WSJ: The FBI’s FISA Faults By The Editorial Board
The FBI over the weekend
finally released its Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications for
warrants against former Trump aide Carter Page, and now we know why the bureau
resisted disclosure. Even in heavily redacted form, the applications confirm
that the FBI relied on dubious partisan evidence to justify its warrant and
withheld relevant information from the court.
The applications also
vindicate the criticism of the FBI’s surveillance requests that were laid out
in February by House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes. The committee’s
findings were based on a review of the FISA applications, which were still
classified at the time. The main Nunes claim was that the FBI made the Steele
dossier—which was commissioned by the Clinton
campaign and Democratic National Committee—“an essential” part of its initial
application. The FISA documents confirm this.
More than half of the first
FISA application’s 66 pages are devoted to technical matters and a history of
Russian electoral interference. Of the roughly 25 pages that focus on Mr. Page,
much of it reports his dealings with Russians, his response to the news that he
was under investigation, and a largely redacted conclusion.
The guts of the application
is titled “Page’s Coordination With Russian Government Officials on 2016 U.S.
Presidential Election Influence Activities.” This is the FBI’s evidence
section, and, though heavily redacted, it looks to be almost entirely
Its opening paragraph says
that the “FBI has learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials” on
a trip to Russia
in 2016 and that it got this information from an “FBI confidential human source
(Source #1),” who is dossier author Christopher Steele. Most of what is
unredacted that follows details the dossier’s claims about these Russian
meetings, with further reference to “Source #1.”
This is important given that
FBI assistant director Bill Priestap told Congressional investigators in
October 2017 that the FBI’s efforts to corroborate the dossier were still in
their “infancy” at the time of the first application. Months later former FBI
Director Jim Comey referred to the dossier as “salacious and unverified.” To
date no investigator has offered public proof of the dossier’s most damaging
claims. Yet on the basis of an uncorroborated document commissioned by a rival
presidential campaign, the FBI accused a U.S. citizen of being an “agent of
a foreign power” who should be wiretapped.
Mr. Nunes also reported that
the FBI did not inform the FISA court that the dossier and trusted “source”
(Christopher Steele) were paid by the Clinton
campaign. And sure enough, nowhere do the FISA applications mention the words Clinton, Democratic
National Committee, Fusion GPS (the Clinton-financed oppo research firm that
hired Mr. Steele), or Fusion co-founder Glenn Simpson.
Several convoluted footnotes
refer to “Source #1” (Mr. Steele) and a “U.S.-based law firm” (Clinton
firm Perkins Coie), as well as an “identified U.S. person” (Mr. Simpson) who was
“likely” interested in discrediting Mr. Trump. These obscure references are
quickly followed by another footnote in which the FBI says that, despite that
motivation, it is confident that “Source #1” is “credible.” So the FBI was
vouching for this partisan source.
It’s true that the first
application doesn’t mention any names. But it does refer to “Candidate #1” (who
is clearly Donald Trump ), “Candidate #2” ( Hillary Clinton ) and “Political
Party #1” (Republicans). The FBI had an obligation to tell the court that the
dossier and its “credible” source had been retained and paid for by “Candidate
#2” and “Political Party #2” (Democrats), but it didn’t. By the way, Mr. Comey
signed three of these applications, yet he claimed on his recent book tour that
he “still” didn’t know who paid for the dossier.
The FISA documents also
confirm that the FBI cited a Sept. 23, 2016 story in Yahoo News to buttress
its Steele dossier information with the court—even though Mr. Steele was also
the source for the Yahoo News story.
Democrats insist that the
FBI used the Yahoo story only to describe Mr. Page’s response to the
investigation, not for corroboration. The applications show otherwise. The FBI
cites the Yahoo News story after its dossier-evidence section, noting that the
story said that “intelligence reports” and a “well-placed Western intelligence
source” had also made claims like those in the dossier. But the “reports” were
the dossier, and the “Western intelligence source” was Mr. Steele.
Our media friends are
dismissing all this as no big deal because they say Mr. Page’s history of
personal Russian dealings justified his surveillance in any case. Yet so far no
one has produced evidence that Mr. Page was anything but an innocent abroad who
liked to boast about his contacts. He certainly was a minor figure in the Trump
And that still doesn’t justify the FBI’s use of
uncorroborated partisan smears as part of its application. At best the FBI
appears to have played fast and loose with the facts to stretch the ethical
boundaries of the FISA statute. At worst the FBI dissembled to target a man
because they wanted to unleash a counterintelligence campaign against a
presidential campaign. Either one tarnishes the FBI’s reputation.
Democrats and their media
allies won’t admit any of this because they are invested in the narrative that
Russian meddling elected Donald Trump. But two years of investigation later
we’re still waiting to see evidence of that. What the FISA applications show is
that the FBI did abuse its surveillance powers. There’s still more to learn,
and Mr. Trump should declassify and release everything that can be safely
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