FBI believed Carter Page, a member of Trump campaign, may have been a Russian agent
President Trump reacted by claiming the disclosed show his campaign illegally spied on
The Justice Department on Saturday released a previously classified application to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was under suspicion by the FBI of being a Russian agent.
The government had monitored Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and the heavily redacted documents were made public after media organisations sued for their release under the Freedom of Information Act.
President Trump on Sunday reacted by tweeting: “Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” he said, referring to the Democratic National Committee. “Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”
Referring to the Page documents, he wrote: “As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!”
The release of the document, along with three subsequent applications to renew the surveillance, was extraordinary and historic. In the four decades that FISA has been in effect, it’s not clear that any application for surveillance has ever been released.
Materials related to FISA operations and legal process are among the most highly classified and closely guarded in the government. The New York Times, USA Today, and the James Madison Project all sued for release of the materials.
The publication is also sure to fuel the political fight between Republicans and Democrats over the propriety of the surveillance and how it was legally justified.
Republican lawmakers have accused the Obama administration, which sought the surveillance order in October 2016, of relying on a controversial dossier of candidate – at the time – Donald Trump’s alleged connections to Russia to support the surveillance order. The document, compiled by a former British intelligence officer, was used as political opposition research by Democrats. But the author, Christopher Steele, also shared his findings with the FBI because he was concerned that Trump may have been compromised by Russia.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee have sparred for months over the Page surveillance. Republicans, who previously released some details about the application, accused the FBI of relying too much on the Steele dossier, which they painted as politically motivated and uncorroborated.
But Democrats countered that the FISA application relied on more information than what Steele provided. And they claimed Steele had been a reliable source for the FBI in the past.
“Even in redacted form, the initial FISA application and three renewals underscore the legitimate concern FBI had about Page’s activities as it was investigating Russia’s interference,” Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on Saturday.
But he added, “While I’m pleased that these conspiracy theories are finally being put to rest, the release of these materials during a pending investigation should not have happened,” referring to the ongoing probe into allegations of Russian interference in the US elections.
The application shows that the FBI portrayed Steele as a trusted source and that his work was on behalf of a client who was probably looking for politically damaging information about Trump. Republicans had accused the bureau of failing to notify the court of the dossier’s political origins.
Much of the more than 400 pages of applications is redacted, making it impossible to know all the evidence that the FBI presented to a judge in seeking the wiretap order.
In particular, whole sections in the application supporting the belief that Page was a Russian agent are blacked out. Some of the visible material refers to news articles. But FISA applications typically rely on classified and other sensitive information, according to officials with knowledge of the process.
The application identifies Page by name and says he engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia and was the target of Russian government recruitment.
Page has denied that he was a Russian agent.