(Bloomberg) -- The Justice Department inspector general confirmed for the first time that he’s looking into whether FBI and department officials acted properly in obtaining a warrant during the 2016 presidential race to spy on a campaign aide to Donald Trump.
While Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office didn’t name the “certain U.S. person” who was targeted, he said he was responding to requests from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Congress. Sessions and Republican lawmakers have demanded an investigation into the surveillance of Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the campaign.
Republicans have claimed anti-Trump bias and misconduct by the FBI and Justice Department early in their investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it.
In a report that generated a fierce partisan fight, the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee said a judge wasn’t fully informed that the request in October 2016 for surveillance of Page relied heavily on a dossier gathered by a former British spy whose work was largely paid for by Democrats and the campaign of Trump rival Hillary Clinton.
In a reference to Christopher Steele, the ex-spy, the inspector general’s statement said he’d also be looking into the Justice Department and FBI’s “relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to” the surveillance application.
Democrats on the committee countered that the investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia was already underway at the time and noted that subsequent warrants were obtained on Page, which would have required evidence that there was reason to continue investigating him. They say the allegations were an attempt to undercut the Russia investigation of Trump now being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
“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’," said Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, in a statement.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes of California had no immediate comment, his spokesman said. House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina -- who as a member of the Intelligence panel helped produce the Republican memo -- said he has “total confidence” in Horowitz, although he said he still wants a second special counsel to look into other issues that GOP lawmakers have raised.
Sessions began saying in February that the Justice Department needed to look into claims that standards under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act were abused early in the Russia probe.
“The inspector general will take that as one of the matters they’ll deal with,” Sessions said, saying that’s “just the appropriate thing.”
Members of Congress from both parties vouched for the inspector general’s independence when Trump tweeted his view that the watchdog was partisan.
“Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse?” the president wrote. “Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!”
Horowitz is already investigating potential anti-Trump bias by some FBI agents and whether the 2016 investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state was mishandled.
Sessions fired the FBI’s former deputy director, Andrew McCabe -- a frequent target of Trump criticism -- this month just two days before he was scheduled to retire. The firing was based on a recommendation by the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility that McCabe be dismissed for not being forthcoming about authorizing discussions with a reporter about a pending investigation.
For their part, Democrats asserted Republicans were concocting such a scenario of FBI misconduct to undercut the roots of Mueller’s continuing Russia probe.
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