Saturday evening in the very middle of the summer, and suddenly the Justice Department finally releases a number of long-sought documents relating to the Trump-Russia counterintelligence investigation. One of the documents is the government's application to the FISA Court for a warrant to spy on Carter Page, a some-time foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, in the heat of the campaign for President. The document is heavily redacted; indeed, well more than half of it is nothing but big black marks. You know from the long delay in releasing the document, from the timing of the release, and from the heavy redactions, that this is an extremely embarrassing document to the Justice Department and the FBI. But, however bad you thought it might have been, it's actually far worse.
Here's the takeaway: The entire basis for the application to spy on the political campaign of the disfavored party was the completely unverified opposition research, paid for by the Clinton campaign, known as the Steele Dossier. The only other things they cite are some articles in the media. But those articles give every indication of having been completely derivative of leaks from the FBI itself, in turn based on nothing more than the Steele Dossier.
Many others have beaten me to the punch in commenting on this matter, and I don't mean just to repeat what others have already said. But this disgusting document is too important to let pass. So here are a few comments:
- Are the redactions justified? In almost all cases, you can't tell, because you don't know what they have redacted. But you can get some flavor from various instances where there are obvious inferences to be made. Here are some of the things that you can see have been redacted: (1) They have redacted the exact date of the application. It's "October [blank] 2016." Sure, that's top secret! (2) They have redacted the sections of the U.S. Code under which the application has been made. "Title 50, United States Code (U.S.C.) Sections [blank] (FISA or the Act)." By the way, the relevant sections are 1804 and 1805. Of course, those statutes are completely public. Go read those sections yourself if you really want to get the FBI irritated! (3) As is required in classified documents, each paragraph is marked at the beginning with a letter indicating the level of classification of that paragraph. (U) indicates "Unclassified." And yet there are extensive redactions in paragraphs marked (U). (4) They have redacted the name of the FBI "Supervisory Special Agent" who made the application and signed it "under penalty of perjury." I've got news for you, pal -- you can't hide. Are you Peter Strzok? The blanks look to be just a little too long for his name, but perhaps they included his middle initial and a period. Anyway, since when do our public servants get to suddenly declare their names to be "classified information" when they are caught lying to a court under penalty of perjury?
- Question number one about this application that every intelligent observer has been asking is, did they have anything as their basis to seek to spy on the disfavored political campaign other than the completely unverified Clinton-campaign-financed Christopher Steele dossier? The answer is, essentially, no. Other than the Dossier, in the unredacted portions we are provided, everything else given as support for this application is a story in the news media that appears, for all you can tell, to be the result of an FBI leak tracing back to the Steele dossier itself and nothing else.
- At page 15-16, in a footnote, we get the official party line about the source of the information on which the application is based (i.e., the Steele Dossier, never labeled as such): "Source #1 [i.e., Steele] . . . was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to Source #1 that a U.S. based law firm [i.e., Perkins Coie] had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1's [i.e., Trump's] ties to Russia . . . . The identified U.S. person hired Source #1 [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind this research into Candidate #1's ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1's campaign." This is a total lie, clearly intended to deceive the FISA judge. The FBI "speculates"? Everybody with a pulse today knows that the FBI was totally aware that this was opposition research bought and paid for by the Clinton campaign. Seeking a warrant to spy on one (disfavored) political campaign based on nothing but unverified opposition research from the opposing campaign? There is no chance that the FBI would have gotten the warrant if they had been honest, so they lied.
- Several "news articles" are discussed in some detail to buttress the application. For example, beginning at page 22, we get a summary of a news article of September 23, 2016: "On or about September 23, 2016, an identified news organization published an article . . . which was written by the news organization's Chief Investigative Correspondent, alleging that U.S. intelligence officials are investigating Page with respect to suspected efforts by the Russian Government to influence the U.S. Presidential election. . . . " This line refers to a widely-discussed article on Yahoo News by Michael Isikoff. OK, exactly where is Isikoff supposed to have gotten this story other than via a leak from the FBI itself. So the FBI leaks to Isikoff that it is investigating Page, Isikoff writes the article, and then the FBI immediately uses the article as supposed additional support to ramp up the investigation of Page by getting a FISA warrant.
- The application is riddled with insinuations of improper communications between Page and various Russians. He held "secret meetings." He discussed "future bilateral energy cooperation." He discussed "prospects . . . to lift sanctions." (What exactly is wrong with any of that?). Do you notice, in the flurry of Mueller indictments, the guy who has never been indicted? Page.
- The declaration "under penalty of perjury" that everything about Page in the application is "true and correct" is on page 54. It is signed by [blank], "Supervisory Special Agent."
This morning I was in a public place, and they had CNN on the TV (thankfully muted). As far as I could tell, the only story of interest to CNN today was the existence of some new tape recording of a conversation between Michael Cohen and Trump discussing how to deal with the threats of some new blackmailer (not Stormy Daniels). But hadn't we just learned that it has now been proven that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant in 2016 to spy on the disfavored presidential campaign, basing the application on nothing more than unverified opposition research from the favored campaign and false statements to the FISA court made under penalty of perjury? CNN could not have been less interested.