FISA Title-1 surveillance warrant

October 21, 2016 – The “critical first FISA application, the basis for the warrant granted against Carter Page”

Andrew C. McCarthy (Credit: National Review)

By: Andrew C. McCarthy

“In a word, the Grassley-Graham memo is shocking. Yet, the press barely notices.

(…) “The Grassley-Graham memo corroborates the claims in the Nunes memo: The Obama Justice Department and FBI used anonymously sourced, Clinton-campaign generated innuendo to convince the FISA court to issue surveillance warrants against Carter Page, and in doing so, they concealed the Clinton campaign’s role. Though the Trump campaign had cut ties with Page shortly before the first warrant was issued in October 2016, the warrant application was based on wild allegations of a corrupt conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Moreover, the warrant meant the FBI could seize not only Page’s forward-going communications but any past emails and texts he may have stored — i.e., his Trump campaign communications.”

(…) “Last Friday, the Nunes memo asserted that the FBI and Justice Department had significantly relied on the unverified Steele dossier to obtain FISA warrants on Page. In the week that followed, House Intelligence Committee Democrats and their media echo chamber bleated about how things had been taken out of context, with some suggesting that there was plenty of other evidence to establish probable cause that Page was acting as a Russian agent. (See my column last Sunday responding to claims by Representative Jerrold Nadler, here.) It was even implied that Nunes & Co. had deceptively reported committee testimony by the FBI’s then deputy director Andrew McCabe that the Steele dossier was essential to this probable-cause showing.

We’re not hearing much of that now. No wonder. Here’s the Grassley-Graham memo on the critical first FISA application, the basis for the warrant granted on October 21, 2016:

The bulk of the application consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the Steele dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier.

We’ll come to the news article — the stupefying circular attempt to corroborate Steele with Steele. For the moment, suffice it to say that the senators have confirmed the Nunes memo’s account, except with much more information than House Republicans were able to include. Information such as this:

When asked at the March 2017 briefing [of Judiciary Committee leaders] why the FBI relied on the dossier in the FISA applications absent meaningful corroboration — and in light of the highly political motives surrounding its creation — then-Director [James] Comey stated that the FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau. (Emphasis added.)

On this score, Grassley and Graham quote directly from the warrant applications: “Based on [Steele’s] previous reporting history with the FBI whereby [Steele] provided reliable information to the FBI, the FBI believes [Steele’s] reporting to be credible.” (Emphasis added.)

I cannot stress enough how irregular this is. It is why there is abundant reason to demand that the judge explain his or her rationale for granting the warrant.

As I outlined at greater length last week (here, in section C), in applying for a warrant, the government must establish the reliability of the informants who witnessed the alleged facts claimed to support a probable-cause finding. Steele was not one of those witnesses. He is not the source of the facts. He is the purveyor of the sources — anonymous Russians, much of whose alleged information is based on hearsay, sometimes multiple steps removed from direct knowledge. Steele has not been in Russia since his cover as a British spy was blown nearly 20 years ago. He has sources, who have sources, who have sources . . .  and so on. None of his information is better than third-hand; most of it is more attenuated than that.

For purposes of justifying a warrant, it does not matter that, in a totally unrelated investigation (involving corruption at FIFA, the international soccer organization), the FBI judged that the hearsay information provided by Steele, then a British agent, checked out. In his anti-Trump research, Steele could not verify his sources. Furthermore, he was now a former foreign intelligence officer who was then working for private clients — which is the advocacy business, not the search-for-truth business.” (Read more: National Review, 2/10/2018)

October 21, 2016 – An unusual intervention is made by McCabe and Yates with Carter Page’s FISA Application

(…) “Trisha Anderson, the principal deputy general counsel for the FBI and head of the bureau’s National Security and Cyber Law Branch, approved the application for a warrant to spy on Page before it went to FBI Director James Comey. During her Aug. 31 testimony, she described the FISA application process as being a linear path and noted there is a specific “system called FISAMS within the Bureau that tracks in a linear fashion all the approvals on a FISA.”

Andrew McCabe and Sally Yates (Credit: The Associated Press and ABC News)

Yet, despite the rigid description provided by Baker and Anderson, it appears the linearity process was not adhered to in the case of the Page FISA. According to Anderson, pre-approvals for the Page FISA were provided by both McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, before the FISA application was ever presented to her for review.

