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Former Trump Adviser with Russian Ties Revealed as Surveillance Target

FBI got warrant to monitor Carter Page’s communications.

Carter PageKorotayev Artyom/ZUMA Press/NewscomSo now we know at least one person connected to President Donald Trump's campaign was likely suspected of being influenced by the Russian government by the FBI and that suspicion was used to get a secret warrant to snoop on his communications.

The target here was Carter Page, who advised the Trump campaign on foreign policy during the campaign and has extensive business ties to Russia. He is not part of Trump's administration. Concerns by the intelligence establishment about Page's relationship to Russian officials are not new. Michael Isikoff wrote about worries about Russian influence over Page back in September and the Trump campaign downplayed Page's ties to team.

So what is new now is the leak that the FBI turned to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to get a warrant to monitor Page's communications with Russia. The Washington Post reported that FBI officials convinced a judge there was "probable cause to believe was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia."

This, obviously, is not a "smoking gun" nor should it be seen as proof that Page did anything illegal or inappropriate. It's simply a warrant, not even an indictment. How seriously should we take it that the FBI was able to get a warrant approved? Domestically, police rarely have any problems getting a judge to sign off on a search warrant. Likewise, the deliberately secretive FISA Court also has a reputation for approving warrant requests. They rarely, if ever, turn one down, and in the increased coverage of domestic surveillance after Edward Snowden's disclosures, their approval rate was seen by critics as a rubber stamp.

But it turns out there's another side to the high rate of approvals in the FISA Court. A former FBI agent who used to be responsible for getting such warrants explained via Just Security in March that there's an extensive vetting process the FBI goes through before bringing a warrant to the court. Asha Rangappa explained:

FISA warrant investigations can't be opened "solely on the basis of First Amendment activities," so mere fraternization, even with sketchy people, wouldn't be enough. The FBI would have to gather evidence to support the claim that the U.S. target was knowingly working on behalf of a foreign entity. This could include information gathered from other methods like human sources, physical surveillance, bank transactions or even documents found in the target's trash. This takes some time, and, when enough evidence had been accumulated, would be outlined in an affidavit and application stating the grounds for the FISA warrant. The completed FISA application would go up for approval through the FBI chain of command, including a Supervisor, the Chief Division Counsel (the highest lawyer within that FBI field office), and finally, the Special Agent in Charge of the field office, before making its way to FBI Headquarters to get approval by (at least) the Unit-level Supervisor there. If you're exhausted already, hang on: There's more.

The FISA application then travels to the Justice Department where attorneys from the National Security Division comb through the application to verify all the assertions made in it. Known as "Woods procedures" after Michael J. Woods, the FBI Special Agent attorney who developed this layer of approval, DOJ verifies the accuracy of every fact stated in the application. If anything looks unsubstantiated, the application is sent back to the FBI to provide additional evidentiary support – this game of bureaucratic chutes and ladders continues until DOJ is satisfied that the facts in the FISA application can both be corroborated and meet the legal standards for the court. After getting sign-off from a senior DOJ official (finally!), a lawyer from DOJ takes the FISA application before the FISC, comprised of eleven federal district judges who sit on the court on a rotating basis. The FISC reviews the application in secret, and decides whether to approve the warrant.

That's some useful insight that can help understand that a warrant approved to snoop on Page should be taken seriously while also helping the average American understand the high approval rate of the submissions.

Still, the latest round of news actually does very little to help Americans grasp what's actually going on. If Page had some sort of nefarious intent we still have little sense of what it might be other than to influence American policy in such a way that benefits Russia somehow. Page's response was essentially "Bring it on!" and told Politico this isn't evidence of him engaging in illegal behavior but rather evidence of politically targeted surveillance by President Barack Obama's administration and allies of Hillary Clinton.

So additional light on the situation is not exactly helping Americans get a better sense of what's going on here. But what about Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California) going to the press as chair of the House Intelligence Committee and saying that communications from the Trump transition team had been incidentally connected and that names may have been inappropriately "unmasked" (unredacted)?

Sources from both parties are telling CNN that they've looked over the classified documents Nunes is referring to and can find no evidence that Obama or former National Security Adviser Susan Rice broke the law by attempting to "unmask" the names of U.S. citizens referenced in the report.

The debate over whether or not Rice did anything illegal is a little bit of a red herring, but blame the Trump administration and Trump himself for pushing hard on that button. There's little to suggest that Rice broke the law, but focusing on what the law says deflects away a useful debate about how the intelligence community collects and stores information and data about United States citizens. Just because the unmasking request was likely legal doesn't mean we should not be concerned about what guidelines the feds use to access our private communications and personal data.

