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Justice Department's Internal Watchdog To Review Alleged Surveillance Abuses

An internal Justice Department watchdog is opening a review of the Department of Justice and the FBI (headquarters pictured here), over alleged abuse of surveillance authority.
Mark Wilson
Getty Images
An internal Justice Department watchdog is opening a review of the Department of Justice and the FBI (headquarters pictured here), over alleged abuse of surveillance authority.

The Justice Department's internal watchdog says it will launch a review in response to allegations by Republican lawmakers that the department and the FBI abused their surveillance authorities to target a former Trump campaign adviser in the early days of the DOJ's Russia investigation.

The department's inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, said in a statement Wednesday that the review will examine whether the Justice Department and the FBI followed the proper procedures and legal requirements when applying for surveillance orders "relating to a certain U.S. person" before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

That individual is not named, but it appears to be a reference to Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. The FBI sought and received a surveillance order on Page in October 2016, after he had left Trump's team.

Republicans on the House intelligence committee released a memo last month that alleged the FBI and Justice Department abused their surveillance authority to target Page in the early stages of the DOJ Russia probe. Republicans also alleged that the FBI improperly relied on an unverified dossier compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, in its application.

That document, known as the Trump-Russia dossier, was commissioned by a strategic intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, that was hired by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democrats.

The inspector general's review will also look into what the FBI and Justice Department knew "from an alleged confidential source" as well as their "relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate" to the surveillance applications.

After Republicans released their memo in February, they urged the Justice Department to examine the allegations of misconduct. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he referred the matter to the inspector general's office.

Democrats dismissed the Republican allegations as nothing more than an attempt to protect President Trump and undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In response to the Republican memo, Democrats on the House intelligence committee released their own countermemo that concluded there was no misconduct on the part of the Justice Department or FBI in their surveillance of Page. They also said the FBI did not solely rely on the Trump-Russia dossier in its surveillance applications, but rather on multiple sources and an abundance of material to support their case.

On Wednesday, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, slammed the decision to open a review.

"It is a shame that the Inspector General has to devote resources to investigate a conspiracy theory as fact-free, openly political, and thoroughly debunked as the President's so-called 'FISA abuse,' " Nadler said in a statement.

"Any objective review of these claims should tell us what we already know — that the FBI was right, that there was sufficient evidence to continue investigating certain Trump campaign officials for their connections to the Russian government, and that the Republicans are desperate to distract from that investigation," he added.

Republicans, meanwhile, welcomed the inspector general's review.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — who both asked the inspector general to review alleged surveillance misconduct and the FBI's relationship with Steele — applauded the decision to look into the matter. But Graham said he still thinks a second special counsel should be appointed "to ensure the investigation is thorough and complete."

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Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.