“[M]y boss and my boss’ boss had already reviewed and approved this application. And, in fact, the Deputy Attorney General, who had the authority to sign the application, to be the substantive approver on the FISA application itself, had approved the application.  And that typically would not have been the case before I did that,” said Anderson.

Anderson told investigators that the Page FISA “was handled a little bit differently in that sense, in that it received very high-level review and approvals — informal, oral approvals — before it ever came to me for signature.”

The unusual preliminary review and approval from both McCabe and Yates appear to have had a substantial impact on the normal review process, leading other individuals like Anderson to believe that the Page FISA was more vetted than, perhaps, it really was. It is not known why McCabe and Yates both chose to insert themselves at an early stage into the Page FISA process.” (Read more: Epoch Times, 2/11/2019)

October 21, 2016 – The FBI likely withheld exculpatory evidence in their Carter Page FISA court application

George Papadopoulos (l), Stefan Halper (c) and Carter Page. (Credit: public domain)

(…) “Page and Papadopoulos, who barely knew each other, met separately in August and September 2016 with Stefan Halper, the American-born Cambridge University professor who, the FBI told Congress, worked as an undercover informer in the Russia case.

Papadopoulos was the young aide that the FBI used to justify opening a probe into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016, after he allegedly told a foreign diplomat that he knew Russia possessed incriminating emails about Hillary Clinton.

Page, a volunteer campaign adviser, was the American the FBI then targeted on Oct. 21, 2016, for secret surveillance while investigating Democratic Party-funded allegations that he secretly might have coordinated Russia’s election efforts with the Trump campaign during a trip to Moscow.

To appreciate the significance of the two men’s interactions with Halper, one must understand the rules governing the FBI when it seeks a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant such as the one secured against Page.

First, the FBI must present evidence to FISA judges that it has verified and that comes from intelligence sources deemed reliable. Second, it must disclose any information that calls into question the credibility of its sources. Finally, it must disclose any evidence suggesting the innocence of its investigative targets.

Thanks to prior releases of information, we know the FBI fell short on the first two counts. Multiple FBI officials have testified that the Christopher Steele dossier had not been verified when its allegations were submitted as primary evidence supporting the FISA warrant against Page.

Likewise, we know the FBI failed to tell the courts that Steele admitted to a federal official that he was desperate to defeat Trump in the 2016 election and was being paid by Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to gather dirt on the GOP candidate. Both pieces of information are the sort of credibility-defining details that should be disclosed about a source.” (Read more: The Hill, 3/14/2019)

October 21, 2016 – Carter Page’s flawed FISA makes its way through the system

“[James] Baker told investigators that he felt it would be very difficult for the FBI or the DOJ to intentionally try to trick the FISC into issuing a FISA without sufficient evidence.

James Comey, John Kerry, Andrew McCabe, John Brennan, James Clapper, Susan Rice, and Ash Carter, sign and execute certification of the Carter Page Title 1 FISA application on October 21, 2016.

“Such a thing wouldn’t make its way through the system because somebody would ferret that out it in the process. And I seriously doubt that it would make its way to the FISA court. Because the FBI doesn’t want to — would not want to do that with respect to the director who is going to sign these things, nor to the Attorney General. And the Department of Justice would be very protective of the Attorney General and try to ferret out anything like that. And I think it would be kept away from the FISA court in the first instance,” Baker said.

The Page application was largely reliant on the Steele dossier, a series of memos that was unverified at its time of submission to the FISC and remains unverified to this day. Circular reporting, provided by Steele himself, was used as corroboration of the dossier. Additionally, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, whose conversation with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer was used to open the FBI’s July 31, 2016, counterintelligence investigation, is referenced in the FISA, yet there “is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos,” according to a House Intelligence Committee memo.

James Baker (r) appears before the House Oversight Committee on October 3, 2018. (Credit: Fox News)

Baker himself was unaware of some material facts. When he was told that high-ranking DOJ official Bruce Ohr—who had passed information from Steele and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson to the FBI—had informed the FBI that there was the potential for bias, Baker seemed surprised, telling investigators, “I don’t recall ever hearing that before just right now.”

Notably, Baker testified that he was aware of Ohr’s interactions with Steele and the FBI, but told investigators “they weren’t something I focused on.” When pressed, he stated:

“I was aware that Bruce Ohr had some type of relationship with the source, and that somehow through that mechanism, the details of which I did not know, information was flowing to the FBI. From the source through Bruce to the FBI.”

