Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questions Department of Justice watchdog Michael Horowitz on his report on alleged FISA abuse.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, let it be known Wednesday that he isn't impressed with the FBI’s and the Department of Justice’s handling of the Trump-Russia investigation — saying those involved were hardly the type of skillful agents found in an action thriller movie.
The hearing, which featured the testimony of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, came two days after a report identified significant problems with applications to receive and renew warrants to eavesdrop on a former Trump campaign aide in 2016 and 2017.
Cruz called the report a "stunning indictment of the FBI and the Department of Justice, of a pattern of abusive power." He also said the facts in the report "should be deeply chilling" to anyone who understands them and that the errors made "are grotesque abuses of power."
While Horowitz said on Wednesday that he is concerned that “so many basic and fundamental errors" were made by the FBI, his report found that the FBI's actions were not motivated by partisan bias and that the investigation was opened for a proper cause.
“I think the activities we found don’t vindicate anybody who touched" the warrant applications, Horowitz said.
Democrats have seized on the inspector general's conclusion that the investigation was not tainted by political motivations. But Republicans say the findings show the investigation was fatally flawed. Attorney General William Barr, a vocal defender of President Trump, said the FBI investigation was based on a “bogus narrative" and he declined to rule out that agents may have acted in bad faith.
Horowitz told senators that the FBI failed to follow its own standards for accuracy and completeness when it sought a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor the communications of ex-campaign aide Carter Page.
The report detailed 17 errors and omissions during those wiretap applications, including failing to tell the court when questions were raised about the reliability of some of the information that it had presented to receive the warrants.
“We are deeply concerned that so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked investigative teams, on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations, after the matter had been briefed to the highest levels within the FBI," Horowitz said.
Fox News' Adam Shaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz delivers an opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining his report on alleged FISA abuses.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz concluded in his long-awaited report on the FBI's Russia investigation that there was no evidence of political bias in the probe's launch — but he made clear during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that this does not let anyone off the hook.
To the contrary, Horowitz said during Wednesday's hearing that while he did not make a determination as to motive, he is referring officials to the FBI and Department of Justice for further review.
"[O]ur final recommendation was to refer the entire chain of command that we outline here to the FBI and the Department for consideration of how to assess and address their performance failures," Horowitz said during his opening statement.
Horowitz also called for "individual accountability" for officials. He went into some specifics when committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked about an attorney who worked on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, a key component of the IG's review.
Graham identified the attorney as Kevin Clinesmith, and brought up anti-Trump text messages he had sent in the past, including "Viva la resistance."
The attorney was found to have altered an email to say that Page had not been a CIA source, when in fact he had been working with them. This ultimately led to the FBI renewing the FISA warrant against Page while leaving exculpatory evidence out of their application.
"What motivated him to do that?" Graham asked.
"It is unknown as to precisely why he did it," Horowitz said, "but we reference in here the text messages you mention and we have not made a determination but rather, as we note in here, when we learned this we notified the Attorney General and the FBI Director and referred it to them."
Later in the hearing, when asked by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., about the lack of evidence of political bias in the Russia probe, Horowitz made clear that this finding pertained more to the initiation of the investigation, not everything that happened afterward.
"It gets murkier, the question gets more challenging, senator, when you get to the FISA," Horowitz said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham delivers his opening statement to the FISA report hearing with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham accused the FBI officials who investigated the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia of a “massive criminal conspiracy” in a fiery opening statement Wednesday for a hearing where the Justice Department's top watchdog testified.
In a freewheeling speech to kick off the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI abuses, the committee chairman said federal investigators made more than a few missteps — and took the law into their own hands.
“What has been described as a few irregularities becomes a massive criminal conspiracy over time to defraud the FISA court, to illegally surveil an American citizen and keep an operation open against a sitting president of the United States — violating every norm known to the rule of law,” Graham said.
The more than 40-minute unscripted speech came before the long-anticipated testimony of Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general who investigated the origins of the Russia probe into the Trump campaign.
Horowitz’s report, released Monday, found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding the FBI’s launch of the probe, which was called “Crossfire Hurricane,” and efforts to seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to monitor Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
However, the report faulted the FBI for numerous errors in the FISA application process, identifying at least 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the application and renewals for Page’s FISA warrant.
Graham said Horowitz's team discovered "an abuse of power I never believed could actually exist in 2019."
"How bad is it? It was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life," Graham said.
The Judiciary Committee chairman read aloud the text messages between FBI investigators Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the former lovers who expressed disgust with Trump in their exchanges, calling Trump a "loathsome human" and "awful."
Graham blasted the few investigators as “bad people.” He said former British spy Christopher Steele, who authored the salacious and unverified dossier against Trump, had an ax to grind against the president and those biases colored the investigation.
In a passionate speech that was reminiscent of his angry defense of Brett Kavanaugh before his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Graham said he has serious concerns about whether the FISA Court can continue without reforms.
“Trump’s time will come and go," Graham said. "But I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again. Because what happened here is not a few irregularities. What happened here is the system failed."
Graham also said the report should be a call to action for FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“Director Wray, you’ve got a problem,” Graham said.
He urged Page, the former Trump campaign adviser, to file suit.
"I hope Carter Page gets a lawyer and sues the hell out of the FBI and DOJ," Graham said.
Attorney General Bill Barr discusses the beginning of the Russia investigation and the origins of the Steele dossier
Attorney General Bill Bar is blasting the FBI’s conduct during the Russia investigation, saying investigators relied on "flimsy" evidence in launching the probe and disputing key conclusions from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report released Monday.
Horowitz was critical of the FBI for their practices in using the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to get a warrant to conduct surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, but he concluded that the investigation itself was launched properly, without evidence of political bias.
“It’s hard to look at this stuff and not think that it was a gross abuse,” Barr said during a discussion Tuesday at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council forum in Washington. He referred to the investigation as a whole as a "travesty."
"Where I disagree with Mike, I just think this was very flimsy," he said about the basis for the investigation. The FBI cited comments by Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to an Australian official as sparking concerns about the campaign's possible involvement with Russia. Barr dismissed this as "a comment made by a 28-year-old volunteer on a campaign in a bar."
Barr also pointed to the FBI’s failure to include key evidence in their FISA warrant applications that would have gone in Page’s favor.
"They withheld from the court all the exculpatory information," he said, calling the anti-Trump dossier used to bolster the warrant applications a "sham."
"I don't know what the motivations were," he said, stating it is premature to make a determination on that.
"That's why we have Durham," Barr said, referring to the ongoing investigation by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham, which is broader in scope than Horowitz's review. "Durham is able to look at all the evidence," Barr said. He specifically referred to Durham's ability to talk to other government agencies and private parties, and to compel testimony.
Barr’s remarks echo what he said in a blistering NBC interview earlier Tuesday.
Barr said that despite the report saying Horowitz did not have evidence that political bias played a factor in the investigation, he believes the IG left open “the possibility that there was bad faith” involved.
“All he said was, people gave me an explanation and I didn't find anything to contradict it,” he said. Barr also pointed a finger at the media, saying: "I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press."
And he said the Trump campaign was "clearly spied upon" during the investigation.
Graham delivered his remarks during a news conference in which he reacted to the long-awaited review concerning the origins of the Trump-Russia probe.
“Let’s assume for a moment it started out okay. It sure as he– didn’t end okay,” Graham said referring to investigators' efforts to seek a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the Russia investigation.
“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 as president of the United States,” he said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., giving his take on the FISA report during an earlier news conference, said the report put to rest any notion that the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign was politically motivated.
“This report conclusively debunks the baseless conspiracy that the investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and its ties to Russia originated with political bias.”
Schumer again reiterated that the FBI investigation was “valid and without political bias.”
Anticipating that his Republican colleagues will do their “level best to reject the report’s conclusions,” Schumer pointed out that FBI Director Christopher Wray – a Trump appointee – has “already embraced the central findings.”
The report listed multiple errors by the FBI in its efforts to obtain a FISA warrant. The IG probe identified at least 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the Page applications and said a new audit into the FISA process would take place.
Horowitz and his investigators were at times critical of the bureau’s handling of the cast, including for failing to share information that would have undercut claims in those warrants.
Fox News' Ronn Blitzer and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.
In a statement, Barr shared Trump's views that the initial investigation was invasive and launched on the "thinnest of suspicions."
“The inspector general’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in a statement.
