NEW: Criminal Referral Confirms Nunes Memo’s Explosive Claims Of FISA Abuse

NEW: Criminal Referral Confirms Nunes Memo’s Explosive Claims Of FISA Abuse

Details from government documents confirm there was inadequate verification of a partisan dossier used to justify surveillance of a Trump campaign affiliate.
Mollie Hemingway
By

A criminal referral from top Senate investigators confirms explosive charges in last week’s House Intelligence Committee memo regarding abuse of surveillance authorities at the FBI and Department of Justice. It also reveals a host of problems arising from the bureau’s cooperation with foreign investigator Christopher Steele, who was working on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The eight-page memo from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) includes underlying evidence to support the claims.

“It appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associate of the opposing presidential candidate. It did so based on Mr. Steele’s personal credibility and presumably having faith in his process of obtaining the information. But there is substantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele materially misled the FBI about a key aspect of his dossier efforts, one which bears on his credibility,” Sens. Graham and Grassley wrote.

The letter describes a verification effort before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) so inadequate it resembles a concerted effort to conceal information from the court. However, the senators blame Steele’s “apparent deception” for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) failures by FBI and Justice, and refer Steele for investigation of violating federal law regarding making false statements to the U.S. government. The letter also reveals Clinton associates were feeding Steele allegations that he used in his reports.

Last week’s memo from the House Intelligence Committee reported:

  1. A salacious and unverified dossier formed an essential part of the application to secure a warrant against a Trump campaign affiliate named Carter Page. This application failed to reveal that the dossier was bought and paid for by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
  2. The application presented a Yahoo News article as corroboration for the dossier, when in fact it was sourced to the dossier’s author Christopher Steele.
  3. The wife of a high-ranking Justice Department official also worked on behalf of the Clinton campaign effort, and her husband Bruce Ohr funneled her research into the Department of Justice. Although he admitted that Steele “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” this and the Ohrs’ relationship with the Clinton campaign was concealed from the secret court that grants surveillance warrants.
  4. The dossier was “only minimally corroborated” and unverified, according to FBI officials.

Evidence supporting all of these claims is included in a less redacted version of the senators’ January 4, 2018, referral made publicly available late Tuesday evening. A highly redacted version of the referral was made publicly available the previous day, causing Grassley to ask the FBI to aim for more transparency. The FBI had previously attempted to keep the public from learning details of its relationship with Steele, leading Grassley to publicly decry a “bureaucratic game of hide the ball” by the FBI and DOJ.

According to the senators, the FBI relied on dossier author Steele’s alleged credibility — as opposed to corroboration or verification of his salacious and improbable claims — for the initial warrant application and its three renewals. The application also mentioned a Yahoo News article, but not only didn’t mention the article was sourced to an anonymous Steele, it positively claimed it wasn’t.

Reporter Michael Isikoff recently confirmed that Steele was obviously his source for the article, and that Clinton’s Russia dossier project head Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS was a longtime friend. The FBI stated to the court that Steele had nothing to do with the article. Shopping his unverified allegations to the media was contrary to Steele’s agreement with the FBI. Even after Steele publicly testified about his many media contacts, the FBI hid that part of his dossier operation from the court and continued to rely on his credibility for surveillance reauthorization.

The senators’ criminal referral confirms the details in the House Intelligence Committee memo, adding quotes and details from testimony by top officials at the FBI and source documents, including two FISA warrant applications provided to the committee. Here are some key excerpts from the criminal referral.

Comey On Dossier’s Lack Of Meaningful Corroboration

When asked at the March 2017 briefing why the FBI relied on the dossier in the FISA applications absent meaningful corroboration–and in light of the highly political motives surrounding its creation–then-Director Comey stated that the FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.

Dossier Formed ‘Bulk’ Of FISA Application

Indeed, the documents we have reviewed show that the FBI took important investigative steps largely based on Mr. Steele’s information–and relying heavily on his credibility. Specifically, on October 21, 2016, the FBI filed its first warrant application under FISA for Carter Page. [REDACTED] The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier.

Isikoff’s Yahoo Article Cited In Place Of Corroboration

The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.

Political Basis Mentioned Only ‘To A Vaguely Limited Extent’

[T]he FBI noted to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier. In footnote 8 the FBI stated that the dossier information was compiled pursuant to the direction of a law firm who had hired an “identified U.S. person”–now known as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS–[REDACTED] The application failed to disclose that the identities of Mr. Simpson’s ultimate clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

Application Claimed Steele Had Nothing To Do With Yahoo Article

[REDACTED], the application attempts to explain away the inconsistency between Mr. Steele’s assertion to the FBI and the existence of the article, apparently to shield Mr. Steele’s credibility on which it still relied for the renewal request. The application to the FISC said: “Given that the information contained in the September 23rd news article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered doing his/her research, [REDACTED] The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press” (emphasis added).

Even After Terminating Steele For Unauthorized Contacts With Media, FBI Claimed He Hadn’t Talked To Yahoo

In footnote 9 of its January 2017 application to renew the FISA warrant for Mr. Page, the FBI again addressed Mr. Steele’s credibility. At that time, the FBI noted that it had suspended its relationship with Mr. Steele in October 2016 because of Steele’s “unauthorized disclosure of information to the press.” … In defending Mr. Steele’s credibility to the FISC, the FBI had posited an innocuous explanation for the September 23 article, based on the assumption that Mr. Steele had told the FBI the truth about his press contacts. The FBI then vouched for him twice more, using the same rationale, in subsequent renewal applications filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in April and June 2017.

