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.

NEXT: Cambridge Analytica Was Doing Marketing, Not Black Magic

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  1. I’m impressed for two reasons:

    (a) A traditional media outlet is actually pursuing a relevant and worthwhile news story, and

    (b) the news outlet in question is USA Today.

    1. Agree. I’m flabbergasted that USA would be requesting this. Whichever way it turns out, I think it’s a step in the right direction of exposing governmental surveillance of our citizens.

    2. Don’t get it twisted. USA Today thinks they are going to debunk Nunes memo. That is how out of touch with reality these people are.

      Also, I’m quite annoyed that Shackford is giving equal value to each side’s story.

      From what we know about the government, Trump’s story adds up. Especially from a libertarian perspective.

      The Russia collusion shit just doesn’t add up. There is no motive. Why would a billionaire get Russians to do political dirty work when the Democrats have already established that you can have organizations like Media Matters?

      Blackmail would be possible, but then the story is that the Russians forced Trump to run for the presidency, then helped him win so that he could drive oil prices down and whip their asses in Syria? Uhhhhhh…. NO.

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  2. 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.

    July: “We figure nothing will be made public.”

  3. One might think that, if the FBI was in fact fully open and above-board in its warrant application, there would have been some kind of official/unofficial leak to one of the many anti-Trump media outlets.

    But what do I know about national security matters? I’m sure the FBI wouldn’t violate the confidentiality of its procedures for something so crass as bureaucratic politicking.


      No, the FBI is so impartial that your suggestion here is ridiculous. For instance, it was purely coincidental that all of that leaking under Comey’s tenure never revealed that the president was never under investigation during the Russia probe. Stop with your conspiracy mongering

  4. The remarkable thing to me about the texts between the FBI guy and his girlfriend was how nonchalant they were about lying to the FISA court to spy on Trump. That is what the “insurance policy” they were referring to was. It was using the Dossier to get a FISA warrant on the people around Trump and presumably find all sorts of misdeeds that could be used to destroy him.

    You would think lying to the FISA court to spy on the Presidential nominee of a major party would be a big deal; sort of a big line to cross. But, apparently, it wasn’t. People don’t just become depraved. No way in hell was this the first time they abused the FISA court to spy on Americans for political purposes. Hopefully, we will find out just how many other times they did this, but I am not betting on it.

    1. about lying to the FISA court to spy on Trump

      Have we in fact gotten there yet? Aggressively pursuing a FISA warrant is not necessarily lying. Do we have a specific lie isolated yet?

      1. We have. We know they applied for a FISA warrant on Page and got turned down in July. They applied again in October and were magically approved. When you put together with the texts, you can tell what was different. They lied and claimed the dossier was a product of US intelligence and was reliable where they hadn’t said that before.

        Think of it this way, if they had not relied on the dossier and had other independent reasons to get the warrant, don’t you think they would have said so by now? If there was all of this evidence out there justifying the spying on Page that had nothing to do with the dossier, why haven’t they leaked it? It is not like these people won’t leak information that is favorable to them. They haven’t leaked it because it doesn’t exist.

        1. A key point that’s seldom mentioned is that they went out of their way to go to a different judge every time they renewed the warrant.

          FISA warrants aren’t supposed to be renewed unless the surveillance is productive. By going to a different judge each time, they were able to renew it without having to demonstrate any new information on each occasion, as each judge came to the warrant application without previous knowledge of what had been produce before.

          1. I hadn’t heard that but it doesn’t surprise me. The whole point of the surveillance was to find dirt on Trump and use it against him either to tip the election or get him to resign once in office. Since that didn’t happen, it is clear they didn’t find anything. If they had, we would have long ago known about it. Everything since then has been nothing but an elaborate lie created in hopes of covering up the enormous amounts of criminal wrongdoing and abuse of the public trust that went on here.

        2. a product of US intelligence and was reliable

          I’ll admit to be very interested in the particulars of the warrant. I suspect they just claimed “reliable” and didn’t include an outright lie regarding “US intelligence” as the source. Hopefully, time will tell. It’ll be nice to get some real transparency on this.

          1. “Reliable” by itself would not have gotten them the warrant. You have to explain why you think it is reliable. And saying “this is the product of US intelligence sources known to be reliable” would do that. Really, that is the only thing that could. And even if they just said reliable and the judge rubber stamped it, their failure to mention that it was a piece of opposition research is still lying to the court.

            1. The other thing you haven’t mentioned is that not only does it have to produce, the intelligence to get a FISA warrant has to be corroborated. That is the BIGGEST lie of all. They used circular reporting to corroborate themselves. They used the Dossier from Steele and a Yahoo article where Steele was the source. Not to mention they probably laundered all of the “info” in the Steele dossier from raw NSA spying.

