Breaking With 30 Years Of Traditional Opacity, DOJ Releases FISA Warrant Applications For Surveillance Of Carter Page
from the FOIA-ACHIEVEMENT-UNLOCKED dept
The Trump Administration can claim a historic first, even though it would probably rather not do so. As the result of multiple FOIA lawsuits — whose arguments were strengthened by Trump’s tweets and statements from the House Intelligence community — the DOJ has released a stack of FISA warrant applications. This has never happened in the 30-year existence of the FISA court.
The 412-page document [PDF] (which is actually four warrant applications and their accompanying court orders) detail the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page, alleged agent of a foreign power. The affidavits detail Page’s connections to Russia, as well as the FBI’s reliance on contested Steele dossier to build its case.
There are a lot of redactions that obscure Page’s ties to Russian government officials, intelligence officers, and business owners, but there’s enough left out in the open to draw some inferences. What’s most interesting about the warrant applications is how often they rebut assertions made by Devin Nunes and his supposedly-damning memo.
Nunes portrayed this investigation as an abuse of surveillance powers to spy on the Trump campaign. Unfortunately for this member of the Intelligence Oversight Committee, the documents make it clear surveillance of Page didn’t begin until after he had left his position as an adviser to Trump.
That doesn’t mean Trump is off the hook in terms of collusion. The documents also refer to other members of Trump’s campaign team “perhaps” being involved with Russian officials and intelligence services during the campaign.
The affidavits also undercut Nunes’ and Trump’s claims the FBI misled the FISA court about the origins of the Steele Dossier. Both claimed the FBI did not disclose the fact this dossier had been funded by Trump’s political opponents. Footnotes attached to the very first warrant request expressly state Steele (“Source #1”) had been hired by to dig up dirt on Trump’s Russian connections by an outside law firm.
Source #1, who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to Source #1 that a U.S.-base law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia… The identified U.S. person hired Source #1 to conduct this research… The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.
Unfortunately, a majority of the truly interesting stuff is redacted. We don’t have many details about Page’s involvement with Russian powers or what other criminal acts the FBI suspected he was engaged in. There’s no unredacted discussion of the surveillance tactics deployed or how many non-targets may have been swept up in the FBI’s intercepts. What is left unredacted is only enough to see how many Russian officials Page had access to and how they used him (one instance is left unredacted) to influence Trump’s Russia-directed statements during the election campaign.
Does this mean we’ll see more FISA surveillance applications released in the future? It seems doubtful. There aren’t any others that have received so much public discussion from high-ranking government officials — the very thing that undercut the DOJ’s attempt to Glomar its way out of producing documents. This investigation is different. It has direct ties to the current president — another high-ranking official who couldn’t stop talking about the FISA affidavits the DOJ kept refusing to acknowledge existed. It’s good these have been made public and it may eventually lead to even more transparency from the nation’s most-secretive court. But this has the feel of an anomaly — the byproduct of a highly-anomalous presidency.