Ten problems with the release of the heavily redacted FISA warrants on Carter Page

It is a huge scandal that the vast, frightening surveillance powers of our intelligence agencies, normally forbidden from snooping on American citizens, were used to spy on a presidential campaign antagonistic to the sitting president. Far too slowly, the underlying documents that permitted this are coming to light. Last night, 412 pages of heavily redacted versions of the original FISA warrant and subsequent renewals used to spy on Carter Page (and others – see below) were released.

Here are 10 preliminary points that need to be understood in evaluating this fragmentary peek at the guts of the scandal.

One:

You can tell that the Department of Justice wants to avoid public scrutiny by the timing of its release. Nobody seeking the public’s attention releases anything on a Saturday night.  Scott Johnson of Powerline pithily sums up the maneuver:

We are familiar with the Friday afternoon document dump. It’s a standard tool of political scandal management.  (snip) 

I say the Saturday night document dump resets best scandal management practices.

Two:

The FISA warrant relies on the discredited Steele dossier almost entirely. It is the first evidence cited and forms the bulk of the evidence. Steele is identified throughout as “Source #1”

Three:

It is heavily redacted.  There are pages and pages that are entirely obscured.  Given the history of the DOJ using redactions to cover up embarrassments, not just sources and methods or other legitimately classified material, there is plenty of reason to suspect more embarrassments have been covered up.

Four:

As John Hinderaker notes, the document asserts that Page was a witting agent of Russians, yet he has not been charged with anything.

Moreover, via publicly available documents, Sundance of Conservative Tree House points out that Carter Page was employed as an “under cover employee” by the FBI in indicting and obtaining a guilty plea from a genuine Russian spy. Yet somehow, he is now a spy himself?

Five:

Surveilling Page is a classic “camel’s nose under the tent maneuver,” meaning that other people of much greater interest to people spying on a rival campaign could also be targeted. The warrants use the expression  “incidentally acquire foreign intelligence information as defined by other subsections of 50 U.S.C. 1801(e)" no fewer than 8 times.

Six:
There are weasel-like evasions. On page 15, we read:
The FBI speculates that the identified US. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #l's campaign.
“Speculates”? Why else would the DNC and Hillary campaign spend millions of dollars on it?
As the New York Times points out, a Yahoo News article sourced on the basis of Steele, was included in the warrant, but:

The section of the application that describes the Yahoo News article is titled “Page’s Denial of Cooperation With the Russian Government to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”

This enabled a talking point:

Republicans at the time claimed that the F.B.I. had misleadingly used the article as corroboration for Mr. Steele’s claims, while Democrats said that was false and that it was instead included to inform the court that Mr. Page had denied the allegations.

Seven: As Hindraker notes that in addition to the Steele dossier,

…the application relies to an astonishing degree on anti-Trump news stories published in the Democratic Party press. Does the FBI really get surveillance warrants on the basis of partisan press accounts? 

 

Eight:

Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller:

…the FISA application shows that the FBI and Justice Department believed Steele to be a “reliable” source. Steele has been compensated for other work by the FBI, and his intelligence has been used in other criminal proceedings, the FISA application says.

Yet, the FBI reveals in a footnote in follow-up applications that FBI ties to Steele were severed after he lied about speaking to news outlets.

Nine:

The identity of the FISA court judge or judges who approved these warrants remains secret. He or they have a lot of explaining to do. 
Ten:
The identity of the FBI people who assembled the warrant also remains secret.
President Trump has already issued 3 tweets on the report. His last one quotes Andrew McCarthy, who appeared on Fox and Friends this morning:

 
President Trump, of course, can declassify the entire document. Sooner or later, we will learn about what has been redacted. 

Graphic by Jens Best via Flickr

It is a huge scandal that the vast, frightening surveillance powers of our intelligence agencies, normally forbidden from snooping on American citizens, were used to spy on a presidential campaign antagonistic to the sitting president. Far too slowly, the underlying documents that permitted this are coming to light. Last night, 412 pages of heavily redacted versions of the original FISA warrant and subsequent renewals used to spy on Carter Page (and others – see below) were released.

Here are 10 preliminary points that need to be understood in evaluating this fragmentary peek at the guts of the scandal.

One:

You can tell that the Department of Justice wants to avoid public scrutiny by the timing of its release. Nobody seeking the public’s attention releases anything on a Saturday night.  Scott Johnson of Powerline pithily sums up the maneuver:

We are familiar with the Friday afternoon document dump. It’s a standard tool of political scandal management.  (snip) 

I say the Saturday night document dump resets best scandal management practices.

Two:

The FISA warrant relies on the discredited Steele dossier almost entirely. It is the first evidence cited and forms the bulk of the evidence. Steele is identified throughout as “Source #1”

Three:

It is heavily redacted.  There are pages and pages that are entirely obscured.  Given the history of the DOJ using redactions to cover up embarrassments, not just sources and methods or other legitimately classified material, there is plenty of reason to suspect more embarrassments have been covered up.

Four:

As John Hinderaker notes, the document asserts that Page was a witting agent of Russians, yet he has not been charged with anything.

Moreover, via publicly available documents, Sundance of Conservative Tree House points out that Carter Page was employed as an “under cover employee” by the FBI in indicting and obtaining a guilty plea from a genuine Russian spy. Yet somehow, he is now a spy himself?

Five:

Surveilling Page is a classic “camel’s nose under the tent maneuver,” meaning that other people of much greater interest to people spying on a rival campaign could also be targeted. The warrants use the expression  “incidentally acquire foreign intelligence information as defined by other subsections of 50 U.S.C. 1801(e)" no fewer than 8 times.

Six:
There are weasel-like evasions. On page 15, we read:
The FBI speculates that the identified US. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #l's campaign.
“Speculates”? Why else would the DNC and Hillary campaign spend millions of dollars on it?
As the New York Times points out, a Yahoo News article sourced on the basis of Steele, was included in the warrant, but:

The section of the application that describes the Yahoo News article is titled “Page’s Denial of Cooperation With the Russian Government to Influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election.”

This enabled a talking point:

Republicans at the time claimed that the F.B.I. had misleadingly used the article as corroboration for Mr. Steele’s claims, while Democrats said that was false and that it was instead included to inform the court that Mr. Page had denied the allegations.

Seven: As Hindraker notes that in addition to the Steele dossier,

…the application relies to an astonishing degree on anti-Trump news stories published in the Democratic Party press. Does the FBI really get surveillance warrants on the basis of partisan press accounts? 

 

Eight:

Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller:

…the FISA application shows that the FBI and Justice Department believed Steele to be a “reliable” source. Steele has been compensated for other work by the FBI, and his intelligence has been used in other criminal proceedings, the FISA application says.

Yet, the FBI reveals in a footnote in follow-up applications that FBI ties to Steele were severed after he lied about speaking to news outlets.

Nine:

The identity of the FISA court judge or judges who approved these warrants remains secret. He or they have a lot of explaining to do. 
Ten:
The identity of the FBI people who assembled the warrant also remains secret.
President Trump has already issued 3 tweets on the report. His last one quotes Andrew McCarthy, who appeared on Fox and Friends this morning:

 
President Trump, of course, can declassify the entire document. Sooner or later, we will learn about what has been redacted. 

Graphic by Jens Best via Flickr