The IG Audit: Big Problems for Comey and Pals
How could former FBI director James Comey and his accomplices be so bold as to think they could get away with spying on Carter Page, a 2016 Trump campaign adviser, when they objectively knew Page was not a Russian agent?
Answer: Because they had already corrupted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court system. Applications for warrants to spy on Americans were being approved without truthful and accurate corroboration of their allegations.
The standard for the government to obtain warrants under FISA is the highest in U.S. law because preventing terrorism and foreign danger involves the otherwise unconstitutional invasion of privacy of U.S. citizens. In theory, the facts alleged on the application have to be correct. In practice, prior to being caught, corrupt actors in charge of the relevant bureaucracies could spy on whomever they chose.
Another answer to the question posed above is that top officials at the FBI thought they would never be audited in a million years.
The Audit of the Woods Procedures
But the release of the Horowitz Report in late 2019 in which U.S. Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz found 17 inaccuracies and omissions by the FBI and “a litany of false and even falsified representations used to continue the secret investigation targeting the Trump campaign and its associates,” would lead to an IG audit of the FISA process.
Mr. Horowitz is currently auditing, but his troubling discoveries have prompted him to send a memo to FBI Director Christopher Wray prior to completing his audit.
The IG is primarily focused on reviewing previous FISA warrants within a five-year period (October 2014 to September 2019) for Woods Procedures compliance with FBI rules. Agents handling FISA applications are required to establish a Woods Procedures file to keep the evidence used to verify the allegations contained in the FISA application.
So far, the IG has looked into 29 of 700 FISA applications in eight FBI field offices. The primary question of the IG is whether the Woods Procedures files support the allegations in the corresponding applications to the court.
In four of the 29 audits the Woods Procedures files could not be located. In the remaining 25 cases, an average of 20 “errors” were found in each FISA application. By “errors,” Horowitz refers to allegations in the applications that are not supported by Woods Procedures files; not corroborated by Woods Procedures files; and not consistent with the information in the Woods Procedures files.
In his memo, the IG states: “we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy, or that the process is working as it was intended to help achieve the ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications.”
In truth, the IG has more than a lack of confidence, it has actual knowledge that the FBI has not complied with policy.
It has become apparent that the FBI established a practice of not properly verifying their allegations in their FISA applications.
The Audit of the Audits
The FBI didn’t see an independent audit of the FISA process coming because the bureaucracy had been auditing itself by what it calls accuracy reviews.
But IG Horowitz has revealed the internal agency audits were perfunctory show audits that merely created the appearance of integrity.
The Chief Division Counsel (CDC) at each FBI field office is required to do an annual accuracy review. The CDC selects one FISA application to audit and sends a report to FBI headquarters. Additionally, the National Security Division’s (NSD) Office of Intelligence (OI) of the DOJ is required to do an annual accuracy review of at least one FISA application.
Those accuracy review audits, as reported by the Epoch Times, “aren’t focused on assessing compliance with Woods Procedures and instead focus on whether ‘support exists at the time of the… review for each factual assertion in the FISA application under review.’”
The key words in that quote are whether support exists at the time of the review.
Here’s the clincher from the IG: “prior to the FBI CDC or NSD OI review, field offices are given advance notification of which FISA application(s) will be reviewed and are expected to compile documentary evidence to support the relevant FISA application(s).”
In other words, it’s not a real audit or review or whatever you want to call it. Getting advance notice of which FISA application will be reviewed and getting time to assemble documentation ex post facto to support the claims in the application is anything but an honest audit.
In his typical style of understating the obvious, the IG asserts, “this method [of auditing] should identify fewer unsupported facts in the application than would result from only reviewing the Woods File… because the responsible personnel are aware of the upcoming review and given time to gather any existing documentation to support the factual assertions in the FISA applications.”
Nevertheless, of the internal agency accuracy review audits the IG reviewed, 390 issues were discovered which include unverified, inaccurate and inadequately supported facts. Of the 390 issues, none were identified by the internal auditors as being “material” errors. And the IG, for whatever reason, has decided to not reach certain conclusions while sitting on a mountain of evidence.
That is reminiscent of the IG stating in his 2019 report that no bias was documented on the part of the FBI in its spying on the Trump campaign. In other words, no one interviewed admitted to bias. The Democrat Party news media had their misleading headline: no bias found.
Likewise, though the fake news headline can be: no material errors identified in FISA applications, here is the context from the memo to Director Wray:
The 2009 joint FBI-NSD policy memorandum states that “OI determines, in consultation with the FBI, whether a misstatement or omission of fact identified during an accuracy review is material.” The 34 reports that we reviewed indicate that none of the approximately 390 identified issues were deemed to be material. However, we were told by NSD OI personnel that the FBI had not asked NSD OI to weigh in on materiality determinations nor had NSD OI formally received FBI CDC accuracy review results, which accounted for about 250 of the total issues in the reports we reviewed.
Horowitz clarified that the Department of Justice’s OI makes the determination as to whether the unverified, inaccurate and inadequately supported facts are “material” errors. Significantly, the OI never received the relevant FBI CDC accuracy reviews and were not asked to make any materiality determinations.
When the dust settles, James Comey and his media allies cannot be allowed to somehow compartmentalize their own version of the truth. Common sense, I believe, will prevail.
The Horowitz audit is solidifying what many had long suspected: the FBI used its systemic abuse of the FISA system to illegally spy on the 2016 Trump campaign.
Monte Kuligowski is a Virginia attorney.