“It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory,” he continued. “Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”
Trump spent the majority of the investigation blasting the FBI and accusing bureau leaders of conspiring to ruin his presidency. Former FBI bosses James Comey and Andrew McCabe did not act with political bias, the IG found.
U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, whom Barr appointed to run a separate investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, backed his attorney general.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in a statement.
The IG found no intentional misconduct or bias surrounding the probe's launch or efforts to seek a highly controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the Russia investigation.
Barr disagreed, saying the FBI misled the FISA court in a “rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates.”
He continued, “FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.”
The report faulted the FBI over errors in the application process. The IG investigation found at least 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the Page applications and said a new audit into the FISA process would take place.
Horowitz and investigators were critical of the FBI's handling of the case, including for failing to share information that could have contradicted allegations in the FISA applications.
“[T]he Crossfire Hurricane team failed to inform department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time that the FISA applications were drafted and filed,” the report said.
Barr said the FISA report showed a clear abuse of the surveillance process.
“While most of the misconduct identified by the inspector general was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the inspector general’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process,” the attorney general added.
“FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source,” he added. “The inspector general found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory.”
The Justice Department's internal watchdog is set to release a report expected to document misconduct during the investigation into President Trump's 2016 campaign. Gregg Jarrett and Francey Hakes react.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the 476-page report:
No political bias in launch of probe, FISA applications
The report said investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding both the launch of the Trump-Russia investigation as well as efforts to seek the controversial FISA warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early stages of that probe.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page,” the report said.
The report also said that key officials, including former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, did not act with political bias. The IG report generally found that agents were justified in launching the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane, as well as investigations into four Trump associates: Page, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.
"[W]e found that each investigation was opened for an authorized purpose and, in light of the low threshold established by Department and FBI predication policy, with adequate factual predication," the report said.
'Significant' errors, omissions
Despite the inspector general’s finding that there was no evidence of political bias or improper motivation, Horowitz’s report revealed there were at least 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the Page FISA applications.
The report said that the FISA applications for Page omitted information that the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, "including that Page had been approved as an 'operational contact' for the other agency from 2008 to 2013."
Another error in the applications was the inclusion of a “source characterization statement asserting that [Christopher] Steele’s prior reporting had been ‘corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,’ which overstated the significance of Steele’s past reporting and was not approved by Steele’s handling agent.” Christopher Steele is the former British spy whose unverified Trump "dossier" was used to help justify the warrants.
The FISA applications also omitted information regarding the reliability of a key Steele “sub-source,” the report said.
Notably, the FISA application also omitted Page’s “consensually monitored statements to an FBI” confidential human source saying that he “literally never met” former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as well as former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos’ consensually monitored statement to the FBI “denying that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or with outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of emails.”
Steele dossier key in FISA files, despite concerns
Christopher Steele’s now-infamous dossier and research surrounding the 2016 election provided much of the information used in the FISA application and renewals. But the inspector general found that the FBI did not have any specific information corroborating allegations against Page from Steele’s reporting.
“We determined that prior to and during the pendency of the FISAs the FBI was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page contained in the election reporting and relied on in the FISA applications, and was only able to confirm the accuracy of a limited number of circumstantial facts, most of which were in the public domain,” the report said, noting that the information confirmed was only timing of events and dates that Page traveled to Russia.
In addition to the lack of corroboration, the inspector general found that the FBI’s interviews of Steele and his sub-sources “revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s description of information in his election reports.” The report stated that the FBI “failed to notify” the Office of Investigations (OI), which was working on the Page FISA applications “of the potentially serious problems identified with Steele’s election reporting that arose as early as January 2017.”
Horowitz added that “even as the FBI developed this information, we found no evidence that the Crossfire Hurricane team reconsidered its reliance on the Steele reporting in the FISA renewal applications.”
In addition to the issues surrounding the accuracy of Steele’s information, Horowitz also pointed out that the Crossfire Hurricane team “did not investigate who ultimately paid for Steele’s reporting.”
One intelligence analyst told the inspector general’s office that they focused “instead on vetting the accuracy of the information” in the report, “because if the reporting turned out to be true, it would not matter to the team who ultimately paid for the research.”
Steele’s reporting was commissioned by opposition research firm Fusion GPS, and funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) through law firm Perkins Coie.
According to the report, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said that if the FBI had information about the Clinton campaign and the DNC funding Steele’s reporting, he “would have expected the FBI to revise the language to be more explicit.”
Meanwhile, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, despite the inaccuracies and uncorroborated nature of Steele’s report, wanted to include that information in an official Intelligence Community Assessment to be delivered to then-President Barack Obama. McCabe told the inspector general’s office that he believed the Steele reporting needed to be included in that ICA because “President Obama had requested ‘everything you have relevant to this topic of Russian influence.’”
But CIA officials pushed back, arguing that Steele’s reporting was simply “internet rumor,” and should be included only as an appendix in the final report.
McCabe argued that including it as an appendix was simply “tacking it on” in a way that “would minimize” the information and prevent it from being properly considered—despite the fact that former FBI Director James Comey felt that Steele’s reporting was “not ripe enough, mature enough, to be a finished intelligence product.”
Ultimately, “the FBI’s view did not prevail,” and the final ICA report only included Steele’s reporting as a short summary in an appendix.
Key figures left in the dark
The inspector general’s report revealed that, at times, the Crossfire Hurricane investigation was not properly sharing information with the Justice Department or other key figures who should have been privy to updated information.
The report stated that the inspector general’s office found the Crossfire Hurricane team "failed to inform Department officials of significant information that was available to the team at the time that the FISA applications" were submitted.
“Much of that information was inconsistent with, or undercut, the assertions contained in the FISA applications that were used to support probably cause, and in some instances, resulted in inaccurate information being included in the applications,” the report said, adding that the inspector general believed it was “the obligation” of those agents aware of the information to share it so that “decision makers had the opportunity to consider it, both for their own assessment of probable cause and for consideration of whether to include the information in the applications so that the FISC received a complete and accurate recitation of the relevant facts.”
But because those FBI officials on Crossfire Hurricane failed to do so, officials at the Justice Department who reviewed one or more of the Page applications and renewals — including former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, ex-Acting Attorney General Dana Boente, and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — “did not have accurate and complete information at the time they approved the applications.”
“While we do not speculate whether Department officials would have authorized the FBI to seek to use FISA authority had they been made aware of all relevant information, it was clearly the responsibility of Crossfire Hurricane team members to advise them of such critical information so that they could make a fully informed decision,” the report stated.
Meanwhile, Horowitz found that the Trump campaign was not given a defensive briefing—a briefing that takes place when U.S. government or corporate officials are being targeted by a foreign adversary and the FBI determines the officials should be alerted to the potential threat.
FBI officials decided not to give the campaign that briefing, saying it would create 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.”
Horowitz determined that the decision to do so is “left to the discretion of FBI officials.”
The report also cited concerns that the FBI did not have to loop in senior DOJ officials before sending confidential human sources to interact with members of Trump’s campaign.
“We found it concerning that Department and FBI policy did not require the FBI to consult with any Department official in advance of conducting [Confidential Human Source] operations involving advisors to a major party candidate’s presidential campaign, and we found no evidence that the FBI consulted with any Department officials before conducting these CHS operations,” the report states, noting that in the future, they recommend that "Department consultation is required when tasking a CHS to interact with officials in national political campaigns."
Use of confidential human sources
The inspector general revealed that the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane team indeed used “Confidential Human Sources” to contact and record conversations with Page, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and another "high-level" campaign official who was not a subject of the probe.
“All of these interactions were consensually monitored and recorded by the FBI,” the report stated, noting that the recorded interactions took place before and after Page and Papadopoulos were advisers on the campaign.
Horowitz determined that the use of confidential human sources "complied" with their requirement that "investigative activities be conducted for an authorized purpose."
But the report revealed that the Crossfire Hurricane team omitted several key statements made by Page and Papadopoulos during those recorded interactions. The report revealed that Page made statements to the confidential human source that “would have, if true, contradicted the notion that Page was conspiring with Russia” and “that contradicted the Steele reporting received by the team.”
In those meetings, Page said he had “literally never met” or “said one word to” Manafort, and Papadopoulos denied that anyone associated with the Trump campaign was collaborating with Russia or outside groups like WikiLeaks in the release of hacked DNC emails. Both of those statements were omitted in FISA applications and from reports to other officials.
The report stated that they “found no evidence the FBI made Page’s statements from this confidential human source meeting” available to higher-ups in the Office of Investigations or in the National Security Division “until mid-June 2017.”
