WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said a Justice Department’s internal watchdog report examining the origins of the Russia investigation shows an “attempted overthrow” of government, pointing to inaccuracies found in FBI surveillance applications related to his 2016 campaign.
The nearly 500-page report, released Monday by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found the FBI was legally justified in opening its inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, but said there were several “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in its surveillance applications to monitor Trump’s former foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
“They fabricated evidence and they lied to the courtsand they did all sorts of things to have it go their way,” Trump told reporters Monday before a roundtable discussion on education. “This was an attempted overthrow and a lot of people were in on it, and they got caught.”
Trump said he was briefed on the report, describing its findings as “a disgrace” and “far worse than anything I would have imagined.”
The report also undercut Trump’s claim that the Obama administration illegally spied on his campaign.
Democrats and Republicans both declared victory upon the report’s release.
In a written statement, Democrats on Capitol Hill saidthe report refutes the president’s claim that the Russia investigation was a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
“Those discredited conspiracy theories were attempts to deflect from the President’s serious and ongoing misconduct, first urging Russia and now extorting Ukraine into interfering with our elections to benefit him personally and politically,” said Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, Democrats representing New York and co-chairs of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, respectively.
The report came during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in which lawmakers debated evidence in the impeachment inquiry against Trump. House Democrats allege he sought to pressure Ukraine to announce two investigations that would politically benefit him. Trump has denied the accusations.
Ahead of the impeachment hearing, Trump promoted the report’s release Sunday in a tweet, calling it “the big story.”
The president’s allies were quick to criticize the FBI. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., called the report “deeply disturbing” in a tweet.
“Some former FBI and DOJ officials are about to have some serious explaining to do,” he said.
Attorney General William Barr disagreed with the report’s finding that the FBI was justified in its Russia probe.
“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.
Barr is overseeing a parallel criminal investigation into the Russia probe, fueling criticism from Democrats that DOJ has become a tool for Trump’s political retribution.
Trump told reporters Monday he was looking forward to that investigation, which is being conducted by U.S. Attorney John H. Durham, who was appointed by Barr to lead the probe.
The president said Durham’s report would be released in the “not too distant future.”
In a statement Monday Durham backed Barr’s remarks, saying he had informed the inspector general that “we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to the predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
However, FBI Director Christopher Wray called the IG report “constructive criticism that will make us stronger as an organization.”
The Russia probe was launched in 2016 after the FBI had learned that another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, boasted to an Australian diplomat that Russia had offered the campaign damaging information about the Hillary Clinton.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller took over the inquiry in 2017 and found a “sweeping and systematic” effort by the Kremlin to influence the U.S. election in Trump’s favor. But he also concluded that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with the Russians, according to the report.
Trump and his allies have long claimed the FBI investigation into his 2016 campaign was improper and motivated by political bias.
Page, who had longstanding connections in Russia, admitted meeting with Kremlin officials in July 2016, when he was the Trump campaign’s foreign policy adviser. Later that year, the FBI obtained a surveillance warrant on Page as part of its counterintelligence investigation into Russia and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Horowitz launched his review in March 2018 in response to requests from Republican lawmakers and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He is scheduled to discuss his findings in a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Contributed: Kristine Phillips and Kevin Johnson