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2 law enforcement experts on what Horowitz report and testimony mean for the FBI

In 434 written pages and more than five hours of live testimony, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz shared his perspective on how the FBI conducted itself in the early stages of its Russia investigation. How serious are his findings, and what happens now for the FBI? Former FBI official Frank Montoya and former federal prosecutor James Trusty join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Four hundred and thirty-four pages, and more than five hours of live testimony. The Justice Department's internal watchdog, its inspector general, has now weighed in fully with his perspective on how the FBI conducted itself in the early stages of the investigation into President Trump.

    The inspector general's Senate testimony today comes hours after President Trump reacted to the report at a campaign rally last night in Pennsylvania.

  • President Donald Trump:

    The Justice Department's inspector general released a report detailing the outrageous, scandalous and unprecedented abuses of power.

    Folks, they spied on our campaign, OK? The inspector general found that the FBI's spying application contained 17 errors and omissions, commonly known as lies and deceit.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president speaking at a rally last night.

    And now two more perspectives. How serious are these findings? And what now for the FBI and for the Department of Justice?

    Former federal prosecutor James Trusty previously served as chief of the Justice Department's Organized Crime Section. He is now an attorney in private practice. And Frank Montoya has served in several high-level posts in the FBI, including in posts overseeing counterintelligence investigations.

    And we welcome you both to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being here.

    So, my first question is to both of you. What do you make of the Horowitz findings, the inspector general's findings, that, basically, despite errors and mistakes that shouldn't have been made in the FBI, that there was no political bias behind the decision to launch this investigation?

    Frank Montoya, to you first.

  • Frank Montoya:

    I thought it was a thorough investigation. I thought it was complete, comprehensive.

    I also think that, you know, it points out that it's not a crime to have an opinion. I think that this idea about bias is a hollow claim, in the sense that people are going to have those opinions, even in the FBI, but it's not going to stop them from being able to do their jobs objectively.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    James Trusty, a hollow claim?

  • James Trusty:

    I think it's a — I disagree pretty strongly with Frank on that.

    The reality is, this was an extremely sensitive public corruption probe. We're talking about running informants and wiretaps into or around the peripheries of a presidential campaign. And we should get best of the best.

    We should have FBI agents who are professional, who have integrity, FBI lawyers who are not doctoring documents to get what they want. So I think it's actually a pretty bad day for the FBI. But I wouldn't say that is as an institution. I would say it's specific individuals that were part of a culture that were a little bit reckless with their political ambitions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, let me stay with you, James Trusty.

    What is it you're saying specifically these agent did that wasn't just acceptable and shouldn't have happened?

  • James Trusty:

    Well, there is evidence within here of a referral, a criminal referral, based on an FBI general counsel lawyer specifically lying, changing an e-mail — and this isn't an error or a whoops kind of moment — but changing an e-mail substance, so this thing would get through the FISA court.

    That's a pretty horrific moment, and to have that happen. But you also have other nuggets of moments, where they're talking about insurance policies, which we saw from the OIG probe in the first instance, and information that suggests that even McCabe knew there was an affair between the case agent and the lawyer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The former FBI official.

  • James Trusty:

    Sorry, William McCabe — Andy McCabe — and let these things happen.

    So it's not necessarily that everything is criminal. It's just that there's horrible judgment being brought to bear on a very important investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I want to come back to you on those points, Frank Montoya.

  • Frank Montoya:

    May I add to that, though? Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sure, of course.

    And I want to ask you to remind us why the — what is the FISA court and why it matters here.

  • Frank Montoya:

    Yes, so two separate issues there.

    So, yes, there were clearly some issues in terms of misbehavior, mis — or inappropriate behavior or misconduct even. And those things need to be addressed.

    But I would also add that that has nothing to do with the bias. It just has everything to do with how they did not proceed in what Jim says is a very sensitive investigation as properly as they should have. No excusing that whatsoever. That needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed appropriately.

    And I think what Director Wray said a couple days ago, I think it was, to — in an interview, that he has set forth a bunch of different activities to reform the process, to improve the process, absolutely important to do.

    I would note, in that regard, that it's — this is not the first time that we have faced a public accounting like this, and it won't be the last time. But you think about the Woods Procedures, for instance, those came about precisely because there was a public accounting like this a couple of decades ago.

    So, the — it's important to note that, yes, there was some misbehavior, at the very least, and it needs to be addressed.

    As far as the importance of FISA is concerned, I mean, it's a huge investigative tool when it comes to conducting national security investigations. And it — a lot of that depends on public trust, in terms of how effective we are in using it.

