Newly released documents confirm House and Senate investigators’ claims that the Department of Justice and FBI used materially false and misleading information to secure wiretaps on Carter Page, a former volunteer foreign policy advisor to President Trump. The highly redacted documents released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests show how the FBI was able to convince the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil the Naval Academy graduate and energy consultant for a year of his life.
The wiretap was applied for and granted in October 2016, shortly before the end of the presidential campaign. Approved applications last for 90 days. The Department of Justice requested and received three renewals, for a total of one year of surveillance. Despite claiming to the court in 2016 that “the FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government,” the government has yet to charge Page with breaking any of the serious laws it alleges he knowingly transgressed.
Here is what the highly redacted FISA applications show us thus far.
The Dossier Provided an Essential Part Of Application
As members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committee previously reported, a salacious and unverified dossier was essential to the government’s case for spying on Page. The information from the dossier is presented to the court as if it’s believable.
For instance, the application states, “the FBI has learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials during this trip.” The only way it learned that was through the dossier. Steele’s claim that Page had a “secret meeting with Igor Sechin, who is the President of Rosneft [a Russian energy company] and a close associate to Russian President Putin” to lift sanctions is included.
Another secret meeting with Igor Nikolayevich Divyekin to discuss releasing dirt on “Candidate #2” to “Candidate #1’s campaign” is mentioned. Also, while Page had left the campaign by the time the wiretap was sought, it is clear that the FBI believed its wiretap would find information on the Trump campaign, stating that the “Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated” with the Trump campaign.
The Dossier Was Not Verified
As House and Senate members reported, there is no evidence the dossier was verified before being used in the applications. For instance, there is no evidence as of July 2018 that either of the two meetings above that Steele claimed happened ever occurred. There was obviously no verification of these claims in 2016, or even an indication that the FBI desired verification. Page has repeatedly denied that he met with these individuals.
The Applications Employed Circular Reporting
As senators Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) wrote earlier this year, “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.”
As the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence reported, “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News.”
These reports are accurate — the Yahoo News story sourced to Steele is cited extensively and repeatedly. Even worse, the FBI repeatedly claimed Steele is not the source of the article. Isikoff has confirmed Steele was of course his source.
Cites Steele’s Credibility, Despite Overwhelming Evidence To Doubt It
For the first application, the FBI reported that the previous reporting of Steele (identified as Source #1) had been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and that Steele was deemed “reliable” by the FBI. They said they were unaware of any derogatory information on him. They said he wasn’t told about the motivation of the funder of the research.
There are a few problems with this. One is that the application itself admits that Steele was working with sub-sources. We now know he never visited Russia for his research but had other people gathering information from Russians, including from Russian government officials. Since the information was actually provided by these second- and third-hand sources, it is their reliability the FBI should swear to, not Steele’s. Just because he once had reliable information or had a source with reliable information doesn’t mean that all or even most of the sources he compensated for information will be even remotely reliable.
The other problem is that at some point in the process, the FBI realized their source was unreliable in multiple ways, yet they continued to swear to the court otherwise. Soon after the first application, the FBI had to terminate the relationship with Steele because he broke a promise to not share information with the press.
What’s more, he broke that promise out of fear that Clinton might lose the election, suggesting extreme motivation. He claimed he had not shared information with the press before the end of October 2016, but that was not true. He later testified to a British court that he’d briefed numerous media outlets throughout the waning months of the U.S. election.
The Applications Made Materially False Claims
Again, the dossier was essential to the wiretap applications, and its credibility was sourced not to the veracity of its claims, but to its author. So Steele’s lies were a problem. How did the FBI and DOJ handle this? Not well.
The FISA applications cited Isikoff’s September 23 Yahoo News article, which you would have to be an idiot to not realize was sourced to Steele. Take this paragraph, for example:
But U.S. officials have since received intelligence reports that during that same three-day trip, Page met with Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate and former Russian deputy prime minister who is now the executive chairman of Rosneft, Russian’s leading oil company, a well-placed Western intelligence source tells Yahoo News.
A well-placed Western intelligence source? You don’t say! What an obvious way to describe the non-American researcher who is the sole source of the claim! But note how the FBI reported the inclusion of this Yahoo News article in the dossier:
Footnote 18, application: “Source #1 told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI. REDACTED The FBI does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the press.”
Footnote 19, first renewal: “Source #1 told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI. REDACTED The FBI does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the identified news organization that published the September 23rd News Article.”
Footnote 20, second renewal: “Source #1 told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI. REDACTED The FBI does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the identified news organization that published the September 23rd News Article.”
Footnote 22, third renewal: “”Source #1 told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate and the FBI. REDACTED The FBI does not believe that Source #1 directly provided this information to the identified news organization that published the September 23rd News Article.”
As Sens. Graham and Grassley wrote earlier this year:
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 FISC 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.
Anyone should have doubted the credibility of a man who claimed he wasn’t Isikoff’s source. But to do so after his sworn court filings admitting to any number of press briefings during the campaign is downright scandalous.
The True Funding Of Dossier Was Oddly Obscured
House Intelligence Committee members complained that the wiretap applications failed to disclose that the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Sens. Grassley and Graham said the FBI revealed the political origins of the dossier to only a “vaguely limited extent.”
That’s true. Donald Trump shows up in the application as Candidate #1 and Hillary Clinton shows up as Candidate #2. The Republican Party is identified as Political Party #1. So it would have been easy to note that the dossier was secretly bought and paid for by Candidate #2 and Political Party #2. Instead, a veritable word salad is deployed to hide that significant fact.
The court is told Source #1 was told “that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia” and that Source #1 wasn’t told about the motivation behind the research. The FBI surmises that Source #1’s boss — Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson — wanted information to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.
Critics of the House and Senate investigators say it’s obvious that referred to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. But remember that Simpson and Fusion GPS had also been hired by the Washington Free Beacon to gather information to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign. The Free Beacon contracted with Fusion GPS through January 2017.
And the Clinton secret funding is relevant. In the second renewal, the application says:
Page sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Section, urging the review of what Page claimed was ‘severe election fraud in the form of disinformation, suppression of dissent, hate crimes and other extensive abuses led by members of [Candidate #2’s] campaign and their political allies last year.’ In his letter, Page claims that he has not directly supported a political campaign since September 2016, but continues to be subjected to personal attacks by former members of Candidate #2’s campaign based on fictitious information. Page wrote that his academic lecture and related meetings with scholars and business people in Moscow had no connection to the U.S. election. Page attributes the assertions in the September 23rd News Article that Page met with two senior Russian officials (i.e., Sechin and Diveykin) while he was in Moscow in July 2016 to give the commencement address at the New Economic School, which Page claims is ‘false evidence,’ to Candidate #2s campaign. Page further claims that the information relied on by Candidate #2’s campaign, certain members of the U.S. Congress, and the media are lies that were completely fabricated by Candidate #2’s paid consultants and private investigators. [emphasis added]
You don’t say! While the redacted application renewal does not indicate why this letter from Page is included, it is clear that the government continues to believe “Candidate #2’s paid consultants and private investigators” over the word of the surveilled American citizen. From the date of his letter, two more wiretap applications are pursued and granted.
What In The World
It remains possible that Page is the most talented spy who ever walked the earth and fully deserved to be surveilled by the federal government. It is also possible that the surveillance was ordered merely because the country has an intelligence apparatus that was unable to recognize their main source was a liar whose sub-sources were at best playing him and whose recklessness left his little partisan research project open to manipulation by foreign adversaries.
Barring those options, our intelligence apparatus misled a FISA court with materially false claims.