Five candidates have their eyes on becoming the next president of Algeria — without a leader since April — as voting began in Thursday’s contentious election boycotted by a massive pro-democracy movement.
The powerful army chief and his cohorts in the interim government have promised the voting will chart a new era for the gas-rich North African nation that is a strategic partner of the West in countering extremist violence. Those opposed to the voting fear the results will replicate a corrupt, anti-democratic system they are trying to level.
Tension was palpable on the eve of the vote as protesters in at least 10 towns denounced the elections. In Bouira, east of Algiers, the capital, security forces used tear gas to push back protesters who had invaded a voting station in a high school, according to the online TSA news agency, citing witnesses. Several thousand people demonstrated in Algiers.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0700 GMT) and are to close at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT). Results were not likely until Friday, to be announced by a newly created National Independent Electoral Authority overseeing the voting. The body was among the nods of authorities to protesters, like the decision for soldiers to vote in civilian clothes at regular polling stations, rather than in barracks.
The five candidates, two of them former prime ministers, Ali Benflis and Abdelmadjid Tebboune, endured insults and protests during the 22-day campaign. All five contenders have links to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced to resign in April after 20 years in office under pressure from weekly street protests that began in February, with an assist from army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah.
The turnout rate should be a critical indication of whether the contender elected has popular legitimacy. There was no firm indication which of the five had the upper hand ahead of the vote. Opinion polls for elections are not permitted.
Tebboune, 74, was until recently seen as the favorite due to his reportedly close ties to Gaid Salah. However, a 60-year-old former culture minister, Azzedine Mihoubi, a writer and poet, has been touted in the media. Mihoubi has deep ties to the fallen Bouteflika regime. He took over leadership of the National Democratic Rally party, which governed in alliance with the FLN, the sole party for nearly three decades, until 1989, and now in tatters.
Benflis, 75, was making his third attempt at the presidency. A lawyer and former justice minister, he was Bouteflika’s top aide before falling out when he ran against him in 2004. He started his own party.
The other candidates are Abdelaziz Belaid, 56, a former figure in the FLN who started his own party, and Abdelkader Bengrini, 57, a one-time tourism minister and former member of the moderate Islamist party, Movement for a Society of Peace (MSP). He then started his own Islamist party el Bina, which like the MSP, backed Bouteflika.
Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the authority figure in the political vacuum, setting the date for the elections, has maintained that the voting is the shortest and surest way to raise Algeria out of its paralyzing political crisis and give birth to a new era. He was the force behind an anti-corruption campaign that has seen top figures jailed and convicted, including Said Bouteflika, the president’s brother and chief counselor, sentenced to 15 years in prison in September for “plotting against the state.”
Gaid Salah refers to Bouteflika’s entourage as “the gang,” as do pro-democracy protesters who include Gaid Salah among them.
Police arrested dozens of people and enforced curfew Thursday in several districts in India’s northeastern Assam state where thousands protested legislation granting citizenship to non-Muslims who migrated from neighboring countries.
Groups of protesters defied the curfew in Gauhati, the state capital, on Thursday morning and burned tires before police dispersed them.
Soldiers drove and marched though the streets to reinforce police in violence-hit districts, which included Gauhati and Dibrugarh, said state police chief Bhaskar Mahanta.
The protesters in Assam oppose the legislation out of concern that migrants will move to the border region and dilute the culture and political sway of indigenous tribal people. The legislation was passed by Parliament on Wednesda and now needs to be signed by the country’s ceremonial president, a formality, before becoming law.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and in a tweet said: “I want to assure them — no one can take away your rights, unique identity and beautiful culture. It will continue to flourish and grow.”
The Press Trust of India news agency said the protesters uprooted telephone poles, burned several buses and other vehicles and also attacked homes of officials from the governing Hindu nationalist party and the regional group Assam Gana Parishad.
Police used batons and tear gas to disperse protesters in 10 out of the state’s 33 districts.
While those protesting in Assam are opposed to the bill because of worries it will allow immigrants, no matter their faith, to live in their region, others are opposed to the bill because they see it as discriminatory for not applying to Muslims.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill, seeks to grant Indian nationality to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jains, Parsis and Sikhs who fled Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh because of religious persecution before 2015. It does not, however, extend to Rohingya Muslim refugees who fled persecution in Myanmar.
Home Minister Amit Shah said it was not anti-Muslim because it did not affect the existing path to citizenship available to all communities.