Meanwhile, Moyer testified that without the Steele dossier, the Page FISA would have had a “50/50” chance of achieving the probable cause standard before the FISA court. Notably, to this day, the Steele dossier is considered to have been largely discredited.

Baker appeared to understand the sensitivity of the Page FISA, telling investigators at one point that he envisioned an interview like the one he was currently involved in:

“I anticipated being sitting here in rooms like this down the road, I seriously did, and I knew that it was — I knew that it was sensitive.  I knew that it would be controversial … It was connected to a candidate — this person had connections to a candidate for the office of President of the United States. That alone was enough to make me worried about it and made me focus on it.”

Despite this admission, when asked if he had reviewed any of the three Page FISA renewals, Baker responded that he had not done so, telling investigators, “The machinery was moving and the renewals they had expiration dates and so on.” (Read more: Epoch Times, 2/11/2019)

October 2016 – An attorney for the Clinton campaign and DNC, Michael Sussmann, gave the FBI documents for the Russia probe

Perkins Coie Washington, D.C. offices. (Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi/The National Law Journal)

“A top lawyer working with the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign contacted the FBI’s general counsel in late 2016 and provided documents for the Russia probe as federal investigators prepared a surveillance warrant for Trump campaign aide Carter Page, sources close to a congressional investigation told Fox News, citing new testimony.

The FBI official who was contacted, James Baker, revealed the exchange to congressional investigators during a closed-door deposition Wednesday. He said Perkins Coie lawyer Michael Sussmann initiated contact with him and provided documents as well as computer storage devices on Russian hacking. The sources said Baker described the contact as unusual and the “only time it happened.”

Perkins Coie was a key player in the funding of the controversial anti-Trump dossier, which Republicans have long suspected helped fuel the FBI’s investigation. The DNC and Clinton campaign had hired opposition research firm Fusion GPS in April 2016, through Perkins Coie, to dig into Trump’s background. Fusion, in turn, paid British ex-spy Christopher Steele to compile the dossier, memos from which were shared with the FBI in the summer of 2016.

Michael Sussmann (Credit: Chalet Reports)

Sussmann’s contact with Baker suggests another connection between the early stages of the FBI’s Russia probe and those working with the DNC and Clinton campaign. Sussmann’s bio on the Perkins Coie website describes him as a former senior Justice Department official with extensive national security and cybersecurity experience: “[Sussmann] is engaged on some of the most sophisticated, high-stakes matters today, such as his representation of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in their responses to Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election.”

Asked about Baker’s statements, however, a Perkins Coie spokesperson said Sussmann’s contact was not connected to the firm’s representation of the DNC or Clinton campaign.

The spokesperson said in a statement:

“Prior to joining Perkins Coie, Michael Sussmann served as a cybercrime prosecutor in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice during both Republican and Democratic administrations. As a result, Sussmann is regularly retained by clients with complex cybersecurity matters.

“When Sussmann met with Mr. Baker on behalf of a client, it was not connected to the firm’s representation of the Hillary Clinton Campaign, the DNC or any Political Law Group client.”

Separately, two Republican lawmakers said after Baker’s deposition that he gave “explosive” closed-door testimony detailing how the Russia probe was handled in an “abnormal fashion” reflecting “political bias.” (Read more: Fox News, 10/04/2018)

October 14, 2016 – Memos detail FBI’s ‘Hurry the F up pressure’ to obtain a Title 1 FISA warrant on the Trump campaign

(…) “The memos show Strzok, Lisa Page and others in counterintelligence monitored news articles in September 2016 that quoted a law enforcement source as saying the FBI was investigating Carter Page’s travel to Moscow.

The FBI team pounced on what it saw as an opportunity as soon as [Carter] Page wrote a letter to then-FBI Director James Comey complaining about the “completely false” leak.

A clipping from Carter Page’s letter to James Comey.

“At a minimum, the letter provides us a pretext to interview,” Strzok wrote to Lisa Page on Sept. 26, 2016.

Carter Page (Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Within weeks, that “pretext” — often a synonym for an excuse — had been upsized to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant, giving the FBI the ability to use some of its most awesome powers to monitor Carter Page and his activities.

To date, the former Trump adviser has been accused of no wrongdoing despite being subjected to nearly a year of surveillance.

Some internal memos detail the pressure being applied by the FBI to DOJ prosecutors to get the warrant on Carter Page buttoned up before Election Day.