              Check out conservative treehouse, John, the commetariat there is kind of Trump obsessed, but the information and tying together of things by the anonymous writer of the blog is the best of anything I’ve seen, bar none.

              1. Fusion gave the dossier to NY times and others for corroboration to the the same document they gave steele..he originated nothing..this will come out..

    2. No way in hell was this the first time they abused the FISA court to spy on Americans for political purposes.

      We literally already know this (parallel construction is the ‘official’ label), the ‘big shock’ is that it would be used against one of the chosen instead of merely some jerkoff citizen. That in and of itself is telling given the slant of virtually every story on this subject.

  5. Is it better or worse to have been manipulated by a British foreign national than by Russians? FISA machinations are too pure and too essential to homeland protection to be see the light of day, where candidates terrorists could learn from them how to best attack US citizens.

    1. If ISIS knew that we got FISA warrants based on information from Russian agents, there would be no way to stop them. It would be Doom I tell you. Doom!!

  6. ” its information (some of which is unverified)”

    From the reports I’ve seen, the only portions which actually are verified are the parts that are innocent. And considerable parts of it appear to be anti-verified; Actually established to have been false.

    But I suppose it’s possible there’s some guilty secret in there that they actually managed to prove. We may eventually find out.

    1. Wrong Michael Cohen traveling to Russia comes to mind. I think they knew that though, but they still used it.

  7. It’s obvious to any thinking observer that the FISA Court rubber-stamps anything put in front of it — too lazy to look it up, but the rejection rate since 1979 is something like 1/20th of 1 percent. (Yeah, I suppose you might argue that this spectacular success rate is a result of the feds’ judicious use of this special process, but LOL.)

    Nevertheless, there’s no way in hell DOJ releases anything that would call into question the court’s decision to grant the warrant. But if DOJ can’t impugn the process, who will they blame? Themselves for giving shitty info that led the hallowed court astray? That ain’t gonna happen either. My prediction is that they’ll find a way to not release anything, and if they do, it will be so heavily redacted that it provides no new information.

    Of course it’s also possible that the warrant was justified, in which case what I said is immaterial.

    1. If the warrant was justified, why wouldn’t DOJ release the information? Don’t tell me it is because they value the secrecy of the process because their willingness to leak information when it suits them shows that to be a lie. If the warrant was valid and based on good information, DOJ would have long ago leaked that information and we would not be having this conversation.

      1. Maybe the DOJ signed one of Trump’s NDA?

        1. Yeah maybe so. Or maybe they are not releasing it out of kindness or something.

      2. Here is the thing:

        Releasing anything that shows the process of the FISA courts is a threat to national security because the violation of rights would give cause for many to sue and the process could be deemed illegal by the SC.

        That is literally what these people think.

        Reason’s response to this whole situation has me fuming. TDS is no excuse.

    2. According to this, they were getting really aggressive with FISA warrant applications in Obama’s last year. Half of all FISA application rejections in history took place that year.

      The usual rejection rate has been 0.05%, but in 2016 it “soared” to a massive 0.5%. Nine whole applications got refused! (We know one of them was a Page warrant…)

      It would be really interesting to have all those refusals examined. Most FISA judges go their entire careers without every telling the feds “No!”. They must have really been pushing the envelope to make those rubber stamps start to get antsy.

    3. the rejections alone provide info, if we get them, the acceptance by a compromised Judge unceremoniously removed thereafter , explains it all.

      we are dealing with a swamp of self preservation.. for the largess of the taxpayer provided retirements….. thanks to dems control of gov. unions.

      the IRS corruption has yet to be resolved

  8. Why did Page step down from the Trump campaign once his communications with the Russians were revealed?

    1. Maybe the Trump people didn’t want someone on the campaign who was in bed with the Russians?

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  10. It seems rather curious that a libertarian site would use scare quotes around deep state, as if it doesn’t exist.

    1. One has to seriously start questioning the libertarian bona-fides of Reason writers…

      At best they just want to be an opposition to whoever is in power, regardless of their stances on anything. It is almost like Reason wants libertarianism to be a perpetually 3rd place ideology.

      This is a chance to drive a stake through the heart of progressivism and big government, and perhaps replace the remnants of the Democratic party with an alternative that is socially liberal and fiscally intelligent.

  11. I’m guessing whatever they do release will either be meaningless, made up or both.

  12. Some omissions… but better, Scott.

    I hope you’ll continue keeping us informed as the process moves along. I really do think these applications need to be published. Our secret police have gone too far for far too long.

  13. In July they will request an extension until after the elections – – – – – – –

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