Amnesty India said the legislation legitimized discrimination on the basis of religion and stood in clear violation of the India’s constitution and international human rights law.
“Welcoming asylum seekers is a positive step, but in a secular country like India, slamming the door on persecuted Muslims and other communities merely for their faith reeks of fear-mongering and bigotry,” the rights group said in a statement.
Several opposition lawmakers who debated the bill in Parliament said it would be challenged in court.
“Today marks a dark day in the constitutional history of India,” said Sonia Gandhi of the main opposition Congress party. “The passage of the Citizenship Amendment Bill marks the victory of narrow-minded and bigoted forces over India’s pluralism.”
Its passage follows a contentious citizenship registry exercise in Assam intended to identify legal residents and weed out those in the country illegally. Shah has pledged to roll it out nationwide, promising to rid India of “infiltrators.”
Nearly 2 million people in Assam were excluded from the list — about half Hindus and the other half Muslims — and have been asked to prove their citizenship or else be rendered stateless.
India is constructing a detention center for some of the tens of thousands the courts are expected to ultimately determine came to the country illegally.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill could provide protection and a fast track to naturalization for many of the Hindus left off Assam’s citizenship list.
Environmentalists and climate change activists worldwide are hailing Time magazine’s decision to make Greta Thunberg its 2019 Person of the Year. The teenage activist has attracted the world’s attention with her eloquent calls on political and industrial leaders to make courageous decisions on climate change. Her actions have inspired young people worldwide to fight for the protection of the planet. But as VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports, there are critics who say Thunberg’s mission and her celebrity status are all wrong
div>Top American officials say the U.S. is hopeful that the recent prisoner exchange will lead to a broader discussion on consular affairs between the U.S. and Iran.
In an interview with VOA on Wednesday, Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, recalled some of the emotional moments of witnessing the release of Xiyue Wang, a Chinese American detained in Iran, and said Wang will be “working with us and doing everything we can to get out people like Bob Levinson and then the Namazis and others.”
US Hopes Iran Prisoner Exchange Leads to Broader Dialogue
Wang was freed Saturday after being held in Iran since 2016 on spying charges, in return for the U.S. releasing Iranian scientist Masoud Soleimani.
Hook said Wang is “in excellent condition” and is at Ramstein Air Force Base with his wife and son.
While the top U.S. envoy said the rare prisoner exchange between the two nations is “a good first step” toward more dialogue, he called Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s proposal via a tweet for “a comprehensive prisoner swap” not helpful.
“We don’t think it’s all that helpful for any sort of talking about prisoners in public. We just try to do this in quiet diplomacy and bring Americans back home,” Hook said.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
VOA: First, congratulations on bringing detained American home. You were there to witness the release of Xiyue Wang, the Princeton Ph.D. candidate. Could you please share with us your firsthand story and some of the most memorable moments?
Hook: It was a big day for American diplomacy, but it was an even bigger day for Xiyue Wang. And so the United States has been working on releasing all Americans who are detained in Iran for the last three years. We’ve been working to win their release. We’ve been trying to get a consular dialogue going with Iran so that we can get Americans out. And then about three or four weeks ago, we started getting some more positive signals from the Iranians, and then working through the Swiss, I’ve been working with the Swiss, was able to negotiate the release of Xiyue Wang. And so when we were in Zurich, it was a really powerful moment to welcome Xiyue back home and out of Iranian custody, out of Iranian prison.
He is a brave and amazing man. He is currently at Ramstein Air Force Base with his wife and son. They’re now reunited. And I think he’s getting great medical care there. He is in excellent condition. And he emerged from this, he’s very strong. He’s, I really admire his toughness and when he’s ready, after we get through I think just the period of just the medical evaluation and reuniting with his family, then he’ll be coming back to the United States.
VOA: What was his first ask when he met you?
Hook: He just said it’s great to be an American. Those were his first words. And it was a very emotional moment, very powerful. And I really admire him. And I know his wife, Hua, and she’s at Princeton. And she has been tireless in advocating for his release and I had met with her. We’ve spoken by phone a number of times.
Now, there are other families who also have loved ones in Iran who are, we are still trying to get out.
One of the things that Xiyue made very clear to me was he wants to get all of them out. And I know that he’ll be working with us and doing everything we can to get out people like Bob Levinson and the Namazis and others. And we work on it every day.
