IG Explains Why FBI Didn't Warn Trump Campaign About Suspected Russian Interference

By Susan Jones | December 10, 2019 | 11:28am EST
President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator at Trump tower on January 16, 2017. (Photo by DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump boards the elevator at Trump tower on January 16, 2017. (Photo by DOMINICK REUTER/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to discuss his report on FBI and Justice Department failures relating to the Trump-Russia investigation.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he wants to know why Donald Trump wasn't told about the FBI's concerns that individuals associated with his campaign were coordinating, wittingly or unwittingly, with the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

"If they are investigating my campaign, and they think that somebody on my campaign is influenced by a foreign government, and they don't tell me, and they keep spying on my campaign, I would be really pissed," Graham told Fox News last week. "Every politician in America should be worried about this. If, in fact, they opened up a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump Campaign and they never told him about it, then that truly is spying."

The inspector general's report addresses the question of "defensive briefings," as they are called.

Former Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director E.W. "Bill" Priestap, the FBI official who approved the launch of Crossfire Hurricane, told the IG that "he considered whether the FBI should conduct defensive briefings for the Trump campaign but ultimately decided that providing such briefings created the risk that 'if someone on the campaign was engaged with the Russians, he/she would very likely change his/her tactics and/or otherwise seek to cover-up his/her activities, thereby preventing us from finding the truth.'

"On the other hand," Priestap said, "if no one on the Trump campaign was working with the Russians, an investigation could prove that. Because the possibility existed that someone on the Trump campaign could have taken the Russians up on their offer, I thought it wise to open an investigation to look into the situation."

Priestap told the IG that he did not recall who first raised the issue of defensive briefings, but said he discussed the subject collaboratively with other FBI officials before ultimately deciding not to offer one to the Trump campaign.

The IG determined that the decision on whether to provide a defensive briefing "was a judgment call that (Justice) Department and FBI policy leaves to the discretion of FBI officials."

Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe told the IG that "he did not consider a defensive briefing as an alternative to opening a counterintelligence case. He said that based on the FFG (Friendly Foreign Government) information, the FBI did not know if any member of the campaign was coordinating with Russia and that the FBI did not brief people who 'could potentially be the subjects that you are investigating or looking for.'

"McCabe told us that in a sensitive counterintelligence matter, it was essential to have a better understanding of what was occurring before taking an overt step such as providing a defensive briefing."

The IG report notes that President Barack Obama did suggest that the FBI give Trump a defensive briefing:

"According to McCabe's notes of what he had been told by (FBI Director James) Comey, President Obama stated that the FBI should think about doing 'defensive briefs.' The notes do not provide any further details about what Obama said regarding defensive briefings, and McCabe told us he did not recall that any further details were provided to him. However, McCabe said he surmised from his notes that the briefings under discussion were to be given to the Trump campaign."

The IG notes that the FBI did participate in intelligence briefings provided to members of both the Trump and Clinton campaigns in August and September 2016, but "those were not defensive briefings and did not address the allegations (of Russian interference)."

In an interview with NBC on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr said "there certainly were people" in the Trump campaign who could have been trusted with the FBI's concerns,  including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

"There were people to talk to," Barr said:

And what I find particularly inexplicable is that they talked to the Russians, but not to the presidential campaign. On August 4th, Brennan braced the head of Russian intelligence. He calls the head of Russian intelligence and says, we know what you're up to, you better stop it. He did it again later in August. And then President Obama talked to President Putin in -- in September and said, we know what you`re up to, you better cut it out.

So they -- they go and confront the Russians who clearly are the bad guys and they won't go and talk and to the campaigns and say, you know, what is this about?"



 

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