new character has emerged in the person of FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who is said to have made a “serious error in judgment” by “altering” an email related to the FISA warrant process according to WaPo.

Before providing that email to the FBI agent, though, Clinesmith added text to it, the people familiar with the matter said. They said it was a serious error in judgment, though Horowitz’s report is not expected to allege that Clinesmith’s action was motivated by political animus.

Well that sounds harmless enough, eh? Clinesmith, for what it’s worth, is also on record talking about the resistance and worrying about his name being on legal documents related to the probe. And there’s this weird tidbit from Fox News about WaPo’s original reporting on the report:

But the Post, hours after publishing its story, conspicuously removed the portion of its reporting that the FBI employee involved worked “beneath” Peter Strzok, the FBI’s since-fired head of counterintelligence. The Post did not offer an explanation for the change, which occurred shortly after midnight. Earlier this week, the DOJ highlighted a slew of anti-Trump text messages sent by Strzok when he was leading the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the probe into the Trump campaign.

The person under scrutiny has not been identified but is not a high-ranking official — they worked beneath former deputy assistant director Peter Strzok, according to people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss material that has not yet been made public,” The Post wrote in its now-deleted paragraph.

Horowitz, we’re reminded by the same media outlet, is not expected to call this political bias, so everyone can just relax. But there’s a very good reason for the IG’s non-political findings:

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It was never his mandate.

Before you dismiss the FISA report (which is probably the goal of the vanilla pre-reporting), remember this: Horowitz wasn’t trying to determine political bias. He was looking at the process of obtaining FISA warrants and determining if and how it failed.  U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the predicate for the probe — the why of it — is examining the impetus for the Russia collusion investigation into Trump’s 2016 campaign.

And there’s a good chance there’s more to the FISA report than WaPo and others are letting on. Horowitz found enough, for example, that he created a second report, released earlier last week, that will likely play a much larger role in the “why” behind the Russia collusion probe, and was apparently used by Durham as part of his investigation into the origins of the probe. It has to do with how the FBI uses confidential human sources (informants) and names like Stefan Halper, Joseph Mifsud, and Christopher Steele are expected to relate to that report.

We won’t know the details on that until Durham is ready to release his findings, but we’ll start getting a whiff of what they might be the week of December 9 when the FISA report is released and Horowitz testifies.

Until then, don’t be fooled by news articles telling you what you can expect to hear. That’s little more than an attempt to get ahead of a narrative and set the terms and language of the discussion. And that effort is the best reason to think that the FISA report — and what comes after it — might be more revealing of political bias than the media wants people to believe.

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