VOA: Xiyue Wang was born in Beijing. He’s now a U.S. citizen. His wife is a Chinese citizen. During the process, did the Chinese government provide any help or play any role in securing his release?
Hook: Not that I’m aware of. I’m not aware of any role that China played securing his release.
VOA: After the recent swap of Xiyue Wang and Soleimani, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that Iran is fully ready for a comprehensive prisoner exchange. What is your take? How serious is the U.S. taking his pitch?
Hook: Foreign Minister Zarif unfortunately has a long history of creating a sense of false hope with American families. On a regular basis, he says things that we then follow up and test the offer, and then we discovered that there is no offer.
Now we were able to get a successful exchange this time, and it was a fair negotiation. So we’re very pleased with the outcome. We don’t conduct trying to get our hostages out of Iran in public. And so I didn’t, I didn’t talk to the media or to anybody during the last three or four weeks when I was negotiating the release of Xiyue Wang. That is the proper way to handle this.
So we don’t think it’s all that helpful for any sort of talking about prisoners in public. We just try to do this in quiet diplomacy and bring Americans back home.
But I am going to follow up with the Iranians, this was a good first step. I’ll work through the Swiss, the Swiss have been fantastic. They are protecting power. We don’t have an ambassador in Iran. So we rely on the Swiss to represent us in Iran. And they were great. Markus Leitner, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, was a great partner in helping to get Xiyue Wang out of prison. I’ll continue to work with him and the Iranians.
It is a good first step, and I hope this leads to bigger and better things.
VOA: Does the recent swap open any door? Is there any indication that Iranians may be willing to come to the table to discuss all outstanding issues?
Hook: I don’t think the diplomats in Iran that I met with have any mandate from the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] to talk to the Americans. I was certainly open to having a conversation with them, but that’s been American policy. The president, the secretary of state have all made clear that we’re, we want to resolve our diplomatic differences bilaterally, through diplomacy, not through military force, which is what Iran has been choosing, and they’ve been making the wrong choice because their economy is in a free fall and the regime is becoming more diplomatically isolated.
But unfortunately, look, I think there are a lot of people in Iran’s foreign ministry that would like to talk to United States and would like to come to the table, but the supreme leader doesn’t give them much of a leash. And I think that became clear in Zurich. And so we hope at some point the supreme leader will start making better choices for his own people instead of making bad choices.
VOA: Is the U.S. advocating for a regime change in Tehran?
Hook: For the 1 millionth time, I’ve said this, the United States policy is a change in behavior. It is not a change in regime. And everybody knows that we have a list of 12 demands. Most of them are based on U.N. Security Council resolutions that were passed unanimously, with votes by China and Russia. These were the international standards before the failed Iran nuclear deal. We are trying to restore those standards. Most of the things that we’re asking for you can find in a U.N. Security Council resolution. It’s not an unrealistic list. It’s very realistic.
And those who think it’s too ambitious, I would ask those people to identify what of the 12 things they would like Iran to keep doing? Do they want Iran to keep enriching nuclear material? Do they want Iran to be proliferating ballistic missiles and sending billions of dollars to Assad and to the Houthis so that they can bomb other countries? This is the right list, this is the right approach. We’re very pleased with the success of our maximum pressure campaign.
VOA: Do you see a Berlin Wall moment in Iran, given the ongoing protests?
Hook: It’s very hard to predict how things go in any country around the world. We do know that Iran is facing its deadliest political unrest in the history of the 40 years of the Islamic Republic. And so we stand with the Iranian people. The Iranian regime has murdered as many as 1,000 Iranians. And the supreme leader calls his own people thugs. And now you’re seeing the regime has lost almost every constituency supporting its revolutionary policy. And now they cling to power with just brute force. And so, we know the Iranian people are demanding the same things that we are, and other nations around the world: stop prioritizing proxies over people. The Iranian people want a better life and they’re tired of all their money being spent in foreign wars.
VOA: For many years, the U.S. has been asking for a consular dialogue with Iran. Has there been any progress? What is the U.S. asking for? What are the sticking points?
Hook: “When I met with Iran’s deputy foreign minister 2 1/2 years ago, Abbas Araghchi, I asked for a consular dialogue and he said no. There have been other times, we’ve asked for it repeatedly and Iran keeps saying no. We’re gonna continue to ask for it.
As I said, I’m really pleased that we were able to make a fair deal with the regime over the release and the exchange of Soleimani for Xiyue Wang. So let’s make this a first step, and I hope that the regime takes advantage of this moment, and let’s build on it.
