American armed forces and a coalition of willing partners invaded Iraq in 2003 based on the near-universal confidence of the U.S. intelligence community that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. They were wrong, and a follow-up investigation of the intelligence community’s “analytical shortcomings” found that their “assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence.”
Years later, the U.S. government appears to be making the same mistakes. The FBI finally released a heavily-redacted version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant used by the bureau to convince judges to allow them to wiretap Trump campaign aide Carter Page — and the contents of the 412-page document are damning.
The origins of a witch hunt
The newly-released warrant proves that investigators reached the conclusion that Page was guilty of conspiring with Russian operatives to hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign, then filled in the blanks — with unverified data and politically-driven material — to satisfy their predetermined verdict.
Tom Fitton, whose government watchdog group Judicial Watch was behind the media effort to unmask the FISA warrant, wrote that the documents “confirm [that] the FBI and DoJ misled the courts in withholding info about Clinton-DNC being behind the info used to get the FISA warrant.”
.@JudicialWatch now has Carter Page FISA docs. They are heavily redacted but seem to confirm the FBI and DoJ misled the courts in withholding info about Clinton-DNC being behind the info used to get the FISA warrant.
— Tom Fitton (@TomFitton) July 21, 2018
Fitton was referring to allegations, first made by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and the House Intelligence Committee, that the FISA warrant relied almost entirely on a dossier collected as opposition research for the Clinton campaign. Those findings were supplied by former British spy Christopher Steele, collected from suspected Russian operatives, and paid for by Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
But the mainstream media is spinning the information contained within the FISA warrants to suggest that the document should “discount claims made by some Republicans that the FBI failed to properly disclose sources of information.” NBC News even concluded that “it shows that authorities used other sources of information besides the Steele ‘dossier’ in the application, which was granted by a judge.”
But NBC appears to be blind to the weaknesses in the FISA warrant revealed by their own reporting. The network news agency itself determined that the warrant “backs up the claim that the FBI used information from other sources that were wholly uninvolved with Steele, including published reports.”
And indeed, the Justice Department relied upon published media reporting — with all of its flaws and hyper-partisan warts — to convince the court that Page needed to be electronically monitored. To build their case that Russia was, in fact, meddling in the upcoming election, the FISA warrant relied on a media interview during which Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said, “Russia has tried to influence U.S. elections since the 1960s during the Cold War.”
Hopefully, the FISA judges needed more convincing that there was, in fact, an attempt by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 election. But with so much of the warrant blacked out, the general public may never know what else was used to sway the court.
But perhaps the greatest analytical shortcoming contained within the warrant supports allegations floated by many conservative lawmakers. The document suggests that the FBI never knew that Steele was hired by the Clinton campaign, stating that “an identified U.S. person” tied to Fusion GPS, or the firm tasked with hiring Steele, “never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into [Trump’s] ties to Russia.”
Playing dumb, the DOJ told the FISA court that the FBI merely “speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit [Trump’s] campaign [emphasis added].”
Democrats actually believe that the FBI, with all of their resources and intelligence-gathering expertise, didn’t know that Steele was working for the Clinton campaign and the DNC. The authors of the warrant even go to lengths to explain their ignorance, writing that Fusion GPS never told Steele that they worked for the Clinton campaign — thus, apparently, the FBI didn’t know.
“A complete joke”
Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence to result from the FISA eavesdropping campaign is that even today, Carter Page remains out of jail and hasn’t been arrested for treason. Page appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday to criticize the FISA warrant, calling it “so ridiculous” and a “spin.”
“It’s literally a complete joke and it only continues, it’s just really sad,” he said. “I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination.”
The FBI deduced that Page was meeting with his Russian handlers while visiting Europe. But page dismissed these accusations, claiming: “I may have, back in the G20 when they were getting ready to do that in St. Petersburg, I might have participated in a few meetings that a lot of people, including people from the Obama administration, were sitting on, and Geneva, Paris, et cetera, but I’ve never been anywhere near what’s being described here.”
There’s no doubt that the FISA warrant was based on “assumptions and inferences” rather than cold, hard facts. The problem is that some Americans will never be able to see through the media spin to reach that conclusion.