Russia Probe

Declassification of Carter Page Warrants May Be Politically Motivated, but More Transparency Is Still Good

Also, more text messages!


Carter Page
Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

In the midst of a big fight about the fate of Supreme Court candidate Brett Kavanaugh due to surprise accusations of teen sexual misconduct, we also get this unrelated announcement from the White House this afternoon:

At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

Parts of the warrant approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to wiretap Page to try to determine the extent of his connections with the Russian government were released in July in a heavily redacted format. This order is obviously for the purpose of revealing even more information from both that application and text messages that the administration hopes will show that the investigation of Page and President Donald Trump's campaign in 2016 were driven by an ideological motivation to try to stop Trump from taking office.

This takes us into some pretty uncharted territories here: Just releasing parts of a FISA warrant was new ground; unredacting even more takes it all even further. It's still not a full release. The warrant application is 66 pages. What they're asking to be fully unredacted is all the information that they used to justify the wiretap request itself—the evidence and the conclusion. The second half of the warrant is full of procedural information about minimization (the process of protecting privileged information from disclosure) and details of the information being sought and are not included in the declassification order.

There is likely to be some groaning about threats to national security here with the potential exposure of sources and methods of snooping on Russia. While I'm skeptical about the timing and motives here, all along—indeed well before Trump came alongReason has called for more transparency on what the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court does and for Americans to have more actual insight about what goes into the decision to allow secret wiretapping of American citizens. I am very much in favor of seeing more information being used to justify this investigation. We're talking about a criminal investigation into people connected to the president of the United States. This is not something that can remain a national secret. And it's worth a reminder here that thus far Page has not been charged with any crimes.

Today the Freedom of the Press Foundation published a memo from the Department of Justice showing the process of how investigators request wiretaps under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act targeting journalists, but we have no idea how frequently that happens or even if it's going on right now. This is not just about Trump or the people surrounding Trump. It's also about how much we're allowed to know about America's most secret of surveillance mechanisms.

UPDATE: A spokesperson from the Department of Justice explains what happens next:

Department of Justice