In an unprecedented and unusually timed document dump Saturday night, the Justice Department released a 412-page, partially redacted version of the FBI's 2016 FISA application requesting authorization to wiretap former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page.
"The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government," reads the FBI's application, which was ultimately approved by a federal court. The application goes on to accuse Page of "collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government."
The bottom line from the non-redacted part of the FISA application for Carter Page: they attested that he was a Russian agent whose activities were part of a broad criminal plot to influence the election. pic.twitter.com/HaTjgnVaz5
— Kyle Cheney (@kyledcheney) July 21, 2018
As Common Dreams reported, the FBI's surveillance of Page became a subject of "partisan sniping" earlier this year when Democrats and the GOP latched onto competing narratives about how Obama's Justice Department obtained permission to wiretap the former Trump campaign adviser.
Aligning with President Donald Trump, Republicans alleged in a memo drafted by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) that the FBI's surveillance of Page amounted to an abuse of power—an abuse Republicans don't typically care about when the privacy rights of ordinary Americans are at risk.
But as Splinter's Dell Cameron and Jack Mirkinson note, the Nunes memo "turned out to be self-defeating for the GOP for several reasons." They explain:
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.
Responding to the newly released FISA documents on Saturday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wrote: "That the FISA materials hurt the GOP narrative is not surprising since Rep. Devin Nunes admitted he never read the source documents on Carter Page. In fact, the first Nunes memo was such a disaster that I can't wait for the second one."
That the #FISA materials hurt the GOP narrative is not surprising since Rep Devin Nunes admitted he never read the source documents on Carter Page.
In fact, the first Nunes memo was such a disaster that I can't wait for the second one. https://t.co/2LCWlceEnY
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) July 22, 2018
In a tweet early Sunday morning, Trump asserted—citing the right-wing advocacy group Judicial Watch—that the documents actually prove that the GOP's narrative was correct, and that the FBI "misled the courts."
"Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!" Trump added.
Congratulations to @JudicialWatch and @TomFitton on being successful in getting the Carter Page FISA documents. As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2018
The FISA documents were released on Saturday in response to Freedom of Information Act requests by numerous news outlets and advocacy groups.
As Charlie Savage of the New York Times observes, "The spectacle of the release was itself also noteworthy, given that wiretapping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is normally one of the government's closest-guarded secrets. No such application materials had apparently become public in the 40 years since Congress enacted that law."