Did the FBI mislead the federal surveillance court about the credibility of the information it submitted to get authorization to snoop on an aide to Donald Trump's presidential campaign? Or did the source of the information mislead the FBI about his own behavior, prompting the FBI to mislead the court accidentally in its warrant applications?
Essentially the question is this: What did the FBI actually know about the controversial "Steele dossier" that alleges all sorts of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and what did it know about former British Intelligence Officer Christopher Steele when it used his information to get authorization to snoop on former Trump aide Carter Page?
This week the Senate Judiciary Committee released a redacted copy of a January memo by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), asking the Department of Justice to consider charges against Steele for lying to the FBI.
The release of this Senate Intelligence memo relates directly to the "Nunes memo," produced by the staff of House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in January and made public last week. In some ways the two documents dovetail nicely. Both memos argue that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was not properly informed that the dossier was put together by Fusion GPS and funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. And both argue that Steele's motivations to keep Trump from getting elected prompted him to leak information inappropriately to the media while he was working with the FBI.
But a close look at the Grassley memo shows an important difference from what Nunes has claimed. Nunes' memo argued that the FBI knew that Steele had been leaking to media outlets and concealed this information from the court. After all, the FBI continued using his information after it learned Steele was leaking and cut ties with him. But the Grassley memo suggests that that Steele misled the FBI:
A few paragraphs down:
This disagreement matters in terms of determining whether the FBI had a good sense of Steele's credibility when using his documents to bolster its wiretapping request. The bureau acknowledged to the court that there were some political motivations behind the dossier's creation, but it didn't go into detail. How much did it grasp that Steele wanted to stop Trump from getting elected president, and how much should the court have been able to consider those circumstances when authorizing Page's wiretapping?
This different interpretation of how the dossier was actually used to justify snooping on Page is yet another reason why the underlying warrant documents should be released. As Reason's Jacob Sullum just noted, the public is not seeing much actual evidence of lawbreaking that can be pinned on Trump as a result of this surveillance. It's very much worth exploring whether this investigation was a fishing expedition.
Read Grassley's memo here.