Meanwhile, the inspector general’s office also investigated Papadopoulos’ allegation that the FBI used Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud to pass information to Papadopoulos as a set up to launch the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
Horowitz said they did not find any records or evidence indicating that Mifsud was an FBI confidential human source or that his conversations with Papadopoulos were part of any FBI operation, and none of the witnesses interviewed had any information to support the allegation.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Papadopoulos met with Mifsud in London, who told him that the Russians had dirt in the form of emails that could damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Papadopoulos then told Australian diplomat Alexander Downer of the new information. Downer reported Papadopoulos’ comments to the FBI.
Papadopoulos has long said he felt he was being spied on, telling Fox News that he met with longtime FBI informant Stefan Halper and his female associate, who went under the alias Azra Turk. Papadopoulos told Fox News that he saw Turk three times in London: once over drinks, once over dinner and once with Halper. He also told Fox News back in May that he always suspected he was being recorded.
Neither Halper nor Turk’s names were mentioned in Horowitz’s report.
The report also revealed that the Crossfire Hurricane team was “interested in seeking FISA surveillance targeting” Papadopoulos, but that FBI attorneys were not supportive.
Priestap started probe, didn’t want Strzok on board
It has been long-reported that ex-counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok was the FBI official to formally open the Crossfire Hurricane investigation in July 2016, but the inspector general report revealed that it was actually his superviser, Bill Priestap, who ultimately made the decision.
Priestap’s decision to open the probe was based on a consensus reached by after multiple days of meetings that included Strzok, McCabe, FBI general counsel and FBI deputy general counsel, the report said.
The report also revealed that Priestap “originally wanted to assign the investigation to a Deputy Assistant Director other than Strzok, because, although he had confidence in Strzok’s counterintelligence capabilities, he had concerns about Strzok’s personal relationship with Lisa Page affecting the Crossfire Hurricane team.”
Strzok and Page were romantically involved.
U.S. Attorney from Connecticut John Durham, who is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation, released a rare statement after Horowitz’s report was made available to the public on Monday, saying he disagrees with inspector general’s conclusions.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” Durham said in a statement Monday.
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff,” Durham said. “However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
Fox News reported in October that Durham's ongoing probe has transitioned into a full-fledged criminal investigation, meaning he has the ability to charge individuals.
“Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened,” U.S. Attorney John Durham said in a statement.
Horowitz released his report Monday saying his investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding efforts to launch that 2016 probe and to seek a highly controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the investigation. Still, it found that there were "significant concerns with how certain aspects of the investigation were conducted and supervised."
“I have the utmost respect for the mission of the Office of Inspector General and the comprehensive work that went into the report prepared by Mr. Horowitz and his staff,” Durham said. “However, our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
As Horowitz has conducted his review of DOJ actions during the Russia probe, Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, has also been conducting a wider inquiry into alleged misconduct and alleged improper government surveillance on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election.
Fox News reported in October that Durham's ongoing probe has transitioned into a full-fledged criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr ripped the FBI’s “intrusive” investigation after the release of Horowitz’s review, saying it was launched based on the “thinnest of suspicions.”
“The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,” Barr said in a statement.
Barr expressed frustration that the FBI continued investigating the Trump campaign, even as “exculpatory” came to the light.
“It is also clear that, from its inception, the evidence produced by the investigation was consistently exculpatory,” Barr said. “Nevertheless, the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller acknowledged in his report that investigators did not find evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russians in 2016 – which the FBI probed extensively.
Barr said the FISA report shows a “clear abuse” of the surveillance process.
“In the rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source,” Barr said.
He added, “The Inspector General found the explanations given for these actions unsatisfactory. While most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.”
Monday’s FISA report dealing with the investigation into Trump’s campaign has long been expected. Horowitz in September submitted a draft of the report to Barr and the FBI so they could identify any classified information. But it had not been publicly released until now.
The release comes as Washington has been consumed with impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The House Judiciary Committee is holding the inquiry’s latest hearing Monday, days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are moving forward with plans to bring articles of impeachment against the president over his dealings with Ukraine.
The Justice Department's internal watchdog is set to release a report expected to document misconduct during the investigation into President Trump's 2016 campaign. Gregg Jarrett and Francey Hakes react.
The Justice Department’s inspector general on Monday released the long-awaited internal review concerning the origins of the Russia investigation, revealing that while the probe's launch complied with DOJ and FBI policies, there are "significant concerns with how certain aspects of the investigation were conducted and supervised."
Specifically, the report concluded that investigators found no intentional misconduct or political bias surrounding efforts to seek a highly controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to monitor former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in the early months of the Russia investigation — but faulted the FBI over numerous "omissions" and "inaccuracies" in the application process.
The IG probe identified at least 17 "significant" errors in the Page applications and said they would launch a new audit into the FISA process.
At the same time, the report said key officials including former FBI bosses James Comey and Andrew McCabe did not act with political bias and extended a similar finding to the overall surveillance efforts targeting Page.
“We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page,” the report said.
IG Michael Horowitz and his investigators probed how the unverified anti-Trump dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was used to secure the original FISA warrant for Page in October 2016, as well as other decisions at the outset of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of Russian election interference and the Trump campaign.
The release comes as Washington has been consumed with the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. The House Judiciary Committee was holding the inquiry’s latest hearing Monday, days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats are moving forward with plans to bring articles of impeachment against the president over his dealings with Ukraine.
But the sprawling, nearly 500-page FISA report is sure to become a political football of its own, alongside the impeachment probe.
Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., have contested the FISA warrant and its subsequent renewal applications, claiming that the FBI misrepresented key evidence and omitted exculpatory information.
Nunes blasted the FBI for not revealing that evidence used to support the warrant application came from an unverified dossier compiled by Steele as opposition research for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Democrats have pointed to a footnote in the warrant application that gave a general characterization of the nature of the information and how the FBI believed that it was part of an effort to get information to discredit Trump’s campaign, though it did not specifically mention Clinton or the Democratic National Committee.
Horowitz’s team has questioned why the FBI considered Steele a credible source, and why the bureau seemed to use news reports to bolster Steele’s credibility.
The inspector general has said his team has “reviewed over one million records and conducted over 100 interviews, including several witnesses who only recently agreed to be interviewed.” Page, who has been vocal about his belief that he was unjustly targeted, has expressed frustration over not being interviewed for Horowitz’s investigation. Page was never charged with a crime as a result of the surveillance.
Trump and his Republican allies have long questioned the Justice Department’s efforts to secure the surveillance warrants. Earlier this year, Attorney General Bill Barr said "spying" did occur against the Trump campaign during the campaign. But critics pushed back: James Comey, who was FBI director at the time, dismissed Barr’s claims, saying he “never thought of” electronic surveillance as “spying.”
Next, Horowitz is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday morning to answer questions about his probe.
The Horowitz findings come amid another, broader inquiry related to the 2016 election: Barr has assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to conduct an inquiry into alleged misconduct and alleged improper government surveillance on the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential election. That investigation is criminal in nature, and Republicans may look to it to uncover wrongdoing that the inspector general wasn’t examining.
Ahead of the release, some of the people who worked at the FBI at the time attempted to get ahead of the report to defend their actions. Lisa Page, the ex-FBI lawyer who carried on an extramarital affair with former FBI head of counterintelligence Peter Strzok as the two exchanged anti-Trump text messages during the investigation, recently granted an interview for a sympathetic piece at The Daily Beast, saying “there’s no fathomable way that I have committed any crime at all.”
Meanwhile, a key FBI player during the time frame, former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, has been facing the prospect of federal charges after Horowitz faulted him in a separate inquiry over statements he made during a Hillary Clinton-related investigation. The review found that McCabe "lacked candor" when talking with investigators, but the former FBI official has denied wrongdoing. McCabe has not been indicted.
Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and top State Department official David Hale were testifying Wednesday evening in Democrats' impeachment inquiry, after President Trump claimed vindication from European Union ambassador Gordon Sondland's blockbuster remarks earlier in the day.
While Sondland tied top Trump administration officials to a “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by the president, he acknowledged under cross-examination from Republicans that he never heard that from Trump, saying he was making presumptions and the president expressly rejected any such arrangement. Democrats, though, argued that Sondland nevertheless described a quid pro quo arrangement in his testimony, suggesting Trump must have been involved.