Some U.S. Democrats from highly competitive districts say they are undecided on how to vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump in the House of Representatives, a vote that will be historic as well as pivotal for their own political futures.
In conversations in recent days with over a dozen lawmakers from swing districts, only two said they had decided to vote yes — Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania and Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Both lawmakers replaced Republicans.
“The question before us is there enough evidence to warrant a trial in the Senate? And the answer in my estimation … is yes,” Phillips said. He said he expected to vote “Yes, with a heavy heart.”
Inquiry called a hoax
The two articles of impeachment accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to face the president in next year’s election, and of obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.
Trump denies wrongdoing and calls the impeachment inquiry a hoax.
Aides to House Democratic leaders say they expect the articles of impeachment to pass comfortably in the Democratic-controlled House, sending the matter to the Senate for a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.
But defections would undermine the sense of party unity, potentially a sign of weakness ahead of 2020 elections.
Representative Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey who is serving his second term in a district narrowly won by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, said he did not expect to make a decision until after the House Judiciary Committee approves the articles on Thursday.
He was among about 10 battleground district lawmakers who huddled earlier this week to discuss the possibility of censuring the president, instead of impeaching him. But that option was ruled out months ago by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats in swing districts may see political advantage in signaling the care they are taking to deliberate and limiting time ahead of the vote to be targeted for a position that will be unpopular with some constituents.
The Republican-led Senate is unlikely to vote to remove Trump from office.
“Phones are ringing off the hook” from impeachment supporters and opponents, said Representative Elissa Slotkin, whose Michigan district was a Republican stronghold until she won there last year. Several Republicans have already said they want to challenge Slotkin in 2020.
“I’m going to take the weekend” to look over the articles of impeachment, Slotkin said on Wednesday outside the House. “I just need to like, get a breath. Take a breath. It’s a serious decision for me.”
In the face of solid Republican opposition, Democrats will need 216 votes to approve the articles, meaning they can lose about 17 or 18 Democrats if everyone is present and voting. One independent, Representative Justin Amash, has told CNN he will vote for impeachment.
There are dozens of “battleground” districts in the House, and 31 Democrats represent districts where Trump also won in 2016. Some moderate Democrats who represent those districts were among the last in their party to endorse an impeachment inquiry and have been bombarded recently by Republican attack ads.
“We are giving this the level of seriousness that it is deserving. It’s the second most serious thing I could ever do in
this institution,” after declaring war, said Representative Max Rose, who represents part of New York City, including the middle-class borough of Staten Island.
The House on Wednesday passed its annual defense policy measure, which combined a $738 billion Pentagon price tag with legislation to provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
The sweeping 377-48 vote followed weeks of arduous House-Senate negotiations that finally yielded a traditionally bipartisan measure, stripped of many add-ons sought by Democrats controlling the House.
The result came over outnumbered protests by some of the chamber’s most liberal members, who said Democratic negotiators should have fought harder for House-passed liberal policies. They are also unhappy about the spiraling defense budget.
The compromise between the Democratic-controlled House and the GOP-held Senate broke free after Republicans agreed to accept a Democratic demand — endorsed by Trump in end-stage negotiations — for the landmark parental leave provision. Negotiators also endorsed Trump’s call for a new “space force” — a provision previously backed by the House on a bipartisan basis.
Trump has said he’ll sign the measure, which is expected to pass the Senate next week at the latest.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., absorbed a lot of criticism for abandoning Democratic provisions that ran into a wall of opposition from the White House and congressional Republicans.
Democrats drop wanted provisions
Democrats dropped a provision to block Trump from transferring money from Pentagon accounts to constructing a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. They also dropped protections for transgender troops, and tougher regulations on toxic chemicals that are found in firefighting foam used at military installations.
“It’s basically hard to negotiate when your side wants 100 things and the other side wants nothing,” Smith said in an interview. But he hailed the parental leave benefit, as well as a repeal of the so-called widow’s tax on military death benefits. That provision required 65,000 people whose spouses have been killed in action to forfeit part of their Pentagon death benefit when they also received benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I was able to get them to enthusiastically support the largest expansion of the social welfare state since the Affordable Care Act — the widow’s tax and paid parental leave,” Smith said. “That was an enormous accomplishment, OK? I got them to do things that they never wanted to do.”
