Sorry, Donald Trump. Sorry, Rudy Giuliani. Sorry, Devin Nunes. Sorry, Jim Jordan, Sorry, Sean Hannity. Sorry, Fox News watchers. There was no Deep State conspiracy to cook up a Russia investigation to sabotage Trump’s campaign and, then, his presidency. There was no witch hunt. There was no hoax. The Obama administration did not, as Trump claimed, have his “wires tapped” in Trump Tower and did not “tapp” [sic] Trump’s phones during “the very sacred election process.”
There was no Spygate.
It turns out that this Spygate—the name Trump-Russia truthers gave to their allegations that Trump was the victim of a clandestine and elaborate plot waged by US government officials in the FBI, CIA, and elsewhere—was the hoax. The scandal was—and remains—Russia’s attack on the United States that was mounted in part to help Trump win the White House and Trump’s complicity in that assault by (at different times) inviting, denying, welcoming, requesting encouraging, and accepting Moscow’s operation.
That’s the bottom-line message of the long-awaited report from Michael Horowitz, the inspector general of the Justice Department. For nearly two years, he has been investigating the FBI’s opening and implementation of its Russia investigation. And during that time, Trump and his defenders on Capitol Hill and within right-wing media have insisted that this report would disclose the FBI’s dark secret: that this investigation was a political hit job aimed at Trump. (QAnon supporters, the fringe of the right-wing conspiratorial fringe, had been maintaining that the release of this report would lead to mass arrests of Trump’s enemies… Uh, no.) The intent of Trump and his gang has been to discredit the FBI’s Russia probe to deflect from the basic and troubling truth that Vladimir Putin helped Trump gain the presidency and that Trump aided and abetted Russia’s subversion of American democracy.
Looking to shift the focus from this disturbing origin story of the Trump administration—which does indeed taint the 45th president—Trump and his amen chorus have strived to create an alternative and utterly false narrative in which the real scandal is that the FBI, the intelligence community, the media, Democrats, and Obama officials schemed against Trump. That the Russian investigation was an illegitimate endeavor based on the unproven or false allegations of the so-called Steele dossier that was produced for and financed by Democrats. This disinformation campaign aimed to remove the Russia stain on Trump’s victory and to absolve Russia. (One bizarre sub-conspiracy theory promoted by some of these Trump defenders even claimed that Russia did not hack the Democrats and that Ukraine was somehow involved with or behind this hack.)
But the new 476-page IG report released on Monday blows up all the conspiracies that Trump and his handmaids have been slinging. It states unequivocally that the FBI investigation of the Russian attack and interactions between Trump associates and Russia was justified and appropriate. Period. The report, based on a review of over 1 million documents and interviews with more than 100 witnesses, states that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” to initiate the probe. The IG noted that the FBI also was fully justified in initiating investigations of four Trump campaign associates: George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort. “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the decisions to open the four individual investigations,” the report says.
There was no funny business, no FBI or Deep State vendetta against Trump. (This was obvious, given that the FBI kept the existence of this investigation a secret during the 2016 campaign.) The official account has been that the FBI kicked off the Russia investigation after it was informed in late July 2016 that Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, had been told by a suspected Russian agent months earlier—before it was public knowledge that Russian cyber-operatives had attacked the Democrats—that Moscow possessed Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, of course, caused the FBI to wonder about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, which was trying to undermine an American election, and the bureau did what it should do: cautiously investigate. Trump’s cult, though, has refused to accept this, with some insisting the Steele dossier triggered the investigation and with Papadopoulos (who is now running for Congress) and others contending that he was somehow set up by shadowy US intelligence operators. No, the IG says, that’s all bunk. The Steele memos, the IG notes, “played no role” in the launching of the investigation, and the FBI officials who opened the investigation “did not become aware of Steele’s election reporting until weeks later.” The report also stated there was no evidence that the FBI had entrapped Papadopoulos.
This is the big picture: Trump and the other conspiracy nutters—which includes Attorney General Bill Barr, who has been looking for evidence to back up the Papadopoulos-was-set-up claim—are flat-out wrong. They have obsessively promoted unfounded allegations about the origin of the Russia investigation and the role of the Steele memos in the inquiry, and they have excessively fixated on technical points regarding a surveillance warrant used by the FBI during the probe to mount a false flag operation. And this underhanded maneuver worked, to a degree, with these garbage talking points shaping the national conversation and media coverage of the Russia scandal. The IG report shows that Trump and his crew perverted and polluted the nation’s consideration of what happened in 2016—and that they have served, wittingly or not, as useful idiots for Russia.
The report does slap the FBI for “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in applications it filed to obtain warrants to secretly monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who had traveled to Moscow and interacted with Russian officials during the campaign. The report says that FBI agents “failed to meet the basic obligation” to ensure the applications were “scrupulously accurate.” Nevertheless, the document notes that it is uncertain whether a more accurate application would “have resulted in a different outcome.” The Spygate crowd has been screaming for years about this one warrant—which came months after the investigation was opened and only involved one slice of the inquiry. But this warrant had nothing to do with the start of the investigation and stands alone in this case as an instance of bureaucratic wrongdoing.
A personal note: some right-wing conspiracy swillers, including Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), have tried to write me into their fake Russia scandal narratives because I first disclosed the existence of the Steele memos in an article I published eight days before the election in 2016. They have claimed, at different times, that I received the documents from the FBI or that I was the source of the memos for the FBI. In the first case, the purported plot was that the bureau used me to out the Steele memos and do in Trump. In the second scenario, I was part of a scheme to get the FBI the Democratic-funded Steele documents so it would launch a fraudulent investigation of Trump (though the FBI had started the Trump-Russia investigation months before I obtained the documents). None of this is accurate. I did not receive the Steele memos from anyone in the FBI, and after I published that article, I sent a set of the memos to a social acquaintance who worked in the Bureau, James Baker, the FBI’s general counsel, and asked if the bureau could confirm or disprove any of the contents. (I never heard back.) I’m delighted to report that the IG documents the truth: the FBI had received the Steele memos from Steele before I sent my set to Baker (though it turns out my set included a few memos that Steele had not yet shared with the FBI) and that my interaction with Baker was nothing but the (failed) effort of a journalist to try to obtain information for a story.
The IG report should kill and bury all the conspiracy hogwash that Trump and his acolytes have used to poison the political environment and prevent a real and thorough discussion of what occurred in 2016: the Russian attack and Trump’s collaboration with it. But it won’t. As soon as the report was released, Barr started a disinformation campaign with a disingenuous statement: “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.” That’s the opposite of the report’s findings. And Jordan similarly chimed in: “The Inspector Generals report confirms what many of us feared: James Comey’s FBI ignored guidelines and rules in spying on President Trump’s campaign in 2016. We now know that within one week of the investigation opening, the FBI was surveilling the campaign and four specific individuals associated with it.” Yet the report states these investigations were appropriately triggered.
So the BS won’t stop. Trump, Barr, Jordan and the rest are too invested in it. Now they and their minions will turn to John Durham, the federal prosecutor whom Barr assigned to conduct a separate review of the FBI’s Russia investigation, to carry on their crusade. And Durham, in this hour of need, provided them great comfort. In an unusual move, Durham issued a statement noting that he did not “agree with some of the [IG] report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.” This means Trump and his crew will be able to continue their scorched-earth campaign against the truth they cannot handle: Russia attacked the United States and Trump helped. That full equation can never, ever, ever be acknowledged by Trump and his henchmen. They are fighting this battle as if the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency depends upon it. And in that they are correct.