Hale and Cooper were expected to offer additional details about the White House's anticorruption push in Ukraine, and whether the U.S. may have held up military aid to Ukraine in order to secure a probe into Joe and Hunter Biden.
Cooper, for example, testified last month that the Trump administration had pushed Ukraine to issue a public statement disavowing any efforts to influence U.S. elections — but she stopped short of saying that officials wanted to include a reference to Joe and Hunter Biden's business dealings in the country.
Cooper said that on Aug. 20, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker met with her — and the idea of mentioning the Bidens apparently didn't come up.
"In that meeting, he did mention something to me that, you know, was the first about, somehow, an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in U.S. elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference," Cooper said. "And, that was about as specific as it got."
Additionally, Cooper has testified that Pentagon officials began receiving "phone calls from industry" — apparently referring to private companies that supply weapons and military hardware to the government — after President Trump initiated a hold on military aid to Ukraine earlier this year.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, left, arrives to review her testimony as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Separately, Cooper testified about Defense Department concerns that Trump's temporary withholding of military aid to Ukraine may have been illegal. The legalities likely regarded the issue of "impoundment" – the requirement that the president either had to spend the money or "impound" it. The White House was coming up against an impoundment deadline when it released the funds for Ukraine.
Democrats have argued that the White House improperly pressured Ukraine to look into the Bidens and Burisma Holdings, the natural gas company where Hunter Biden held a lucrative role despite limited expertise while his father oversaw Ukraine policy as vice president. Trump has suggested that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden's dealings in Ukraine, including the former vice president's successful push to have Ukraine's top prosecutor fired by threatening to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid.
George Kent, a State Department official who has also testified in the impeachment investigation, said he flagged Hunter Biden's apparent conflict of interest to the Obama administration at the time. Reports emerged Wednesday afternoon that Ukrainian prosecutors had drawn up an indictment against Burisma's founder.
David Hale, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, to be interview for the impeachment inquiry. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
However, Hale said, he saw the Bidens referenced only in media reports — as well as in a "speculative" email from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who testified last week.
Yovanovitch "mentioned that Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani might have been motivated to sully Vice President Biden's reputation by reminding the world of the issue regarding his son's activities in Ukraine," Hale testified, referring to President Trump's personal attorney.
Hale and Cooper's testimony came shortly after Sondland tied top officials to the “potential quid pro quo” involving U.S. military aid to Ukraine and investigations desired by Trump – yet said he never heard that link from the president himself.
One of the key witnesses in the Democrat-led impeachment inquiry against Trump, Sondland claimed he kept Secretary of State Mike Pompeo aware of what was going on and said he specifically told Vice President Pence he "had concerns" the military aid to Ukraine "had become tied" to investigations — though a Pence aide denied it. And he repeatedly lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s leading role in the administration’s Ukraine dealings.
"Everyone was in the loop," Sondland testified. "It was no secret."
He testified to a clear "quid pro quo" linking a White House meeting with Ukraine's president to the investigation request, even as he couched his language regarding the aid.
In comments touted by Trump later in the day, Sondland clarified: “I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement" of investigations. He said he never personally heard Trump discuss preconditions. And at one point, he confirmed Trump told him, "I want nothing."
A former U.S. envoy to Ukraine testified at the second round of Tuesday’s impeachment hearings that he didn't initially realize the connection between a President Trump-sought investigation of "Burisma" and the Bidens, as he appeared to distance himself from any efforts to investigate the latter in conversations over the summer.
Former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker and former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison — who were involved in the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy at the time of Trump’s momentous summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which he sought the Biden probe — both testified Tuesday afternoon. The testimony followed five hours of testimony earlier in the day with the NSC's Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Vice President Pence aide Jennifer Williams.
Volker, in his opening statement, went into great detail about his understanding of efforts to seek investigations from Ukraine.
Trump, in the infamous July call, had pressed Kiev to look into how Hunter Biden was a board member of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, which had been under investigation before then-Vice President Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the prosecutor in charge. Biden is one of the Democrats running to challenge Trump in 2020.
In a lengthy opening statement, Volker said he didn't have any problem with pushing Ukraine to open an investigation into Burisma or corruption. “It has long been U.S. policy under multiple administrations to urge Ukraine to investigate and fight internal corruption,” Volker said.
Former top national security adviser to President Donald Trump, Tim Morrison, arrives for a closed door meeting to testify as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Volker, who resigned in September after becoming embroiled in the scandal, added that he didn’t “understand” at the time that an investigation of Burisma “was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden.”
“I saw them as very different – the former being appropriate and unremarkable, the latter being unacceptable,” Volker said. “In retrospect, I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections."
Until Tuesday, none of the witnesses who have testified at the public hearings had first-hand knowledge of the president's thinking, which Republicans have used to cast doubt on Democrats' allegations. But Vindman, Williams, and Morrison all listened in on Trump's July 25 phone call with Zelensky.
“I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate," Morrison said in his opening statement. "My fears have been realized.”
The impeachment inquiry has focused on a possible link between military aid to Ukraine and investigations sought by Trump pertaining to the Bidens and Democrats. The questions arose after the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky led to a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump was trying to pressure Ukraine into helping him.
“As we have heard from other witnesses, when Joe Biden was considering whether to enter the race for the presidency in 2020, the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, began a campaign to weaken Vice President Biden’s candidacy by pushing Ukraine to investigate him and his son,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in his opening statement.
Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes, R-Calif., opened his remarks by welcoming people to “act two of today’s circus," dismissing the inquiry as a partisan exercise.
“It’s an ambitious attack to deprive the American people of their right to elect a president that the Democrats don’t like,” Nunes said. He added, “The chairman of this committee claims that democracy is under threat. If that’s true, it’s not the president who poses the danger.”
Both Volker and Morrison previously gave closed-door interviews to the Democratic-led inquiry: Volker provided investigators with a package of text messages with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and William Taylor, the U.S. chargé d'affaires for Ukraine, who said he grew alarmed at the possible linkage of the investigations to the aid.
Morrison, who served as the NSC's senior director of European and Russian affairs, has told lawmakers Trump didn't want tax dollars funding Ukrainian corruption and remarked that he wasn't concerned Trump's calls with Ukraine's leader were tied to his political interests.
Morrison resigned from the NSC last month. In his testimony Tuesday, he said he left on his “own volition” and made the decision “before I decided to testify.”
Among the biggest revelations Tuesday morning came when Vindman acknowledged communications with an unnamed intelligence official — during an at-times tense exchange with Republicans, immediately raising apparent questions over whether he could have been a source of information for the anonymous whistleblower who reported the call.
Schiff, D-Calif., interjected to express concern that Republicans were trying to out the whistleblower through the questioning. After consulting his attorney, Vindman said, "Per the advice of my counsel, I’ve been advised not to answer the specific questions about members of the intelligence community."
Vindman was critical of Trump's call with Zelensky, describing the investigation "demand" as "improper." At one point, Vindman described his reaction to Trump’s call as one of “shock.”
“Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,” he testified. “In certain regards, my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out.”
The other morning witness, Williams, also expressed concern about Trump's call with Zelensky, saying, “I found the July 25th phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter.”
The White House downplayed the hearing as a debate over two individuals’ personal opinions about a call that Americans can read for themselves. “We have learned nothing new in today’s illegitimate ‘impeachment’ proceedings,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said after Vindman and Williams' testimony.
President Trump tweets a response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's call for him to testify in the impeachment investigation.
**Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.** On the roster: Impeachment probe draws in Trump’s answers to Mueller– Butti-boom, Butti-bing – Trump craps out on gubernatorial gambles – Deep yogurt IMPEACHMENTPROBE DRAWS IN TRUMP’S ANSWERS TO MUELLER NYT: “Impeachment investigators are exploring whether President Trump lied in his written answers to Robert S. Mueller III during the Russia investigation, a lawyer for the House told a federal appeals court on Monday, raising the prospect of bringing an additional basis for a Senate trial over whether to remove Mr. Trump. … During the Mueller investigation, Mr. Trump refused to testify orally about what he knew and did during the 2016 campaign in relation to Russia’s election interference operation, or his later efforts to impede the special counsel’s inquiry. But he did provide lawyerly written answers to some questions, which were appended to the Mueller report. On Monday, Douglas Letter, the general counsel for the House, told a federal appeals court panel that impeachment investigators have an ‘immense’ need to see the grand jury evidence — redacted portions of the Mueller report, as well as the underlying testimony transcripts they came from — because Mr. Trump may have lied.” Ukrainian president reportedly felt the pressure long before Trump’s squeeze –AP: “Despite his denials, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden before his July phone call with President Donald Trump that has led to impeachment hearings. In early May, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were briefed on a meeting Zelenskiy held in which he sought advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, according to two people with knowledge of the briefings. He was concerned that Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the people said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue.” Trump defenders’ new stance: The quid pro quo failed –NYT: “House Republicans, bracing for another week of impeachment hearings, asserted on Sunday that President Trump had done nothing wrong because his plans for Ukraine to investigate his political rivals never came to fruition… [L]awmakers are about to hear from crucial witnesses who had direct contact with the president, including Gordon D. Sondland, a donor to and an ally of Mr. Trump who served as his liaison to Ukrainian officials while the president withheld — but later released — $391 million in military aid to Ukraine. … On Sunday, Chris Wallace, the host of ‘Fox News Sunday,’ pressed Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican, on that point, asking him whether Mr. Sondland might ‘blow a hole’ in Republicans’ defense. ‘The president’s defense is that those things didn’t happen,’ Mr. Scalise said, adding: ‘The real bottom line is he got the money. Ukraine got the money.’” In a murky sea of disinformation and bias, voters tune out –NYT: “The Democrats in Congress took their case against President Trump to the public last week. But after hours of testimony, thousands of news reports and days of streaming headlines, one thing was clear: A lot of Americans weren’t listening. … In this volatile political moment, information, it would seem, has never been more crucial. The country is in the midst of impeachment proceedings against a president for the third time in modern history. A high-stakes election is less than a year away. But just when information is needed most, to many Americans it feels most elusive. The rise of social media; the proliferation of information online, including news designed to deceive; and a flood of partisan news are leading to a general exhaustion with news itself. Add to that a president with a documented record of regularly making false statements and the result is a strange new normal: Many people are numb and disoriented, struggling to discern what is real in a sea of slant, fake and fact.” Trump reportedly vexed by Pompeo’s failure to rein in diplomats – NBC News: “The impeachment inquiry has created the first rift between President Donald Trump and the Cabinet member who has been his closest ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to four current and former senior administration officials. Trump has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency, the officials said. The president confronted Pompeo about the officials – and what he believed was a lackluster effort by the secretary of state to block their testimony – during lunch at the White House on Oct. 29, those familiar with the matter said. Inside the White House, the view was that Trump ‘just felt like, ‘rein your people in,’’ a senior administration official said. Trump particularly blames Pompeo for tapping Ambassador Bill Taylor in June to be the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, the current and former senior administration officials said.” THE RULEBOOK: ACT WISELY “The faith, the reputation, the peace of the whole Union, are thus continually at the mercy of the prejudices, the passions, and the interests of every member of which it is composed.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 22 TIME OUT: FITTED FOR A QUEEN Atlantic: “Clothes, in [the Netflix series] The Crown, have always been part of the aesthetic pleasure the show provides viewers—a crucial element of the absurd spectacle that is royalist Britain… And yet, watching Season 3 [released Nov. 17], [The Atlantic’s Sophie Gilbert noticed] more than ever how the series uses clothing to explore and subvert ideas about power, and what it looks like when a woman wields it. … [Queen Elizabeth’s] gender, and her femininity, are intrinsic to the way she governs.… In reality, as in the show, the Queen’s deployment of pastel colors and pearls isn’t just a matter of personal taste. Since her coronation in 1953, when the Queen requested that her gown for the event be embroidered with symbols from countries in the British Commonwealth … every outfit she’s worn has been worn with intention. Clothing, for the Queen, is much more about diplomacy and visibility than style.” Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions. SCOREBOARD DEMOCRATIC 2020 POWER RANKING Biden: 27.6 points (no change from last wk.) Warren: 22.6 points (no change from last wk.) Sanders: 17.6 points no change from last wk.) Buttigieg: 7.6 points (no change from last wk.) Harris: 3.2 points (no change from last wk.) [Averages include: Monmouth University, NBC News/WSJ, ABC News/WaPo, Fox News and IBD.] TRUMP JOB PERFORMANCE Average approval: 42 percent Average disapproval: 55.4 percent Net Score: -13.4 percent Change from one week ago: no change [Average includes: Monmouth University: 45% approve – 52% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 45% approve – 53% disapprove; ABC News/WaPo: 39% approve – 59% disapprove; Fox News: 42% approve – 57% disapprove; IBD: 39% approve – 56% disapprove.] WANT MORE HALFTIME REPORT? You can join Chris and Brianna every day on Fox Nation. Go behind-the-scenes of your favorite political note as they go through the must-read headlines of the day right from their office – with plenty of personality. Click here to sign up and watch! BUTTI-BOOM, BUTTI-BING Des Moines Register: “Pete Buttigieg has rocketed to the top of the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll in the latest reshuffling of the top tier of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. Since September, Buttigieg has risen 16 percentage points among Iowa’s likely Democratic caucusgoers, with 25% now saying he is their first choice for president. For the first time in the Register’s Iowa Poll, he bests rivals Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are now clustered in competition for second place and about 10 percentage points behind the South Bend, Indiana, mayor. Warren, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts, led the September Iowa Poll, when 22% said she was their first choice. In this poll, her support slips to 16%. Former Vice President Biden, who led the Register’s first three Iowa Polls of the 2020 caucus cycle, has continued to slide, falling 5 percentage points to 15%. Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, also garners 15% — a 4 percentage point rise.” Biden strikes cautious tone on pot –WaPo: “On the question of marijuana, former vice president Joe Biden might seem out of step with the crowd. … But the 76-year-old Democrat is in tune with at least one demographic: his peers in the silent generation, who, at 35 percent, have what may be one of the lowest percentages of support for marijuana legalization, according to the Pew data released Nov. 14. This disparity on the topic came into full view at a town hall in Las Vegas over the weekend, when Biden drew some groans from the crowd by saying he wants to see more research on marijuana and suggesting that it may be a ‘gateway drug’ that can lead users to harsher substances.” Harry Reid credits Biden’s Nevada success to minority appeal – AP: “Iowa and New Hampshire get to weigh in first on the Democratic presidential contest next year, but the states are not ethnically diverse enough to offer any insight into how a candidate will fare across the country, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday. … Reid said he thinks that former Vice President Joe Biden has appeared strong in Nevada because he ‘is one that appeals to diversity,’ but he added that most of the other Democrats running can also appeal to diverse groups.” As Harris craters, blame game ramps up – Politico: “Kamala Harris’ campaign is careening toward a crackup. As the California senator crisscrosses the country trying to revive her sputtering presidential bid, aides at her fast-shrinking headquarters are deep into the finger-pointing stages. And much of the blame is being placed on campaign manager Juan Rodriguez. … The internal strife is the latest discouraging development for Harris’ once-encouraging candidacy. She has slid into low single digits and is now banking on a top-tier performance in Iowa to pull her back into contention. Inside the campaign, which had already experienced staff shakeups before the layoffs, rank and file aides are fed up with the weak leadership and uncertainty around internal communication, planning and executing on a clear vision. They say the constant shifting has eroded trust in the upper ranks.” Pressure rises at home for speedy exit – Politico: “Harris’ loyal activist base, who call themselves the K-Hive, have lost none of the passion and intensity from those early days. … But in the halls and meeting rooms of the Long Beach Convention Center, many of the battle-scarred Democratic insiders — strategists, elected officials, campaign operatives — had a far more caustic view of her chances, suggesting that Harris’ team has already let slip away her shot at the White House. With California polls strongly suggesting she might not win, place — or even show — in her home state, many privately expressed the view that Harris should begin seriously considering leaving the race to avoid total embarrassment in the state’s early March primary. Her continued weakness in the presidential contest could even have a more damaging effect, several said — encouraging a primary challenger in 2022, when Harris is up for reelection.” Warren’s Medicare hedge does little to quell doubts – WaPo: “Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has been mostly sure-footed in her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. One exception is health