Senators to grill Justice Department watchdog as fight continues over Russia probe

Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz will testify Wednesday before a Senate committee about his blockbuster report on the early stages of the Russia investigation.

The highly anticipated report concluded that the FBI was justified to open the Russia investigation in July 2016, and that top FBI officials weren’t motivated by political bias against President Donald Trump.

It also debunked some conspiracy theories that Trump has promoted for years, including his claim that US intelligence implanted spies in his campaign.

But Trump and Attorney General William Barr have gone on the offensive, saying the inspector general’s report reached the wrong conclusion.

“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years, I think, based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by an irresponsible press, and I think that there were gross abuses of FISA and inexplicable behavior that isn’t tolerable in the FBI,” Barr told NBC News.

The inspector general uncovered significant problems and mistakes with the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The court-approved wiretapping was done under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is typically used for terrorists and spies.

The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing will be chaired by Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, who is now considered one of Trump’s most ardent defenders in Congress.

“I believe there will be no debate among reasonably minded people, particularly lawyers, about how the system got off the rails, but in my view became a criminal enterprise to defraud the FISA court, to deny American citizen Carter Page his constitutional rights, and to continue an operation against President Trump,” Graham said on Monday after the report was released.

Some of Graham’s comments go farther than the inspector general’s findings, and these differences will likely be on full display at the hearing. Republicans might press Horowitz on the problems with the FISAs that were obtained to snoop on Page. Democrats are likely to focus on the parts of the watchdog report that undercut Trump’s claims about the Russia probe.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, said Monday in a statement that “the bottom line is that President Trump’s claims of conspiracy against his campaign are not valid.” She also touted the watchdog’s findings that there were legitimate reasons to launch the Russia probe, and that the senior FBI decisionmakers didn’t act out of political bias against Trump.

The hearing will also give a platform to two Democratic presidential contenders who sit on the committee. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will both get a chance to question Horowitz. So will Sen. Kamala Harris, the former Attorney General of California who ended her turbulent campaign for the Democratic nomination last week.

This content was republished with permission from CNN.

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