Democrats also agreed to let go of House-passed provisions to restrict Trump from waging war against Iran unless Congress approves; ban deployment of new submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear weapons; and ban U.S. military assistance for strikes by Saudi-led forces in Yemen.
While Democrats retreated from their assault on Trump’s ability to transfer Pentagon money to his border wall, Republicans agreed to drop a Trump demand to budget $7.2 billion in defense funds for the wall. The wall battle has instead migrated to talks on a mammoth government-wide spending package.
59 years in a row
The annual defense policy bill has now passed for 59 years in a row, reflecting strong support among lawmakers for military personnel — who would receive a 3.1 percent pay raise, the largest in a decade — and the economic boost that military installations and defense contractors provide back home.
Trump crowed about the “U.S. Space Force” provision, which mostly reorganizes existing personnel into a new branch of the Air Force. The House had passed the idea in previous years under GOP control only to see it die in the Senate.
“This was our idea,” Smith said. “The idea that the White House got anything out of that is something I find deeply amusing.”
Debate featured a stream of lawmakers from both sides mostly congratulating each other and praising the military.
“We once again tacked to the middle and moved to garner bipartisan support,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va.
The only sour note was struck by left-leaning California Rep. Ro Khanna: “When are we going to do our Article I duty and stop funding these endless wars and start funding our domestic priorities?”
Fears mounted Wednesday that a deadly shooting at a Jewish market in Jersey City was an anti-Semitic attack as authorities recounted how a man and woman deliberately pulled up to the place in a rental van with at least one rifle and got out firing.
A day after the gun battle and standoff that left six people dead — the two killers, a police officer and three people who had been inside the store — state and federal law enforcement officials warned they have not established the motive for the attack.
“The why and the ideology and the motivation — that’s what we’re investigating,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, adding that authorities are also trying to determine if anyone else was involved.
But Mayor Steve Fulop said surveillance video of the attackers made it clear they targeted the kosher market, and he pronounced the bloodshed a hate crime against Jews, as did New York’s mayor and governor.
Also, investigators believe the two dead attackers — who were believed to be a couple — identified themselves in the past as Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement whose members have been known to rail against whites and Jews, according to a law enforcement official who was briefed on the matter but was not authorized to discuss the case publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In addition, authorities have found social media postings from at least one of the killers that were anti-police and anti-Jewish, the official said. The FBI on Wednesday searched the Harlem headquarters of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ, which is the formal name of the Black Hebrew group, according to the official.
The killers were identified as David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50 — both of them also prime suspects in the slaying of a livery driver found dead in car trunk in nearby Bayonne over the weekend, Grewal said. Anderson served about four months in prison in New Jersey on weapons charges and was paroled in 2011, authorities said.
Two of the victims at the store were identified by members of the Orthodox Jewish community as Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery, and 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there. The Ferencz family had moved to Jersey City from Brooklyn. Authorities identified the third victim as Miguel Douglas, 49.
“The report from the Jersey City mayor saying it was a targeted attack makes us incredibly concerned in the Jewish community,” said Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights organization. “They want answers. They demand answers. If this was truly a targeted killing of Jews, then we need to know that right away, and there needs to be the pushing back on this at the highest levels possible.”
The bloodshed in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City began at a graveyard, where Detective Joseph Seals, a 40-year-old member of a unit devoted to taking illegal weapons off the street, was gunned down by the assailants, authorities said. They then drove the van about a mile to the kosher market.
Grewal said that within seconds of pulling up to the market, Anderson got out with a rifle and immediately began shooting, and Graham followed him into the store. He would not say whether Graham had a weapon.
A pipe bomb was found in the van, FBI agent Gregory Ehrie said.
Jersey City’s mayor said it was clear that the killers deliberately made their way toward the kosher market, passing many other possible targets along the way, and calmly and promptly opened fire.
“We shouldn’t parse words on whether this is a hate crime at this point. This was a hate crime against Jewish ppl + hate has no place,” he tweeted, adding: “Some will say don’t call it anti-semitism or a hate crime till a longer review but being Jewish myself + the grandson of holocaust survivors I know enough to call it what this is.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio likewise said the attack was a “premeditated, violent, anti-Semitic hate crime,” while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a “deliberate attack on the Jewish community.” They announced tighter police protection of synagogues and other Jewish establishments in New York as a precaution.
The drawn-out battle with police filled the streets with the sound of high-powered rifle fire and turned the city into what looked like a war zone, with SWAT officers in full tactical gear swarming the neighborhood. The attackers were killed in the shootout with police.
