The FBI used their authority to surveil foreigners abroad to spy on the Trump campaign
The heart of the FBI's abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Security Act is the Carter Page FISA application. It documents the progression of an investigation, from its beginning with a kernel of reasonable suspicion, and facts are marshaled to support a theory. As it gathers momentum, those initial suspicions congeal into assumptions. New information that fits the original theory is added to pile of evidence -- while a growing body of contradictory of information is overlooked. It’s possible to read the Horowitz report and think that the initial 90‐day wiretap of Page was justified, but far harder to rationalize intrusive surveillance that carried on for nearly a year, through three separate renewals, even as evidence mounted that should have undermined the basis for the warrant.
As the report recounts, “Crossfire Hurricane” -- the FBI’s codename for its probe of potential links between Russia’s election interference operation and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign -- originated in the summer of 2016 with a tip from the Australian government (a “friendly foreign government” in the report): Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had been drunkenly repeating an academic acquaintance’s startling assertion that the Russian government had thousands of potentially damaging e‑mails related to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The intelligence community was already seeing the outlines of an unprecedentedly brazen, multi‐pronged effort to meddle in the presidential election benefit: Now here was an indication that the Trump campaign might be not just an unwitting beneficiary of Russian efforts, but a knowing participant. The FBI quickly focused on four individuals in Trump’s orbit with ties to Russia: Page, Papaodopolous, campaign chair Paul Manafort, and national security advisor Michael Flynn.
Though it does not describe an investigation motivated by political bias, it is a textbook account of confirmation bias that should raise disturbing questions about the adequacy of the FISA process -- and not just in this investigation.
While FISA surveillance of Page and Papadopoulos was apparently contemplated in August, Justice Department attorneys determined investigators lacked probable cause to establish that either was acting as an “agent of a foreign power,” the critical showing they’d need to make to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That changed in September, when the FBI got wind of former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s research into Trump’s Russian ties -- opposition research indirectly commissioned by the Democratic National Committee, and now notorious under the collective moniker “The Steele Dossier.” Steele’s reporting, gathered from a network of sources and sub‐sources, purported that Page was a key figure in a “well developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government. The FBI would lean heavily on Steele’s reporting in its petition to the FISA Court for a warrant authorizing electronic surveillance of Page.
As the Horowitz report documents, even that first application, submitted in October 2016, contained a series of notable omissions or misstatements, though whether they would have made a difference to the FISA Court’s assessment of the evidence is anyone’s guess. Among the most significant:
The application failed to mention Page’s relationship with the CIA (“another government agency” in the report), which had designated him an “operational contact,” and the fact that Page had provided the Agency with information about his previous contacts with Russian intelligence officers -- contacts that were part of the basis for suspecting Page had been recruited to act as an “agent of a foreign power.”
It described Steele as a source whose previous reporting had been “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” which overstated Steele’s role in the Justice Department’s investigation of corruption in the international football league, FIFA. Though Steele had apparently provided information critical to launching the FBI’s FIFA investigation -- leading to a raft of indictments and guilty pleas in 2015 -- Steele’s reporting had not actually been introduced as evidence in court. Since the Page application leaned heavily on Steele’s reporting, which it could not independently confirm, the precise characterization of his credibility as a source was important to informing the FISC’s assessment of how much weight to afford his claims.
Both Page and Papadopolous had made statements to FBI informants denying various contacts alleged by Steele’s reports. Page had specifically denied taking part in a meeting with a pair of Russian oligarchs described by Steele, and claimed to have little contact with Manafort, though Steele’s account had Page acting as an intermediary between Manafort and the Russian government.
In an interview with the FBI, Steele had characterized a particular individual -- presumably Sergei Millian, though he is not named in the report -- as a “boaster” given to “embellishment”. Though FBI analysts had independently identified this individual as the likely source of key claims about Page in Steele’s reporting, this characterization was not included in the application.
The FBI assessed that Steele had not directly provided information about his research to a reporter for Yahoo News -- an assessment that would ultimately prove incorrect -- but nothing in the case file provided a documentary basis for or explanation of that assessment.
These omissions matter because FISA applications typically remain secret forever -- indeed, the Page application is the first to ever become public even in part. That means not only does the FISA Court rely on the government to present it with a complete picture, including facts that might call the reliability of government sources into question (something that’s true of every wiretap application) but there’s typically little risk that an agent who submits a tendentious affidavit supported by cherry‐picked evidence will have to defend their work in the harsh light of an adversarial proceeding, such as a criminal trial. If the government isn’t forthright about presenting evidence that cuts against a finding of “probable cause,” as well as the evidence for it, they’re unlikely to be held to account
Former FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith plead guilty to falsifying a document used to obtain a FISA warrant on former Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page.
Clinesmith was charged with one felony count of making a false statement, and plead guilty in a plea deal with John Durham's prosecutors conducting a criminal probe of the Russia investigation.
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