Steele Was So Political He Flagrantly Violated His FBI Agreement Over Reopening Of Clinton Investigation

The FBI relayed that Steele had been bothered by the FBI’s notification to Congress in October 2016 and the reopening of the Clinton investigation, and as a result “[Steele] independently and against the prior admonishment from the FBI to speak only with the FBI on this matter, released the reporting discussed herein [dossier allegations against Page] to an identified news organization.” However the FBI continued to cite Mr. Steele’s past work as evidence of his reliability, and stated that “the incident that led to the FBI suspending its relationship with [Mr. Steele] occurred after [Mr. Steele] provided” the FBI with the dossier information described in the application. The FBI further asserted in footnote 19 that it did not believe that Steele directly gave information to Yahoo News that “published the September 23 News Article.”

Even After Steele Publicly Admitted In Court To His Media Operation, The FBI Hid It

In Steele’s sworn court filings in litigation in London, he admitted that he “gave off the record briefings to a small number of journalists about the pre-election memoranda [i.e., the dossier] in late summer/autumn 2016.” In another sworn filing in that case, Mr. Steele further stated that journalists from “the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN” were “briefed at the end of September 2016 by [Steele] and Fusion at Fusion’s instruction.”The filing further states that Mr. Steele “subsequently participated in further meetings at Fusion’s instruction with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News, which took place mid-October 2016.”…

The first of these filings was publicly reported in the U.S. media in April of 2017, yet the FBI did not subsequently disclose to the ISC this evidence suggesting that Mr. Steele had lied to the FBI. Instead the application still relied primarily on his credibility prior to the October media incident.

Court Wasn’t Told Steele Was ‘Desperate’ To Keep Trump From Being Elected

The FBI received similar information from a Justice Department official, Bruce Ohr, who maintained contacts with Mr. Simpson and Mr. Steele about their dossier work, and whose wife also worked for Fusion GPS on the Russia project. REDACTED He also noted in the same interview that Mr. Steele was “desperate” to see that Mr. Trump was not elected president. None of the information provided by Mr. Ohr in his interviews with the FBI was included in the FISA renewal applications, despite its relevance to whether Mr. Steele had lied to the FBI about his contacts with the media as well as its broader relevance to his credibility and his stated political motive.

Why Steele’s Alleged Lies Matter

Whether Mr. Steele lied to the FBI about his media contacts is relevant for at least two reasons. First, it is relevant to his credibility as a source, particularly given the lack of corroboration for his claims, at least at the time they were included in the FISA applicdations. [sic] Second, it is relevant to the reliability of his information-gathering efforts.

The More Steele Blabbed, The More The Kremlin And Others Could Manipulate Him

Mr. Steele conducted his work for Fusion GPS compiling the “pre-election memoranda” “[b]etween June and early November 2016.” In the British litigation, Mr. Steele acknowledged briefing journalists about the dossier memoranda “in late summer/autumn 2016.” Unsurprisingly, during the summer of 2016, reports of at least some of the dossier allegations began circulating among reporters and people involved in Russian issues. Mr. Steele also admitted in the British litigation to briefing journalists from the Washington Post, Yahoo News, the New Yorker, and CNN in September of 2016. Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, in the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited–and unverified–allegations. That filing implies that he similarly received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.”

Steele Took Info From Clinton Pals (Reported Elsewhere To Be Close To Sidney Blumenthal)

One memorandum by Mr. Steele that was not published by Buzzfeed is dated October 19, 2016. The report alleges REDACTED as well as REDACTED Mr. Steele’s memorandum states that his company “received this report from REDACTED US State Department,” that the report was the second in a series, and that the report was information that came from a foreign sub-source who “is in touch with REDACTED, a contact of REDACTED, a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to REDACTED.” It is troubling enough that the Clinton campaign funded Mr. Steele’s work, but that these Clinton associates were contemporaneously feeding Mr. Steele allegations raises additional concerns about his credibility.

Steele’s Known Behavior Contradicts The FBI’s Assertions To The Court

These facts appear to directly contradict the FBI’s assertions in its initial application for the Page FISA warrant, as well as subsequent renewal applications. The FBI repeatedly represented to the court that Mr. Steele told the FBI he did not have unauthorized contacts with the press about the dossier prior to October 2016. The FISA applications make these claims specifically in the context of the September 2016 Yahoo News article. But Mr. Steele has admitted — publicly before a court of law — that he did have such contacts with the press at this time, and his former business partner Mr. Simpson has confirmed it to the Committee. Thus, the FISA applications are either materially false in claiming that Mr. Steele said he did not provide dossier information to the press prior to October 2016, or Mr. Steele made materially false statements to the FBI when he claimed he only provided the dossier information to his business partner and the FBI.

FISA Application Relied More On Steele’s Supposed Credibility Than Independent Verification Or Corroboration

In this case, Mr. Steele’s apparent deception seems to have posed significant material consequences on the FBI’s investigative decisions and representations to the court. Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims. Thus the basis for the warrant authorizing surveilance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility. The Department of Justice has a responsibility to determine whether Mr. Steele provided false information to the FBI and whether the FBI’s representations to the court were in error.

When Grassley announced the criminal referral in early January, he said, “Maybe there is some innocent explanation for the inconsistencies we have seen [from Steele], but it seems unlikely.” He told NBC News, “In any event, it’s up to the Justice Department to figure that out.”

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway is a senior editor at The Federalist. Follow her on Twitter at @mzhemingway

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