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DOJ Watchdog Report On Russia Probe To Be Released Monday

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

President Trump and his Republican allies have long questioned why and how the Russia probe came to be. Today they will get their answer. After 20 months of investigating the investigators, the inspector general at the Department of Justice will release his conclusions.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been following this and is in our studio. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: OK. Just remind us what the inspector general was looking into specifically.

LUCAS: So the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, announced this review back in March of 2018. And at the time, he said that it was in response to requests from the attorney general as well as members of Congress.

And so over the past year and a half or so, Horowitz has been looking at a number of things. One of the big things is the FBI and the Justice Department's surveillance of former Trump campaign policy aide Carter Page. Part of that involves the infamous Trump-Russia dossier. That was written by a former British spy, paid for by Democrats. The FBI was in contact with that former British spy. The dossier was included in the FBI's application to get court approval for surveillance on Page. So the inspector general looked at all of that and whether it was done in line with department policies.

But this review will also address the question of whether there was any political bias that affected how the FBI handled this investigation. And that includes the FBI's use of confidential sources to reach out to folks in the Trump campaign to see what they knew about contacts with Russia.

MARTIN: So there's a whole lot of interest in seeing what these conclusions are going to be. Let's start out with the Republicans. What are they looking for here?

LUCAS: So the president and his Republican allies have been very clear about the Russia investigation and what they think of it. They have consistently called it a witch hunt. They've said it's part of a deep state conspiracy that aims to bring Trump down. The president and his allies have gone after several former senior FBI officials over this investigation. They've attacked former FBI Director James Comey. They've attacked Comey's former deputy Andy McCabe. They have attacked two other FBI employees who sent those inflammatory text messages criticizing Trump that we've talked a lot about.

MARTIN: Right.

LUCAS: So in this report, Trump and his allies are looking for validation of all of these allegations. And in the current fight over impeachment, the president and his supporters have continued to push a version of that same narrative - basically that officials who handle national security are actively trying to undermine his investigation.

MARTIN: And Democrats - I mean, it's basically the opposite of that. Right?

LUCAS: That's right. Democrats say that procedures were followed in the Russia investigation - that everything was done above board. They say that the FBI had every reason to look into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. And they say that it would have been actually negligent of the FBI not to have taken a look at those things.

Now, as for what we're actually likely to see in this report - in broad brushstrokes, the inspector general is inspected to - is expected to criticize the FBI over certain aspects of the investigation. But overall, the report is expected to conclude that the investigation was justified, that there was reason to do it and that it isn't tainted by political bias. All of that said, both sides, Republicans and Democrats alike, they are likely to find things in this report that they can cherry-pick and hold up to support their respective viewpoints in all of this.

MARTIN: But doesn't this raise the question - I mean, remember when Bill Barr, the attorney general, sent out his synopsis of the executive summary of the Mueller report and Democrats and Republicans both looked to it and saw what they wanted to see. Like, unless this report from Horowitz says explicitly - the investigation was justified, period - I mean, we're still going to battle over this, aren't we?

LUCAS: This is - while this is supposed to be, in many ways, kind of a final word on this, this is not going to be the final word on this. This is political war at this point time in many ways, shapes and form. And so, yes, there is going to be - this is going to continue to play out.

And Horowitz, this is not the final word from him himself. He's going to testify on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. But then, yes, there's another investigation that's still going on that deals with similar questions. The attorney general appointed a veteran prosecutor earlier this year to look into the origins of the Russia investigation.

MARTIN: John Durham, right?

LUCAS: John Durham. He's looking at similar things to Horowitz, but he's believed to have more of a focus on U.S. spy agencies and foreign intelligence services. That review is now a criminal investigation. And the president, for one, is already looking ahead to that one. He said recently that the Durham report is actually the big report and the one that people are really waiting for.

MARTIN: OK. NPR's Ryan Lucas. We appreciate it. Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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