The Justice Department has released hundreds of pages of documents relating to an FBI application for a secret warrant issued in October 2016 authorizing surveillance on former Donald Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
[The documents are embedded in full at the bottom of this post.]
The records were obtained by Gizmodo Media Group (GMG), Splinter’s parent company, via a Freedom of Information Act request filed in April 2017. Other media and political organizations, including the New York Times, USA Today, and Judicial Watch, also filed FOIA requests.
The FBI submitted the application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which approved its request to surveil Page. The Times noted that the government’s release of this application was essentially unprecedented, since “no such application materials had apparently become public in the 40 years since Congress enacted [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] to regulate the interception of phone calls and other communications on domestic soil in search of spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for ordinary criminal investigations.”
The documents are heavily redacted in places, but what remains leaves little to the imagination. The FBI’s application for the secret warrant flatly asserts that Page is “an agent of a foreign power,” and adds, “The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government [redacted] undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”
Among the other highlights:
—The FBI also says that it “believes that the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1's campaign.” (Candidate #1 is Trump.)
—The FBI claims that, according to a source, Page met with a Russian who raised the possibility that the Russian government could leak a damaging dossier about “Candidate #2" (Hillary Clinton) to the Trump campaign.
—In February 2017, Page sent a letter to the DOJ alleging that Clinton’s campaign was subjecting him to a smear campaign.
Page—a former investment banker and oil industry consultant who, though he spent just five months advising the Trump campaign on foreign policy, has loomed large in the popular imagination thanks in part to his shadowy backstory and a series of questionable television appearances—later acknowledged to the House Intelligence Committee that he met with Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. (He claimed that he made the trip as a private citizen, but that he briefed other Trump campaign officials about it after his return.) Splinter has reached out to him for comment on the FBI’s assertions. We have also reached out to the White House for comment.
The DOJ’s national security division initially countered the FOIA requests with a “Glomar response,” a refusal to confirm or deny the existence or nonexistence of the records. In the context of national security, a Glomar response is commonly used when rejecting a FOIA request on any other grounds would implicitly acknowledge that an agency possess records whose very existence is classified.
In May 2017, GMG filed a lawsuit against the DOJ in a Federal District Court in Manhattan, arguing the existence of the FISA warrants had, for all intents and purposes, been declassified by President Trump on March 4 in a series of three tweets, the first of which read in part: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
The DOJ withdrew the Glomar response in February 2018, citing a politically charged memo released by Republican House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that month which had been declassified by Trump over the objections of the FBI. The memo, which accused both the FBI and the DOJ of abusing their surveillance powers to spy on the Trump campaign, explicitly referenced the authorization of electronic surveillance on Page by the secret court, calling it a “probable cause order.”
The memo turned out to be self-defeating for the GOP for several reasons. First, it charged that in seeking the secret surveillance warrant, federal investigators had failed to inform judges that key evidence was obtained from a biased source—the so-called Steele dossier, which was initially written by former British spy Christopher Steele on behalf of Democrats. But a response memo published by the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee later debunked the accusation, revealing that the court had in fact been informed of the source’s political bias.
The memo also backfired by inadvertently confirming that the Steele dossier was not the primary factor jumpstarting the Russia inquiry. Instead, it acknowledged events previously reported by the New York Times: A former Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, came under the scrutiny of investigators in July 2016 after boasting that Russia had dirt on then-candidate Hillary Clinton to an Australian diplomat in London.
The Russia investigation is ongoing, but so far Special Counsel Robert Mueller has secured 32 indictments or guilty pleas. Among the five people who have pleaded guilty are Papadopoulos, former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, and former White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Charges have also been brought against 26 Russian nationals, including 12 intelligence officers indicted on July 13, and three Russian companies.
The FISA warrant records pertaining to Page, which were delivered to GMG late on Saturday afternoon, can be read below in full. This story will be updated as reporters continue to pore over the documents.
Update, 7:09 p.m. ET: This post has been updated throughout with new information from the documents.
Update, 7:38 p.m. ET: Page tweeted his first response to the documents and said he will discuss them with Jake Tapper on CNN on Sunday.
Additional reporting by Susie Banikarim, Aleksander Chan, and Bryan Menegus.