    So, yes, in terms of maintaining that public trust, everything that we can do to follow the rules, to do everything by the book, to make sure that we are doing this in accordance with the law, is absolutely essential.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So what you're hearing, James Trusty, from Frank Montoya is that, yes, mistakes were made, but there are mistakes that are being corrected, and they don't change the fundamental finding here that this was undertaken intentionally with bias, with political leaning one way or another.

  • James Trusty:

    Right.

    Well, I think there's actually kind of a middle ground between saying this is a horrible report and a terrifically fulsome report, which is to point out that the inspector general, really, by definition, has kind of a limit to its reach, and it does not draw inferences. It doesn't consider circumstantial evidence.

    So it uses very precise words. The report says, we do not find, based on testimony and e-mails, bias or action acting on bias. So you have very kind of nuanced limits to how far they reach.

    And this is why the Durham probe is going to be so important.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And — excuse me — that's a reference to the prosecutor in Connecticut, John Durham, who still has not made his report public, although he had a statement to make the other day about it.

  • James Trusty:

    Right, which was kind of interesting.

    I mean, Durham and Barr taking offense, almost, to the I.G. report does tell me that they're sitting on some pretty important information. They have more access to information than the inspector general would ever have.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Frank Montoya, what about that? What about the fact we know the attorney general reacted to what his own inspector general said and basically dismissed it and said it's just — in so many words, it's wrong?

    He still finds problems with the Russia investigation. And Mr. Durham, we're waiting to see what he has to say.

  • Frank Montoya:

    Well, I thought what the I.G. said earlier today was really important, one, that he was surprised that Durham even issued a statement, and then, two, that it seems like the issue surrounds whether or not this should have been — or the cases that were opened, four or five cases that were opened, were either — should have been preliminary investigations vs. full investigations.

    If that is the issue, that's not very substantive, because, in a counterintelligence investigation, there's not much difference between what is a preliminary and what is the full, other than in terms of what kind of investigative techniques you can use.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, I mean, what about Mr. Trusty's point that there were there were limits to what the inspector general could do?

  • Frank Montoya:

    Well, in that — in what he's, I think, referring to there is in terms of what kind of information the inspector general could look at.

    I mean, he even made that point today, that he couldn't investigate attorneys, for instance. At the same time, in the criminal inquiry, they have the ability to go outside of the Department of Justice and the FBI. So, in terms of what information they might be collecting from other U.S. government agencies, what they may have collected from foreign partners, yes, it'll be interesting to see what kind of information that is and how it might substantiate or not the dispute between whether or not this was a valid investigation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    James Trusty, I hear you saying you want to see more. You want to see what the Durham report says. He's a criminal prosecutor. He will be able to get information, you believe, that the inspector general could not.

  • James Trusty:

    Right.

    I mean, a couple of quick examples. I mean, Lisa Page Peter Strzok had text messages on their FBI devices that were horrifying, right? They never got the personal text messages from them. So, if they said these things on FBI phones, the inspector general was powerless to obtain more.

    Durham would not be. Or, similarly, Glenn Simpson from Fusion GPS, which kind of funded the initiation of the Steele dossier, he said, I'm not talking to you. And the inspector general has to walk away from that.

    So, Durham has many more powers, many more ability — much more ability to actually drill down and get that information. Whether we see an actual report is going to be interesting. He's not Bob Mueller. There's no mandate that he write a report. So how much daylight his findings receive is really the big mystery that will resolve sometime next year.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Frank Montoya, how much confidence should the American people have right now in the FBI and the Department of Justice?

  • Frank Montoya:

    Yes, in moments like this, that's always a difficult question to answer.

    I would say that the vast majority of folks are doing exactly what the American public expects of them. They're following the rules. They are doing exactly what they need to do in order to protect this country.

    This is a unique and an extraordinary time in our country's history in terms of this particular investigation. Yes, they're — to have questions about it is appropriate.

    But I would also say that the things that the director has said, Director Wray, has said about fixing the problems, people should also take faith in the fact that we are the ones that do these kinds of investigations, that they should rely upon us to do them properly and correctly, and to trust in us that we will fix the problems that have been uncovered by the inspector general's report.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, in just a word, Mr. Trusty, should the American people have trust in the FBI?

  • James Trusty:

    I think so.

    But they should recognize when there's an elite culture that creates some problems in leadership. And I think that's what we had in the FBI.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both, James Trusty, Frank Montoya.

  • James Trusty:

    Sure. Thanks.

  • Frank Montoya:

    You bet.

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