There will be much to learn in Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s upcoming report on the Trump-Russia investigation, but most of it likely will boil down to just two questions: One, how much did the Obama Justice Department spy on the Trump campaign? And two, was it justified?
Many Democrats immediately would protest the word “spying.” But the public already knows the FBI secured a warrant to wiretap low-level Trump adviser Carter Page a few months after Page left the campaign. The public also knows the FBI used informant Stefan Halper to gather information on other Trump campaign figures. And the public knows the FBI sent an undercover agent who went by the alias “Azra Turk” to London to tease information out of another low-level Trump adviser, George Papadopoulos.
Was that all? Was there more? Horowitz should give definitive answers.
And what did the spying involve? In such intelligence work, wiretaps are recorded; transcripts are made. The same can be true for person-to-person conversations between FBI informants and Trump campaign figures. In May, Trey Gowdy, the former Republican congressman who read deeply into Trump-Russia materials when he was in the House, strongly implied that the FBI had transcripts of informant communications.
“If the bureau is going to send an informant in, the informant is going to be wired,” Gowdy told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo. “And if the bureau is monitoring telephone calls, there’s going to be a transcript of that.
“Where are the transcripts, if any exist,” Gowdy continued, “between the informants and the telephone calls to George Papadopoulos?”
The “if any exist” was Gowdy’s way of casting his statements as a hypothetical, but there was no doubt he was speaking from the knowledge he gained as a congressional investigator.
And then the biggest questions: If there was evidence gained from the wiretapping and informing, what was it? Was it valuable? What did it tell the FBI about Russia and the Trump campaign? And did it prove that the Justice Department was right all along to spy on the campaign — that the spying was, in the words of Attorney General Bill Barr, “adequately predicated?”
Here is why Republicans are skeptical. Special counsel Robert Mueller had access to the results of the FBI’s spying, and Mueller could not establish that there was any conspiracy or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. After a two-year investigation with full law enforcement powers, Mueller never alleged that any American took part in any such conspiracy or coordination.
So Republicans know the end result of the investigation, but they don’t know how it began and they don’t think it’s the whole story.
That’s where Horowitz comes in.
The Horowitz report will be an important step in answering the questions of how much spying took place and whether it was justified. It’s long past time Americans learned what happened.