Published 7:59 PM EDT Jul 30, 2020
WASHINGTON – The FBI said a review of more than two-dozen applications to obtain warrants to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens contained only minor errors that did not undermine the legal justification for the wiretaps.
A statement issued Thursday came a few months after the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said in a memo that it found errors and lack of documentation in nearly all 29 surveillance applications it is reviewing as part of a broader audit of the FBI’s practices.
The FBI and the Justice Department have since reviewed the 29 applications and found that the errors are mostly typographical, such as misspellings and wrong dates, the FBI said in the statement. The bureau said it found only two material errors, but neither would’ve affected the justifications for the surveillance.
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In the memo, issued in March, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s office said it had not determined if the errors were material and whether they would’ve influenced federal judges’ decisions to approve the warrant applications. But the office said it was not confident that the FBI had followed rules that require investigators to ensure their applications are accurate and any assertions they make to justify wiretapping citizens are supported by documents.
Last year, Horowitz’s office found that the controversial surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser was riddled with errors, raising questions about its justification.
In a voluminous report released in December, the inspector general’s office identified more than a dozen inaccuracies across all four applications to wiretap Carter Page in 2016 and 2017. The FBI at the time was investigating Russia’s interference in the previous presidential election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.
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In many cases, investigators omitted information that contradicted their suspicions about Page and overstated the reliability of a former British intelligence officer whose information they used to justify the warrants, according to the report.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has since ordered more than 40 corrective steps, including additional verification of agents’ assertions, more documentation, training and internal audits.
Howoritz’s report, which found that the broader Russia investigation was justified, continues to be a rallying cry for many Republicans who have cast the probe as a hoax and a conspiracy to undermine President Donald Trump. Republicans and Democrats have both criticized the surveillance process and called for major reforms.
The Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee continues to hold hearings taking aim at the legitimacy of the Russia investigation, which led to the indictment of several Trump allies. Sally Yates, deputy attorney general under the Obama administration, is scheduled to testify next week.