care. On Friday, she issued another proposal to go along with her support for Medicare-for-all, a step that appeared designed to put her into a safer place politically. Warren’s progression on health care through the course of the campaign has taken her from a position of flexibility to one of seeming inflexibility — at least until Friday. Over a period of months, she walked herself into a place that many Democrats feared could make her chances of winning a general election more, not less, difficult. Whether Friday’s turn alleviates those worries remains to be seen.” Younger voters still dig Bernie – WBUR: “Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders remains the top choice for young likely voters, coming in at 28% in the [Harvard Institute of Politics poll of voters under age 30]. That's down 3 percentage points since the spring. The 78-year-old Sanders has long had strong support among the under-30 set. [Twenty-two percent of likely 18- to 29-year-old voters would choose Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic presidential primary. That’s up 18 points from her showing in March.] Another septuagenarian, former Vice President Joe Biden, comes in third in the Harvard survey, with the backing of 16% of likely voters. The youngest Democratic candidate, 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is fifth, at just 4%.” Bloomberg continues apology tour – Fox News: “Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has yet to formally announce whether he will run for president in 2020, but during remarks where he looked to the future before a majority-black church in Brooklyn, he apologized for his controversial ‘stop and frisk’ policy that sowed distrust of police in black and Latino communities during his administration. That policy, which was later repealed, allowed police to stop individuals on the street and briefly question and frisk them if they had reasonable suspicion that the person may be committing, had committed or is about to commit a crime. During his Sunday speech, Bloomberg recognized that this led to ‘far too many innocent people’ being stopped, many of them black or Latino. ‘I got something important wrong. I got something important really wrong.’” Lefties see conspiracy behind Patrick, Bloomberg runs – Politico: “Democratic donors say they want Michael Bloomberg and Deval Patrick to run for president because they’re petrified that a left-wing candidate can’t defeat President Donald Trump. But progressives see a more sinister effort afoot. Aides and allies to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, among other liberals, perceive the eleventh-hour campaign launched last week by Patrick — and the prospect of an impending Bloomberg 2020 bid — as an attempt to crush an ascendant left wing that would expand government more than any other Democratic president in decades. In their view, Patrick and Bloomberg are stalking horses for moderate Democrats, high-dollar contributors and bundlers desperate to halt the momentum of the economic populists at the top of the polls — and regain control of the party levers.” Can anyone break the Coolidge curse? –NYT: “Voters have never elected a sitting mayor to the presidency. Americans have seldom embraced anyone who’s even touched the job. Calvin Coolidge was the last president, one of just three in 230 years, to have been a mayor at any point. He led Northampton, Mass. – a modest town, really – for two years. But as the Democratic Party becomes ever more aligned with urban areas, its presidential field is now studded with politicians whose boasts include running a city. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., has now jumped to the lead in Iowa polling. Also in the race are two recent mayors, Julián Castro and Cory Booker, and another candidate who got his start as a mayor, Bernie Sanders. The current New York mayor, Bill de Blasio, and a former Denver mayor, John Hickenlooper, have already come and gone, while Michael Bloomberg, another New York mayor, is still calculating on the sidelines.” TRUMP CRAPS OUT ON GUBERNATORIAL GAMBLES Politico: “President Donald Trump campaigned hard in three conservative Southern states this fall, aiming for a string of gubernatorial wins that would demonstrate his political strength heading into impeachment and his own reelection effort. The plan backfired in dramatic fashion. The latest black eye came on Saturday, when Trump's favored candidate in Louisiana, multimillionaire businessman Eddie Rispone, went down to defeat. The president went all-in, visiting the state three times, most recently on Thursday. Earlier this month, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin lost reelection after a similar presidential effort on his behalf. Of the candidates Trump backed, only Tate Reeves in Mississippi won. The losses raise questions about Trump’s standing as he heads into what will be a grueling 2020 campaign. By throwing himself into the three contests — each in states that Trump won by double-digits in 2016 — the president had hoped to gain a modicum of political momentum at a perilous moment of his presidency.” PLAY-BY-PLAY Trump summons Fed boss Powell, a favorite punching bag, to White House – AP Farm bankruptcies sky high – Market Watch Trump dumps vape ban under political pressure – WaPo Dem attorneys general set abortion litmus test for candidates – NYT Former Nunes aide, now at White House, sues Politico over negative coverage – Fox News Emails reveal money grubbing behind an ambassadorial appointment and withdrawal – CBS News Pergram: How impeachment hearings can be best understood using Shakespeare – Fox News Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns to bench after sick day last week – NBC News Sen. Thom Tillis gets his Trump on ahead of tough 2020 race – Politico AUDIBLE: ‘SON OF A GUN, WE’LL HAVE BIG FUN ON THE BAYOU’ “It is an easier state to govern when the Saints and LSU are winning. People are just in a better mood.” – Newly re-elected Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana in an interview on Saturday. Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown. DEEP YOGURT USA Today: “[Patricia] Larkin, of Lacey, New Jersey, said in the Facebook group ‘Lacey Township Chatter’ that she was grocery shopping with her infant when a woman told a cashier that her baby was fake and an attempt to ‘smuggle yogurts out of the store.’ Larkin, despite being fatigued from staying up nights with her 2-month-old daughter, responded to the accusation with humor. She posted a picture of herself smiling while holding her sleeping baby in front of the store's sign. ‘Thank you for the laugh,’ she wrote in the Facebook group. ‘1) My baby is 100% real. 2) Yogurts are like $.25 at Aldi. 3) I'm lactose intolerant and don't consume any dairy at all.’ Larkin said a similarly amused cashier told her about the woman's accusation, by which time, her infant daughter was crying and fussing like only a real baby could.” AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES… “It was said of Sen. Hiram W. Johnson that ‘he found it difficult to serve God and William Randolph Hearst at one and the same time.’ The Democrats’ dilemma is that they find it difficult to serve truth and William Jefferson Clinton at one and the same time.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Feb. 2, 1999. Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.
The two witnesses were on the phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president; Chad Pergram has the latest.
An adviser to Vice President Mike Pence told House impeachment investigators this month that President Trump's request for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his family "struck me as unusual and inappropriate" and "shed some light on possible other motivations behind a security assistance hold."
The three House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry against Trump released hundreds of pages of closed-door testimony by Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Pence on Europe and Russia, and Tim Morrison, the former senior director for European affairs at the National Security Council. Morrison was interviewed Oct. 31 and Williams was interviewed Nov. 7.
Both Williams and Morrison were listening in on the July 25 phone call, which was flagged by an intelligence committee whistleblower and has become the center of the impeachment inquiry. House Democrats say that aid was withheld from Ukraine until its government launched investigations into Biden, his son Hunter and their dealings in the eastern European county — particularly the younger Biden's work with Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings.
Investigators also met Saturday with Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official Mark Sandy, who was involved in key meetings about the nearly $400 million aid package Congress had approved for Ukraine.
Jennifer Williams departs after her deposition Nov. 7. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Williams told lawmakers that the word "Burisma" appeared in her notes of the July 25 call, though it did not appear in the memorandum of the conversation released by the White House in September. The transcript indicates that Williams initially told lawmakers that Trump mentioned Burisma to Zelensky, but a letter from her attorney following the deposition states that Williams' "recollection had been incorrect" and Zelensky mentioned Burisma to Trump.
For his part, Morrison that he consulted NSC lawyers following the July 25 call because he was worried about details of the conversation being leaked to the media, according to transcripts of his testimony released Saturday.
In his testimony, Morrison said he asked NSC Legal Adviser John Eisenberg and Eisenberg's deputy, Michael Ellis, to review the July 25 call "because I was concerned about whether or not they would agree that it would be damaging … if the call package, if the call mem-con [memorandum of conversation] or its contents leaked."
Tim Morrison arrives for his closed-door deposition Oct. 31. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
During the call itself, Morrison said he was concerned by how "obsequious" Zelensky sounded toward Trump and added that the conversation "was not the full-throated endorsement of the Ukraine reform agenda that I was hoping to hear."
Morrison added that he and Eisenberg agreed that access to the call should be restricted, but then claimed Eisbenberg later told him that he did not intend for the call summary to be placed on a highly classified server. According to Morrison, Eisenberg's staff apparently put it there by mistake and nothing in the call's contents warranted placement on the classified server.
Morrison also told House investigators that Fiona Hill, a top NSC expert on Russia, had described U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland "as a problem" who "believed he had the mandate to get involved [in Ukraine policy] based on his relationship with" Trump, even though Ukraine is not a member of the EU.
"We [Morrison and Hill] both discussed that Ukraine was not in the EU, which led to the follow-on question of, why is he involved in Ukraine?" said Morrison of Sondland, who is expected to testify publicly on Wednesday. Morrison, who is set to publicly testify Tuesday, added that he became concerned while listening to the July 25 phone call that Hill's fear that Sondland was involved in a "parallel process" of making Ukraine policy was true.
Weeks after the July 25 call, on Sept. 1, Sondland held a conversation with a top Zelensky aide, Andriy Yermak, on the sidelines of a summit between Pence and Zelensky in Warsaw.
Morrison said he witnessed the exchange and that afterward Sondland bounded across the room to tell him what was said. Sondland told him that "what could help them move the aid was if the prosecutor general would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation," Morrison testified.
"My concern was what Gordon was proposing about getting the Ukrainians pulled into our politics," Morrison said. He added: "It was the first time something like this had been injected as a condition on the release of the assistance."
A few days later, on Sept. 7, Morrison told investigators that Sondland "related that both — the president [Trump] said there was not a quid pro quo, but he [Trump] further stated that President Zelensky should want to go to the microphone and announce personally — so it wouldn't be enough fon the prosecutor general, he wanted to announce personally, Zelensky personally, that he would open the investigations."
While some, including Trump himself, have begun to question Sondland's knowledge of events, Morrison said the ambassador "related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President."
As Sondland, Giuliani and others tried to persuade Zelensky to launch the investigations Trump wanted of his Democratic rivals, Morrison said he "tried to stay away."
"The testimony released today shows that President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelensky immediately set off alarm bells throughout the White House," Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Oversight Committee Acting Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel said in a joint statement. "Both witnesses provided the Committees with first-hand accounts after personally listening to the call in the White House Situation Room … We look forward to the public testimony of both officials."
Fox News' Chad Pergram, Jodie Curtis, David Sweet, Lucas Tomlinson and Caroline McKee contributed to this report.
Democrats are not expected to approve every name on the GOP's impeachment probe witness list; Garrett Tenney reports from Washington.
State Department official George Kent testified Wednesday that he would “love” to see Ukraine look into the circumstances surrounding the closure of a probe tied to natural gas firm Burisma Holdings, while also raising concerns that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of that firm created the appearance of a conflict of interest.
During questioning by GOP counsel Steve Castor at the first public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry, Kent was asked about the Ukrainian investigation into Burisma Holdings and why it was closed.
Kent testified that it was his and other officials’ “strong assumption” that the founder of the firm, Mykola Zlochevsky, had stolen money, and that a prosecutor had taken “a bribe to close the case.”
Castor asked Kent whether he was in favor of that matter “being fully investigated and prosecuted.”
“I think since U.S. taxpayer dollars are wasted, I would love to see the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office find who the corrupt prosecutor was that took the bribe and how much was paid,” Kent answered.
Kent, though, was not saying he wanted an investigation into Burisma over Hunter Biden’s role, and testified that he did not witness any U.S. officials working to protect that firm from criticism or investigations.
The Biden family's actions in Ukraine, along with a separate issue connected to 2016 election interference, were at the core of what Trump wanted investigated out of Kiev. Trump's now-famous July phone call – in which he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch the investigations – prompted a whistleblower complaint and, in turn, the impeachment inquiry in the House. The president’s request came after millions in U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been frozen, which Democrats and some witnesses have cited as a quid pro quo arrangement.
To that backdrop, Hunter Biden's actions occasionally were discussed in Wednesday's opening hearing, though not at length.
In Ukraine, meanwhile, the Burisma investigation isn't entirely closed. Last month, Ukraine’s current prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, said at a news conference that his office was instructed to review cases that have been closed to make sure they were fairly and thoroughly handled — including the probe into Burisma. That announcement did not mean that Ukraine was opening a new investigation into Burisma or the Bidens.
Kent told congressional investigators last month during his closed-door deposition that he had repeatedly raised concerns with the Obama administration about Burisma, and also discussed the administration’s efforts to remove Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin from his post. At the time, Shokin was investigating Zlochevsky.
Shokin was fired in April 2016 and the case was closed by the prosecutor who replaced him, Yuriy Lutsenko. Biden once famously boasted on camera that when he was vice president he successfully pressured Ukraine to fire Shokin.
Biden allies, though, maintain that his intervention had nothing to do with his son, but rather was tied to corruption concerns.
At the time, as vice president to former President Obama, Biden was running U.S.-Ukraine policy, and anti-corruption campaigns.
Kent also said Wednesday that the vice president’s role in Ukraine was “critically important” and was “the top cover to help us pursue our policy agenda.”
Kent said that he raised concerns with the former vice president's office in 2015 that Hunter Biden’s role on the board of Burisma could present “the possibility of the perception of a conflict of interest.”
U.S. top diplomat in Ukraine Bill Taylor also testified on Wednesday and said for the first time that the president was overheard by a member of his staff on July 26 asking EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland about “the investigations,” to which Sondland responded that “the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.”
Taylor said that following Sondland’s call with Trump, the member of his staff asked what Trump thought about Ukraine.
“Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for,” Taylor said, revealing new information from his prior testimony last month. “At the time I gave my deposition on October 22, I was not aware of this information. I am including it for completeness.”
This conversation would have taken place a day after the phone call between Trump and Zelensky. Taylor made clear it was his understanding the term "investigations" indeed referred to the Biden family and Burisma.
Reaction and analysis from Harvard law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz and former U.S. attorney Guy Lewis.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Friday defied a subpoena to appear before the House Intelligence Committee for a deposition as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
Mulvaney was called to testify before the panel on Friday at 9 a.m., but did not show up.
Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., subpoenaed Mulvaney after the White House rejected the original request for him to appear. Schiff, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Oversight Committee Acting Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., had wanted to hear from the top White House official, claiming he had “substantial first-hand knowledge and information” relevant to the inquiry.
"Past Democrat and Republican administrations would not be inclined to permit senior advisers to the president to participate in such a ridiculous, partisan, illegitimate proceeding – and neither is this one,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told reporters on Tuesday.
Mulvaney has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry, which was opened in September after a whistleblower complaint about the now-infamous July 25 phone call between the president and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The whistleblower alleged that Trump, during the call, pushed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden—as military aid to the country was being withheld.
Schiff, Engel and Maloney have claimed that evidence uncovered in the inquiry, thus far, has revealed that Mulvaney was “directly involved in an effort orchestrated by President Trump, his personal agent Rudolph Giuliani, and others to withhold a coveted White House meeting and nearly $400 million in security assistance in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to pursue investigations that would benefit President Trump’s personal political interests, and jeopardized our national security in attempting to do so.”
A transcript released by the White House shows Trump making that request, but he and his allies deny that military aid was clearly linked to the request or that there was any "quid pro quo." Some witnesses coming before House committees as part of the impeachment proceedings have challenged that assertion.
The chairs also accused Mulvaney of playing “a central role” in the president’s move to withhold military aid from Ukraine, and criticized him for his response to questions about the funds during a press conference at the White House last month.
The chairs wrote: “You admitted publicly that President Trump ordered the hold on Ukraine security assistance to further the President’s own personal, political interests, rather than national interest."
During a press conference on Oct. 17, Mulvaney was asked why Trump ordered the hold on military aid. The White House’s position has consistently been that there was no evidence of a quid pro quo with regard to the aid. But during that appearance, Mulvaney seemed to depart from his talking points.
“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “And I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
For days afterward, Mulvaney tried to walk back his statement after critics claimed he acknowledged a "quid pro quo," but the committee chairs described his earlier comment as a confession.
“Despite your subsequent attempts to walk-back this clear admission, your statements to the American public on October 17 were nothing less than a televised confession that President Trump’s order to freeze Ukraine security assistance was explicitly linked to Ukraine pursuing investigations as part of an effort to bolster the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” they wrote.
The House has deposed a slew of witnesses, several of whom have indicated that Mulvaney — who is also the director of the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — withheld military assistance to Ukraine on Trump's orders, a charge strongly denied by the White House.
The latest official to do so was Bill Taylor, the acting Ambassador to Ukraine. Schiff released Taylor’s testimony on Wednesday, showing he told lawmakers that “the hold on security assistance for Ukraine came from Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and that the Chief of Staff maintained a skeptical view of Ukraine.”
Taylor also testified that Mulvaney “helped schedule the call” on July 25 between Trump and Zelensky, despite opposition from ex-National Security Adviser John Bolton, who warned the call would be “a disaster.”
Taylor said that Bolton “thought that there could be some talk of investigations or worse on the call.”
House Democrats leading the Trump impeachment inquiry publicly released the first transcripts from their closed-door interviews on Monday — airing concerns from witnesses about the activities of President Trump's associates related to Ukraine — amid an outcry from Republicans that the proceedings are being conducted in private.
The panels released testimony from former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Both have appeared on Capitol Hill for testimony as part of the inquiry.
