Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz testified on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that any surveillance made under a warrant issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that was improperly obtained is “illegal.”
Horowitz’s comments came after he accused top FBI officials of mishandling a flawed effort to obtain a warrant to spy on 2016 Trump campaign figure Carter Page from the FISA court.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), asked Horowitz if there was a time when putting Page under surveillance became unlawful.
At first, Horowitz said that his report was sent to the courts to see whether there should be charges filed against anyone at the FBI for the flawed FISA Court applications.
“If you don’t have a legal foundation to surveil somebody and you keep doing it, is that bad?” Graham asked Horowitz.
“Absolutely,” he replied, adding that “it’s illegal surveillance. It’s not court-authorized surveillance.”
In all, four FISA warrants were issued to surveil Page, including after he left the Trump campaign and after President Trump won the 2016 election, into his administration.
FBI agents, according to previous reports, placed a “dossier” containing unsubstantiated allegations against then-candidate Trump in their FISA warrant applications even though the bureau knew the document was uncorroborated and was paid for by the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Horowitz testified repeatedly that he found no political bias during his probe, a finding that has been disputed by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is currently investigating the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele compiled the dossier by using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin.
There were “significant questions” “raised” about the “reliability of the Steele reporting that was used in the Carter Page FISA applications,” Horowitz said.
He added that “the FISA applications relied entirely on information from the Steele reporting to support the allegation that Page was coordinating with the Russian government on 2016 U.S. presidential election activities.”
As the investigation continued, however, Attorney General William Barr said Tuesday that FBI agents discovered exculpatory evidence clearing Page but continuing requesting FISA surveillance warrants anyway.
Several FBI officials directly involved in preparing and signing the FISA warrants have all either left or been fired from the bureau, including Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok.