DOJ Readying Warrants In Carter Page Investigation For Public Release
from the giving-the-Republicans-what-they-may-not-want dept
For the first time since the FISA court opened for national security business, the DOJ is considering declassifying FISA warrant applications. The documents are linked to the FBI’s surveillance of former Trump campaign aide, Carter Page. Both sides of the political aisle have asked for these documents, which is something you’d think they’d have wanted to see before issuing their takes on perceived surveillance improprieties.
Devin Nunes — following the release of his memo — sent a letter to the FISA court asking it to clear the warrants for public release. The court’s reply, penned by Judge Rosemary Collyer, pointed out two things. First, the FISA court had never released these documents publicly, nor was it in the best position to do so. It is only tasked with determining whether or not surveillance is warranted and to what restrictions it must adhere. It does not have the innate power to declassify documents, nor can it arbitrarily decide what documents have gathered enough public interest to outweigh the government’s perpetual demands for secrecy.
The court did point out this release could be achieved much faster if Nunes directed his question to the DOJ, which does have the power to declassify its own investigation documents. It doesn’t appear Devin Nunes has approached the DOJ but litigants in an FOIA lawsuit have, and they’re looking at possibly obtaining the documents Devin Nunes requested from the FISA court.
The government is considering an unprecedented disclosure of parts of a controversial secret surveillance order that justified the monitoring of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Responding to a legal challenge brought by USA TODAY and the James Madison Project, Justice Department lawyers Friday cast the ongoing review as “novel, complex and time-consuming.”
“The government has never, in any litigation civil or criminal, processed FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) applications for release to the public,” Justice lawyers wrote in a five-page filing.
The filing [PDF] notes that the President’s unilateral decision (over the DOJ’s objection) of releasing the Nunes memo has forced it to reverse some of its Glomar declarations in ongoing FOIA lawsuits, since it’s impossible to maintain a stance of non-confirmation and non-denial when the White House is handing out confirmation left and right.
The DOJ has asked for four months to review the documents before returning to the court with its final answer on public release. There will probably be further delays from this point, as the DOJ will need the FISA court to officially unseal documents before it can turn these over to the litigants. It notes the plaintiffs are not happy with this timetable, but points to the presumed complexity of a task it has never undertaken previously as the reason it needs 120 days before the litigation can move forward.
This administration continues to break new grounds in inadvertent transparency. However, the release of these documents may further undermine the Nunes Memo narrative, so legislators and White House officials hellbent on using the FISA court to score political points should be careful what they wish for.