On Saturday, the FBI released a heavily-redacted version of the FISA warrant application against former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page. That FISA warrant application, which was granted in October 2016 and thus allowed FBI surveillance against Page, doesn’t show much we don’t already know – hundreds of pages are blacked out. Here’s what we do know from the application:
1. The FBI Relied Heavily on The So-Called Steele Dossier. The dossier compiled by British spy Christopher Steele at the behest of the Hillary Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS was allegedly handed over to the FBI in September 2016, and served as a key component of the FISA warrant application. It didn’t play a minor role; it played a major role. With that said, most of the Steele dossier had to do with Trump and onetime Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort – and none of that material appears in the application.
2. We Don’t Know How Much The Dossier Was Corroborated. Republicans have suggested that the Steele dossier was used in its entirety and was not corroborated in any way. We simply don’t know that, since corroborating details could be found behind the redactions. If the FBI simply used the Steele dossier without any corroboration, that would certainly be troubling.
3. The Nunes Memo Suggestion That The Application Didn’t Contain Warnings About The Source of The Steele Dossier Is Wrong. Dueling interpretations of the memo by House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) have emerged. On the one hand, Byron York of The Washington Examiner says that Nunes was correct – that the funding of the Steele dossier wasn’t fully conveyed to the Court. On the other hand, the application contains clear references to “Candidate #1” being targeted by “Candidate #2.” In my opinion, it’s a massive stretch to suggest that the court didn’t know that Hillary had paid for the dossier. The application openly states that a “US-based law firm had hired the identified US person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia…The identified US person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified US person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified US person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
4. Carter Page Wasn’t On The Campaign By The Time He Was Investigated. This is obviously the case, but it’s also true that his activities during the time he was a foreign policy advisor on the campaign were being investigated. While Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) suggests that the FISA warrant against Page had nothing to do with the campaign, therefore, that’s a stretch, too.
5. The FBI Suspected Carter Page Of Being A Russian Agent. The application stated that the “FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.” Page admitted yesterday on Jake Tapper’s CNN show that he was an “informal advisor” to the Kremlin in 2013. “Informal having some conversations with people,” Page stated. Page has never been arrested for his supposed connections with the Kremlin.
6. The FBI Didn’t Use A Yahoo! News Report To Confirm The Steele Dossier. One of the accusations leveled has been that the dossier was used as a source, and that Steele then leaked the information to another news source, which was used as a second source. That’s untrue. The application only references the Yahoo! News article leaked by Steele in order to show Page’s response to the dossier information.
So, what does this new release actually show? Not much. If you believe that the Steele dossier and FISA warrant were used by the intelligence community to target the Trump campaign, nothing in the FISA application will change your mind – the Steele dossier is central. If you’re convinced the FISA warrant wasn’t used to target Trump, nothing will change your mind – most of the document is redacted. The real question is why Trump doesn’t just declassify the whole thing if it shows what he says it shows.