The Hill: Soon, the dust will settle from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and Americans will have a fuller understanding of why prosecutors concluded there wasn’t evidence to establish that Donald Trump and Russia colluded to hijack the 2016 election.
At that point, many voters exhausted by the fizzling of a two-year scandal, once billed as the next Watergate, will want to move on like a foodie from an empty-calorie shake.
But a very important second phase of this drama is about to begin, as Attorney General William Barr, Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) put the Russia collusion investigators under investigation.
Their work will be, and must be, far more than just a political boomerang.
It must answer, in balanced terms, whether the FBI was warranted in using the most awesome powers in the U.S. intelligence arsenal to spy on Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign at the end of the 2016 election.
Investigators must determine, with neutrality, whether the bureau improperly colluded with paid agents of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s campaign — Fusion GPS and its British operative, Christopher Steele — and then tried to hide those political ties and other evidence from the nation’s secret intelligence court.
For the likes of FBI castoffs James Comey, Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, or Obama-era intelligence bosses John Brennan and James Clapper, there will be the additional uncomfortable reality that the Russia collusion narrative that they so publicly weaved through testimony, TV appearances, for-profit books and leaks, turned out to be as unsubstantiated as the Loch Ness monster.
The process of meting out accountability has begun.
Horowitz, my sources tell me, has interviewed between 50 and 100 witnesses in his exhaustive probe. Graham and his predecessor as Judiciary chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), laid out the most important investigative issues they saw in a letter last year. This month, former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) sent a letter to DOJ identifying eight potential criminal referrals. His committee last year also released a memo on abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that may have occurred during the Russia probe.
And President Trump reportedly is readying an order to declassify five key buckets of documents on alleged FBI abuses.
My sources agree these 10 questions are the most important to be answered in the forthcoming probes:
1.) When did the FBI first learn that Steele’s dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party and written by a partisan who, by his own admission, was desperate to defeat Trump? Documents and testimony I reviewed show senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr first told his colleagues about Steele’s bias and connections to Clinton in late summer 2016. Likewise, sources tell me a string of FBI emails — some before the bureau secured its first surveillance warrant — raised concerns about Steele’s motive, employer and credibility.
2.) How much evidence of innocence did the FBI possess against two of its early targets, Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page? My sources tell me that agents secured evidence of the innocence of both men from informants, intercepts and other techniques that was never disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judges in the case. I’m told learning exactly the sort of surveillance used on Page also may surprise some people.
3.) Why was the Steele dossier used as primary evidence in the FISA warrant against Page when it had not been corroborated? FBI testimony I reviewed shows agents had just begun checking out the dossier when its elements were used as supporting evidence, and that spreadsheets kept by the bureau during the verification process validated only small pieces of the dossier while concluding other parts were false or unprovable. And, of course, former FBI lawyer Lisa Page admitted that, after nine months of investigation, the dossier’s core allegation of Trump-Russia collusion could not be substantiated.
4.) Why were Steele’s biases and his ties to the Clinton campaign — as well as evidence of innocence and flaws in the FISA evidence — never disclosed to the FISA court, as required by law and court practice?