In one email exchange with the subject line “Crossfire FISA,” Strzok and Lisa Page discussed talking points to get then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to persuade a high-ranking DOJ official to sign off on the warrant.

“Crossfire Hurricane” was one of the code names for four separate investigations the FBI conducted related to Russia matters in the 2016 election.

“At a minimum, that keeps the hurry the F up pressure on him,” Strzok emailed Page on Oct. 14, 2016, less than four weeks before Election Day.

Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”

“Still an expedite?” one of the emails beckoned, as the FBI tried to meet the requirements of a process known as a Woods review before a FISA warrant can be approved by the courts.

“Any idea what time he can have it woods-ed by?” Strzok asked Page. “I know it’s not going to matter because DOJ is going to take the time DOJ wants to take. I just don’t want this waiting on us at all.”

Until all the interviews are completed by Congress and DOJ’s inspector general later this year, we won’t know why counterintelligence agents who normally take a methodical approach to investigation felt so much pressure days before the election on this case.” (Read more: The Hill, 7/06/2018)

October 13, 2016 – The State Department sends a red flag on Christopher Steele to an FBI official, who then immediately forwards it to Peter Strzok

In all Washington investigations, the essential questions become who knew it and when did they know it.

Stephen Laycock (Credit: public domain)

In the case of FBI informant Christopher Steele and the credibility of his now-disproven Russia collusion allegations against Donald Trump, we have some important clarity: Government officials confirm that an October 2016 email revealing that Steele met with State Department officials – a breach of protocol for an informant if it was unauthorized – was sent to an FBI counterintelligence supervisor.

Multiple sources confirm to me that the recipient of the State Department email was Special Agent Stephen Laycock, then the FBI’s section chief for Eurasian counterintelligence and now one of the bureau’s top executives as the assistant director for intelligence under Director Christopher Wray.

The email to Laycock from Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec arrived eight days before the FBI swore to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that it had no derogatory information on Steele and used his anti-Trump dossier to secure a secret surveillance warrant to investigate Trump’s possible ties to Moscow.

Officials tell me that Laycock immediately forwarded the information he received about Steele on Oct. 13, 2016, to the FBI team leading the Trump-Russia investigation, headed by then-fellow Special Agent Peter Strzok.

Laycock was the normal point of contact for Kavalec on Eurasian counterintelligence matters, and he simply acted as a conduit to get the information to his colleagues supervising the Russia probe, the officials added.

The officials declined to say what the FBI did with the information about Steele after it reached Strzok’s team, or what the email specifically revealed. A publicly disclosed version of the email has been heavily redacted in the name of national security.” (Read more: The Hill, 5/14/2019)

October 13, 2016 – A Strzok/Page text references “I just want to know who’s playing games,” “scared/covering” and “totally get it will never be provable” – names hidden beneath redactions are confirmed

“A previously revealed text message conversation between Strzok and Lisa Page, meanwhile, has come into focus.

The text referencing “who’s playing games” and “covering” was released last year, but Fox News recently confirmed the names hidden beneath redactions. They included a senior FBI lawyer, as well as the FBI agent “Gaeta” — believed to be a principal handler for the dossier and its author, British ex-spy Christopher Steele.

The Strzok-Page text was sent on Oct. 13, 2016, during a tense period eight days before the FBI and DOJ secured a surveillance warrant for Page.  Hours earlier, on Oct. 12texts exclusively obtained by Fox News showed Page complaining to her boss, then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, about the apparent reluctance of a Justice Department official to approve the Page surveillance application.

And, within hours of that exchange, a senior state department official, Kathleen Kavalec, had emailed her FBI counterpart about information provided to her by Steele — an apparent breach of the former spy’s work as a confidential human source for the bureau. Confidential human sources ordinarily do not reach out to multiple government agencies.

In the Oct.13 text to Page, Strzok wrote: “We got the reporting on Sept 19. Looks like [Gaeta] got it early August. Looking at [Clinesmith] lync [internal messaging service] replies to me it’s not clear if he knows if/when he told them.  But [Steve] and [Kate] talked with [Spencer] they’re both good and will remember. It’s not about rubbing their nose in it. I don’t care if they don’t know. I just want to know who’s playing games/scared covering. totally get it will never be provable.”

 

Based on Lisa Page’s 2018 closed-door congressional testimony, Gaeta is believed to be the FBI agent who met with Steele in the summer of 2016 obtaining the first memos in early July. “Clinesmith” is believed to be then-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith.

