The Justice Department Tries to Hammer Out What to Reveal from Carter Page's Surveillance Orders

Judge allows until summer for an unprecedented disclosure of warrant info from one of our most secretive courts.


Carter Page
Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters/REUTERS/Newscom

Everybody already thinks they know whether the FBI had a valid reason to snoop on former Donald Trump campaign aide Carter Page. This summer, we might actually find out who's right.

USA Today and the James Madison Project has gone to court to try to force release of documents the feds used when they sought the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court's permission to wiretap Page. The Department of Justice's lawyers have asked a federal judge to give them until July to figure out what to make public. Today a judge approved the request.

Page has become the focal point in the debate over the special investigation to determine to what extent (if any) Russians may have worked with Americans to meddle with the outcome of the 2016 election.

Page stepped down from the campaign after his connections to Russia became public. Subsequently, his communications with the Russian government prompted the FBI to request and receive permission from the FISA Court to wiretap him multiple times.

Page's name also appears in the infamous "Steele Dossier," the intelligence document generated by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. The document, prepared and on behalf of the Democrats and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, was one of the sources used to justify the wiretap.

What we don't know is how central that dossier was to the investigation, how much the FISA Court understood its political roots, and how much of it was verified with other sources prior to the warrant requests. Those who are in the know also happen to be Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Congress with agendas to either attack or protect the probe.

We as citizens have been left with several interpretations of the underlying information. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) helmed a report that insists the FBI concealed the political roots of the Steele Dossier and relied too much on its information (some of which is unverified) in order to get permission to snoop on Page. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and his side countered with a report that essentially says the opposite: that the FISA court understood the political roots of the Steele Dossier, and that the Dossier was far from the only source of information used to justify snooping on Page.

Given the limited information, many people are letting their partisan loyalties do their thinking for them: Those who believe the Trump administration is in bed with the Russians continue to do so; those who think it's all a "deep state" plot to hurt Trump continue to do so.

Reason writers have been warning about potential abuse of FISA surveillance authorities against Americans for years, long before Trump ran for office. But no FISA warrant application has ever been made public, even in a heavily redacted format. That's what makes the USA Today push so important.

Success in getting a FISA surveillance application released would give a better sense not just of how the FBI investigates people around Trump, but how such tools are used on the rest of us. As such, people on all sides (or no sides) should really be pushing to learn more about how exactly the FBI uses this court. This was going on well before Trump, and (thanks to Trump) it may continue long after he's gone. We should all want more transparency in how the FISA Court gets used.