A fourth bystander was shot at the store when the attackers burst in, but escaped, Grewal said. His name was not released.
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro said he spoke with the survivor at a hospital. “He said the guy next to him fell to the ground,” Shapiro said. “He suffered two gunshot wounds but managed to run out of the store and climb over fences.”
In the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue north of San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.
The kosher grocery is a central fixture in a growing community of Orthodox Jews who have been moving to Jersey City in recent years and settling in what was a mostly black section of Jersey City, causing some resentment.
Mordechai Rubin, a member of the local Jewish emergency medical services, said the small Jewish community has grown over the past three or four years, made up mostly of people from Brooklyn seeking a “nicer, quieter” and more affordable place to live. Next to the store is a synagogue with a school and day care center where 40 students were present at the time of the shooting, he said.
“It’s unfortunate what happened, but we don’t even want to think about what would have happened if they made their way up to the day care or to the synagogue,” he said.
Authorities also warned that several fake Go Fund me pages have popped up purporting to be raising funds for the family of the slain officer, a father of five.
U.S. Justice Department’s inspector general said Wednesday that his recent finding that the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016 was not politically motivated and does not “vindicate” any official.
Michael Horowitz released a 417-page report Monday on the FBI investigation, stating that while he had uncovered significant irregularities in the FBI’s surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide, he found no evidence of political bias.
The findings were seen as a rebuttal to President Donald Trump’s and his Republican allies’ repeated claim that the FBI conducted an illegal “witch hunt” to bring him down.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who led the investigation until Trump fired him in May 2017, wrote this week that “the truth is finally out” and “those who attacked the FBI for two years should admit they were wrong.”
Asked by Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham whether the report “vindicates” Comey, Horowitz said. “I think the activities we found don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.”
Trump asserted that the report confirmed an “attempted overthrow” of the government far worse than he had ever thought possible. He later criticized FBI Director Christopher Wray for saying in an interview with ABC News that the investigation “was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.” Wray also noted Horowitz found the FBI made numerous mistakes during its inquiry.
“I don’t know what report the current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but I’m sure it wasn’t the one given to me,” Trump tweeted. “With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr repeated in an interview with NBC News correspondent Pete Williams that aired Tuesday his belief that the FBI may have acted in “bad faith” when it conducted the probe into whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia.
“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press,” Barr said. “I think there were gross abuses … and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”
The attorney general’s remarks will likely intensify the controversy about whether he himself is acting in good faith, or acting as a Trump sycophant.
Horowitz said in the report the FBI was justified in opening an investigation in 2016 into suspected ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia, saying there was a reasonable basis to authorize an inquiry.
Although Horowitz scrutinized a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses, Barr insisted the inspector general made minimal effort to find evidence, and simply accepted the FBI’s findings.
“All he said was, ‘People gave me an explanation, and I didn’t find anything to contradict it,'” Barr said of Horowitz.
The long-anticipated report contradicted some of Trump’s and his Republican allies’ most damning assertions about the investigation, such as the charge that senior FBI officials were motivated by political bias against Trump. The FBI investigation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, was subsequently taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.
Horowitz sharply criticized the FBI for a series of “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in obtaining authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser suspected of ties to Russian intelligence.
In one glaring omission, the FBI failed to disclose from the court and the Justice Department that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the CIA and had told the spy agency about his contacts with Russian intelligence officers, according to the report.
The investigation was launched months before the Page surveillance began and was based on well-founded suspicions about links between Trump campaign operatives and Russia, according to the report.
The other Trump campaign associates investigated by the FBI were campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Mike Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.
“We … concluded that … the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity,” Horowitz wrote.
Barr has ordered a separate internal probe into its origins after rejecting the IG’s finding that there was sufficient basis for opening the investigation.
Wray ordered a series of more than 40 corrective steps in response to the inspector general report.
“The FBI has some work to do, and we are committed to building on the lessons we learn today to make sure that we can do better tomorrow,” an FBI spokesperson said in a statement.
The FBI launched its investigation in July 2016 after receiving a tip that the Russian government was considering helping the Trump campaign by releasing damaging information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
Graham said the FBI’s surveillance of Page amounted to a “a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud” the FISA court.
“I have serious concerns about whether the FISA court can continue unless there is fundamental reform,” Graham said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, slammed Barr for attacking the Justice Department.