It was not clear from the texts whether “Steve” and “Kate” refer to FBI or State Department employees.

“Spencer’s” identity is unknown but has remained of significant interest to congressional investigators who have questioned whether he operated outside of the FBI and DOJ, potentially as part of the intelligence community.” (Read more: Fox News, 5/29/2019)

October 12, 2016 – McCabe/Page texts reveal the FBI clash with the DOJ over potential ‘bias’ of source for surveillance warrant

(Credit: Conservative Treehouse)

“Just nine days before the FBI applied for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil a top Trump campaign aide, bureau officials were battling with a senior Justice Department official who had “continued concerns” about the “possible bias” of a source pivotal to the application, according to internal text messages obtained by Fox News.

The 2016 messages, sent between former FBI lawyer Lisa Page and then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, also reveal that bureau brass circulated at least two anti-Trump blog articles, including a Lawfare blog post sent shortly after Election Day that called Trump possibly “among the major threats to the security of the country.”

Another article, sent by Page in July 2016 as the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into Russian election interference was kicking off, flatly called Trump a “useful idiot” for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Page told McCabe that then-FBI Director James Comey had “surely” read that piece. Both articles were authored in whole or part by Benjamin Wittes, a Comey friend.

Further, the texts show that on Sept. 12, 2016, Page forwarded to McCabe some “unsolicited comments” calling then-GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy a “total d–k.” Gowdy, at the time, was grilling FBI congressional affairs director Jason Herring at a hearing on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.

But perhaps the most significant Page-McCabe communications made plain the DOJ’s worries that the FISA application to surveil Trump aide Carter Page was based on a potentially biased source — and underscored the FBI’s desire to press on.” (Read more: Fox News, 3/22/2019)

October 11, 2016 – DOJ and FBI officials hide a State Dept email that memorializes Christopher Steele’s political motives

“If ever there were an admission that taints the FBI’s secret warrant to surveil Donald Trump’s campaign, it sat buried for more than 2 1/2 years in the files of a high-ranking State Department official.

Kathleen Kavalec (Credit: BizPacReview)

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec’s written account of her Oct. 11, 2016, meeting with FBI informant Christopher Steele shows the Hillary Clinton campaign-funded British intelligence operative admitted that his research was political and facing an Election Day deadline.

And that confession occurred 10 days before the FBI used Steele’s now-discredited dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Steele’s client “is keen to see this information come to light prior to November 8,” the date of the 2016 election, Kavalec wrote in a typed summary of her meeting with Steele and Tatyana Duran, a colleague from Steele’s Orbis Security firm. The memos were unearthed a few days ago through open-records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United.

Kavalec’s notes do not appear to have been provided to the House Intelligence Committee during its Russia probe, according to former Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). “They tried to hide a lot of documents from us during our investigation, and it usually turns out there’s a reason for it,” Nunes told me. Senate and House Judiciary investigators told me they did not know about them, even though they investigated Steele’s behavior in 2017-18.

One member of Congress transmitted the memos this week to the Department of Justice’s inspector general, fearing its investigation of FISA abuses may not have had access to them.

Nonetheless, the FBI is doing its best to keep much of Kavalec’s information secret by retroactively claiming it is classified, even though it was originally marked unclassified in 2016.

The apparent effort to hide Kavalec’s notes from her contact with Steele has persisted for some time.

State officials acknowledged a year ago they received a copy of the Steele dossier in July 2016, and got a more detailed briefing in October 2016 and referred the information to the FBI.

But what was discussed was not revealed. Sources told me more than a year ago that Kavalec had the most important (and memorialized) interaction with Steele before the FISA warrant was issued, but FBI and State officials refused to discuss it, or even confirm it.” (Read more: The Hill, 5/07/2019) (Kavalec Memo)

 

“On May 10, 2019, against the backdrop of documents from the state department, Senator Lindsey Graham sends a letter to both OIG Michael Horowitz and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking additional information about State Department contact with Christopher Steele.  (Source Link – Senate Judiciary)

Additionally, the FBI has apparently reversed course on the self-serving redactions they put in place when the Kavalec Memo was released.  A less redacted version is linked here.

Apparently the Russian “mole” in the DNC didn’t warrant the investigative curiosity of the FBI.  Instead, they took the sketchy dossier info and called Carter Page an “agent of a foreign power”….  Go figure.” (Conservative Treehouse, 5/10/2019)