(CNSNews.com) - If you believe some of the headlines about the Horowitz report -- that the FBI conducted a lawful investigation with a few irregularities -- "you've clearly not read it," Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in his opening statement of Wednesday's hearing.
"What has been described as a few irregularities becomes a massive criminal conspiracy over time to defraud the FISA court, to illegally surveil an American citizen, and to keep an operation open against a sitting president of the United States, violating every norm known to the rule of law," Graham said.
"Trump's time will come and go. But I hope we understand that what happened here can never happen again, because what happened here is not a few irregularities. What happened here is the system failed.
"People at the highest level of our government took the law into their own hands. And when I say defraud the FISA court, I mean it. To your team, you were able to uncover and discover abuse of power I never believed would actually exist in 2019," Graham told Justice Department Inspector-General Michael Horowitz, the star witness.
Graham said if a Democrat were president, the headline from the IG report would be: "'The FBI Takes Law Into Its Own Hands.' Biased agents cut corners," he said. "Lied to the court. Ignored exoneration. So the first thing I want you to know is how the cake is baked here. And my goal is to make sure that people, when this is over, whether you like Trump, hate Trump, don't care about Trump, you look at this as more than a few irregularities. If this becomes a few irregularities in America, then God help us all."
Among other things, Graham noted that the people in charge of Crossfire Hurricane -- including FBI counterterrorism agent Peter Strzok -- were handpicked by Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who is now a CNN contributor:
"The first question I'll ask in a bit, is this the best of the best?" Graham asked. "Are these people normal representatives of the Department of Justice and the F.B.I.? I hope you will say no. Because I believe it to be no. And if I believed otherwise, I would be incredibly depressed."
Graham also raised the issue of defensive briefings – in other words, the FBI warning people, such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), that one of her employees had ties to a foreign government.
"From the time they opened up Crossfire Hurricane until this debacle was over, they never made any effort to brief Donald Trump about suspected problems within his campaign," Graham said. "Why didn't they tell Trump? We'll figure that out later. But I think it's a question that needs to be asked."
"How bad is it?" Graham asked. "It was as if J. Edgar Hoover came back to life. The old F.B.I. The F.B.I. that had a chip on its shoulder and wanted to intimidate people and find out what was going on in your life and the law be damned."
Graham took time to read some of the anti-Trump text messages exchanged by Strzok, the main investigator on Crossfire Hurricane, and his lover, Lisa Page, the attorney for McCabe.
Graham, discussing the IG report, also pointed to "a guy named Clinesmith."
“This is the lawyer supervising the FISA warrant process,” Graham said. The IG report said Clinesmith, an FBI line attorney working with DOJ officials on the FISA warrant, doctored an email from the CIA to the FBI, “because he didn’t want the (FISA) court to know that Carter Page actually was a (CIA) source," Graham said.
“What does that matter?” Graham asked. “Because if the court had known, then there is a lawful reason for Mr. Page to be talking to the Russian guy. He wasn't working against his country; he was working with his country, which undercuts the idea he is a foreign agent. That's why Clinesmith lied -- because he didn't want to stop this investigation.”