Among revelations in the transcripts: Yovanovitch testified that Ukraine told her about Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s campaign to oust her. Yovanovitch was pushed out of her job in May on Trump's orders.
Yovanovitch said she learned from Ukrainian officials last November or December that Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, was in touch with Ukraine's former top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, "and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me."
McKinley, meanwhile, said in his deposition that part of the reason he resigned was he was a witness to State Department officials trying to dig up dirt on the president’s opponents—something he hadn’t seen “in 37 years in the Foreign Service.”
The interviews were released by Rep. Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Carolyn Maloney of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
In a statement, the three Democrats said, “As we move towards this new public phase of the impeachment inquiry, the American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected. With each new interview, we learn more about the President’s attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit.”
House Republicans in recent days have called on Democrats to release the full transcripts.
“The selective leaking in which the House Intelligence Committee has been engaged must end immediately and the full and complete record must be provided for the American people to see,” Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, a member of the House GOP leadership, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last week.
In her testimony, Yovanovitch also told investigators that she was not disloyal to the president.
"I have heard the allegation in the media that I supposedly told our embassy team to ignore the President's orders since he was going to be impeached," she said. "That allegation is false. I have never said such a thing to my embassy colleagues or anyone eIse."
Yovanovitch was recalled from Kiev as Giuliani pressed Ukrainian officials to investigate corruption allegations against Democrat Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was involved with a gas company there.
Speaking to reporters at the Capitol, Schiff said Democrats will release more transcripts, including from U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker.
The resolution passed by the House last week authorized the committees to make the inquiry transcripts of their recent depositions and interviews public in advance of open hearings.
Fox News' Gillian Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
"You cannot cure what has been a flawed process from the beginning," Conway told "Fox News Sunday," adding, "The House vote doesn't make a difference in terms of a flawed process somehow being open and transparent."
Trump has been accused of asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to assist in investigations of Democrats' alleged actions during the 2016 election, as well as former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.
The impeachment inquiry has focused on a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, as well as communications between U.S. and Ukrainian officials before and after the call. Democrats have accused Trump of using military aid as leverage to pressure Ukraine into aiding in the investigations. Both Trump and Zelensky have denied that there was any pressure placed on Ukraine.
"They have not seen evidence of a high crime or misdemeanor," Conway insisted, stating that this is why not a single GOP representative voted for the impeachment inquiry.
Conway also pointed to the lack of bipartisan support as a contradiction of a statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in May 2018.
Pelosi said then that impeachment "would have to be bipartisan to go forward."
"This is not as Nancy Pelosi pledged and promised," Conway said.
Later in the program, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said the reason Republicans opposed it was out of fear of backlash from President Trump, and claimed that a partisan probe was necessary due to Trump's "abuse of power" and "a level of corruption here that makes the Nixon impeachment look like child's play."
Host Chris Wallace brought up President Trump's opposition to Democratic subpoenas of current and former administration officials. Now that the House vote has taken place, Wallace asked Conway if Trump stopped attempting to block the witnesses from testifying.
"The president has every right to exert executive privilege," Conway said.
When asked specifically if Trump would tell former National Security Adviser John Bolton not to appear if he receives a subpoena, Conway said she was "not sure the president has talked to Ambassador Bolton."
Himes later said he believes that Bolton, who has reportedly been quoted as referring to Trump's request to have Ukraine help investigate his political opponents as a "drug deal," has already been subpoenaed, but the Democrat noted that he was not certain.
Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes, Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, joins Chris Wallace on 'Fox News Sunday.'
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the No. 2 Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee that has led the ongoing impeachment inquiry of President Trump, defended moving forward with the probe despite a lack of bipartisan support that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once said was necessary, calling Trump's actions worse than what was seen during the Nixon administration.
In May 2018, Pelosi said that impeachment efforts "would have to be bipartisan to go forward." When the House voted to approve and set rules for the impeachment inquiry last week, not a single Republican voted to support it. Himes did not dispute Pelosi's 2018 position, but claimed that Trump's alleged acts are so bad that it does not matter.
"These are abuses of power by any stretch of the imagination that requires a response,” Himes said, after claiming that "we are looking at abuse of power and a level of corruption here that makes the Nixon impeachment look like child’s play." He supported that statement by claiming that Nixon himself did not participate in the Watergate break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters, and that "nobody died in Ukraine because Nixon held up aid to a very vulnerable nation."
Himes admitted that "in principle Nancy Pelosi is right," and lamented a lack of bipartisan support, but blamed Republicans for sticking by the president, saying that the GOP "has now completely given itself over to being a personality cult for Trump."
Republicans have blasted the impeachment inquiry, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., for its secrecy. Himes said that he predicts public, televised hearings will begin "some time in the next two or three weeks," but said they still need to interview more witnesses behind closed doors before that happens.
Himes did say that transcripts of the closed hearings will be released.
A number of White House officials have already been called to testify over objections from President Trump. Himes indicated that former National Security Adviser John Bolton may be appearing soon.
"I believe John Bolton has been subpoenaed," Himes said, but noted he was not certain. Bolton has been considered a significant potential witness given his reported opposition to Trump's dealings with Ukraine, which are the focus of the inquiry. Bolton has reportedly been quoted as referring to Trump's request to have Ukraine help investigate his political opponents as a "drug deal."
Following the House vote on the impeachment inquiry, Republicans will have the opportunity to subpoena their own witnesses, but only pending the approval of the Democratic majority. When asked by host Chris Wallace if he could promise that Schiff will let GOP subpoenas through, Himes refused to do so.
Durham now has the ability impanel a grand jury, issue subpoenas and file criminal charges; David Spunt reports from Chicago.
EXCLUSIVE — Attorney General Bill Barr, in an interview with Fox News, defended the independence and integrity of the politically contentious probe being led by U.S. Attorney John Durham into the handling of the Russia investigation – while taking a swipe at James Comey’s past leadership of the FBI.
Fox News reported last week that the probe into the 2016 origins of the Russia meddling case has escalated from a review to a criminal investigation, a development that spurred Democratic claims that the department was becoming a tool for President Trump’s “political revenge.”
Barr, speaking to Fox News on the sidelines of a law enforcement event in Chicago, rejected Democrats’ claims he is acting as Trump’s personal lawyer.
"That's completely wrong and there is no basis for it, and I act on behalf of the United States," Barr said. The attorney general said that while he’s assisting in connecting Durham with countries that could have valuable information, Durham is running the show.
“He is in charge of the investigation, I’m not doing the investigation,” Barr said, while describing Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, as “thorough and fair” and saying he’s making progress.
Further, Durham took an implicit swipe at Comey as he maintained current FBI Director Christopher Wray is cooperating.
“I do want to say that one of the reasons Mr. Durham is able to make the kind of progress he’s making is because Director Wray and his team at the FBI have just been outstanding in support and responsiveness given to Mr. Durham,” Barr said. “As you know, I’ve said previously that I felt there was a failure of leadership at the bureau in 2016 and part of 2017, but since Director Wray and his team have taken over there’s been a world of change. I think that he is restoring the steady professionalism that’s been a hallmark of the FBI. I really appreciate his leadership there.”
When it was first reported that Durham’s investigation has evolved into a criminal probe, Democrats claimed the DOJ was essentially being weaponized against Trump’s political opponents.
“These reports, if true, raise profound new concerns that the Department of Justice under AG Barr has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a joint statement last Thursday. “If the Department of Justice may be used as a tool of political retribution, or to help the President with a political narrative for the next election, the rule of law will suffer new and irreparable damage.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner also spoke out against Durham’s probe, saying Friday that the Senate Intelligence Committee “is wrapping up a three-year bipartisan investigation, and we’ve found nothing remotely justifying this.”
He called on Barr to testify before Congress.
In response to such criticism, Barr said, "It wouldn't be appropriate at this stage for me to discuss the Durham investigation." He said he'd "certainly inform the public and Congress" when possible.
As for the direction of the investigation, he said: "We’ll let the chips fall where they may.”
He also responded to questions about a recent trip to Italy he took in relation to Durham’s investigation, explaining that they visited to help Durham establish ties with countries that might have helpful information.
“Well, some of the countries that John Durham thought might have some information that would be helpful to the investigation wanted preliminarily to talk to me about the scope of the investigation, the nature of the investigation, and how I intended to handle confidential information, and so forth,” Barr said. “So I initially discussed these matters with those countries and introduced them to John Durham and established a channel by which Mr. Durham can obtain assistance from those countries.”