One section of the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG) report that hasn’t gotten as much attention highlights how the FBI not only altered evidence against one-time Trump campaign aide Carter Page, but also ignored exculpatory evidence to continue obtaining FISA warrants against him.
The FBI had believed Page was a foreign agent working with the Russians to help Donald Trump steal the 2016 election. In reality, Page had previously worked with an unnamed U.S. intelligence agency dealing with Russians for years at the beginning of the Obama administration. After the FBI started surveilling Page, he made several public statements about his past role as an asset for the intelligence community.
It wasn’t until the third FISA application, however, that the FBI apparently learned this was the case. Instead of realizing that the basis for their application was always bogus, they doubled down and simply omitted that information from the third FISA renewal application.
Near the middle of the IG report, a text message exchange between a person identified only as “SSA2,” who would be the affiant on the third renewal application, and someone identified only as “OGC Attorney,” who is believed to be FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith. The two went back and forth about whether Page was, indeed, working for another U.S. agency. At one point Clinesmith claimed this agency “confirmed explicitly [Page] was never a source.” He then told SSA2: “I mean, at least we don’t have to have a terrible footnote.”
SSA2 pushes back saying it was “interesting” this agency claimed Page was not a source, considering what the agency had written.
IG Michael Horowitz’s team spoke to Clinesmith about this exchange. He claimed his statement about being “explicitly” told Page was not a previous asset was meant as “shorthand” and that he had no reason to use the word “explicitly,” as he had been told no such thing. He claimed the message about a “terrible footnote” was in reference to the “laborious” process it would take to add such a footnote to the FISA application and claimed it had nothing to do with whether that footnote would completely undermine the application.
SSA2 felt differently. This person told Horowitz’s team that he took Clinesmith’s use of the word “explicitly” to be “the confirmation that I need[ed]” to report that Page had never been a source. Further, SSA2 told the IG that he believed the “terrible footnote” comment to mean they would be able to avoid having to explain in the renewal application that the FBI had “just now come to determine that [Page] was an asset of the [other agency] and probably being tasked to engage … [with] Russians which is … why we opened a case on him.”
SSA2 went on to tell the IG that “the optic” of such a footnote “would be terrible.”
Clinesmith, readers may recall, is the one who altered an email from the other U.S. intelligence agency that said Page did have a previous working relationship with them. Clinesmith inserted the words “not a source” into the email to make it appear as though a liaison from the other agency had said Page was “not a source.” Clinesmith sent this email to SSA2 and the FISA application was granted.
When Horowitz testified before the Senate on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered his own explanation for why this information about Page was omitted.
“What does that matter?” Graham said. “Because if the court had known, then there is a lawful reason for Mr. Page to be talking to the Russian guy. He wasn’t working against his country. He was working with his country, which undercuts the idea he is a foreign agent. That’s why Clinesmith lied: because he didn’t want to stop this investigation.”