We now have a clearer picture of why the FBI was watching former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, after the Justice Department released previously classified documents related to the FBI’s request to conduct surveillance on him. House Republicans had said the FBI abused its power and misled judges in these surveillance applications, but the documents show the FBI had multiple reasons to believe Page was the subject of “targeted recruitment” by Russia in its efforts to undermine the 2016 presidential election and that he had been “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”
On Saturday, the FBI released a redacted version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application after news organizations such as the New York Times and advocacy groups including Judicial Watch sued for it to be released. The release included 412 pages of documentation, including the original October 2016 request to wiretap Page and multiple renewal applications.
This marks the first time a FISA application has been made public since the law was enacted in 1978.
The document lays out the case for why officials believed it was necessary to keep an eye on Page, a Trump campaign aide on foreign policy. The FBI thought the Russian government had recruited him in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and noted Page’s “established relationships” with Russian government officials and intelligence officers.
Officials said Page “has been collaborating with and conspiring with the Russian government” and said Russia’s efforts were being coordinated with Page and “perhaps other individuals associated with” the Trump campaign.
Page has denied wrongdoing. In an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper on Sunday, he dismissed the contents of the FISA applications. “This is really nothing and just an attempt to distract from the real crimes that are shown in this misleading document,” he said.
The application included claims from the now-infamous Steele dossier, documents and evidence put together by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that alleges a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia. The dossier has become a political football, with Republicans claiming it is unreliable and politically motivated and therefore should not have been used by the FBI, and Democrats arguing the FBI and Justice Department followed protocol in getting the go-ahead to surveil Page.
The documents released on Saturday show the Steele dossier was part of the FBI’s application, but it wasn’t all of it. Moreover, the FBI told the court it believed the person who hired Steele was looking for information that could be damaging to Trump (it was first funded by conservative website the Washington Free Beacon and then passed on to Democrats), but it said in the past he had provided reliable information.
Much of what’s disclosed in the FBI documentation discredits parts of the Nunes memo, a document released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) in February that claimed the FBI was biased in wiretapping Page and launching the Russia investigation altogether. Judges weighing the application — all four Republican appointees — were made aware of the circumstances of the Steele dossier, and they were provided with evidence beyond its contents anyway.
“I don’t think they did anything wrong. I think they went to the court, they got the judges to approve it, they laid out all the information, and there was a lot of reasons unrelated to the dossier for why they wanted to look at Carter Page,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a separate appearance on State of the Union on Sunday.
Trump’s claiming this as a victory
President Trump appears to believe the release of the FISA warrant applications — which, again, say Page and perhaps other campaign aides might have been coordinating with Russia, and were approved by Republican-appointed judges — is a good thing for him. He took to Twitter on Sunday morning to celebrate the documents’ release.
Trump also claimed the “FISA scam” led to special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It did not: It was the drunk bragging of George Papadopoulos, another Trump aide, that kicked off the Russia investigation in 2016.