It's also worth noting that, as the ambiguity and confusion and partisanship spools out here, as president, Trump has the authority to declassify some of the information involved here. It could certainly go a long way to helping explain what is happening, wouldn't it? Julian Sanchez, Cato senior fellow and one of the founders of Just Security, told Reason that Trump has wide authority to declassify much of the information under debate, though probably not the transcripts of intercepted communications themselves.

Whether eliminating confusion about the surveillance of Trump's transition team actually serves Trump's interests is another question entirely, one that echoes with the familiar refrain we hear from pro-surveillance authoritarians: "If you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to hide."

Photo Credit: Korotayev Artyom/ZUMA Press/Newscom

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  • wareagle||

    You get a line and I'll get a pole, honey.....

  • Cynical Asshole||

    FBI got warrant to monitor Carter Page's communications.

    I'm just shocked they actually got a warrant.

    Although I wouldn't be surprised if they got said warrant after the NSA shared some juicy stuff with them and then they did some "parallel construction" in order to justify their warrant application.

  • Bubba Jones||

    Interesting idea that Trump can declassify and release the documents surrounding the efforts of the Obama administration to spy on him.

    Presumably he could be rather selective...

  • BYODB||

    "...as president, Trump has the authority to declassify some of the information involved here. It could certainly go a long way to helping explain what is happening, wouldn't it? Julian Sanchez, Cato senior fellow and one of the founders of Just Security, told Reason that Trump has wide authority to declassify much of the information under debate, though probably not the transcripts of intercepted communications themselves."

    No offense, but if he can't release the transcript themselves, and there are some type of unspecified limits on what he actually can release, than what exactly could he tell us that would make any real difference?

  • Ron||

    The FBI would have to gather evidence"

    Wether that evidence is based on facts is entirely another matter though.

  • WakaWaka||

    "Sources from both parties are telling CNN that they've looked over the classified documents Nunes is referring to and can find no evidence that Obama or former National Security Adviser Susan Rice broke the law by attempting to "unmask" the names of U.S. citizens referenced in the report."

    Their whole report cites anonymous sources. How do we know it is both parties if all the sources are anonymous? This is the same CNN that blasted out that an anonymous source said that Eli Lake's article was untrue about Rice's unmasking. That's a pretty irresponsible use of anonymous sources and they were wrong, since Rice admitted as much.

    No one else is reporting this CNN story either. And this point, every time I see 'anonymous source' from CNN I read 'Ben Rhodes'.

  • wareagle||

    to a larger point, the use of anonymous sources - senior officials, people close to (whatever it is), officials not authorized to speak publicly - should ALWAYS raise a red flag. It can be anyone with an axe to grind to someone very high on the food chain. In the Nixon years, the often-quoted 'senior official' was Kissinger.

  • WakaWaka||

    True

  • Tony||

    It's also clear by now that we shouldn't take the random musings of Donald Trump seriously either.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "Sources . . . are telling CNN that they've looked over the classified documents Nunes is referring to and can find no evidence that Obama or former National Security Adviser Susan Rice broke the law by attempting to "unmask" the names of U.S. citizens referenced in the report."

    When people used to ask Bill Clinton whether what he did was ethical, he used to answer that it was perfectly legal--as if that were the question.

    When people used to ask George W. Bush whether what he was doing with torture, etc. was smart and/or ethical, he used to answer that it was perfectly legal--as if that were the quesiton.

    If we're now finding out that the Obama administration was investigating the Trump campaign--making Nixon look like an amateur--I assure you, the question isn't whether what the Obama administration did was perfectly legal.

    Remember, this is all about whether Trump, himself, was unhinged for saying that the Obama administration was using our intelligence services to do surveillance on his campaign. I assure you, evidence showing that Obama's investigation of the Trump campaign may tie one of them to the Russian business interests does not mean that the Obama administration wasn't doing surveillance on the Trump campaign.

    They can spin themselves dizzy, but I'm still not confused.

    Every journalist who suggested that Trump may be unhinged for claiming that the Obama administration was doing surveillance on his campaign owes Donald Trump a public apology.

  • WakaWaka||

    Shackford seems to be auditioning for a CNN job

  • Ken Shultz||

    In the same conversation I've heard people claim both 1) that Trump is a nut for thinking that the Obama administration was investigating his campaign and 2) that the information Obama's investigation turned up on the Trump campaign was damning.

    None of this has anything to do with anything but discrediting Trump.

    And in all seriousness, there's little we can do to make Trump seem more credible to average people than accusing him of being a nut for saying something that's true.

    The TDS people are making birthers look reasonable in comparison.

    Remember when the TDS people said Trump was a nut for suggesting that Sweden might have trouble with its immigrant Muslim community? Now the present Prime Minister of Sweden is all but publicly swearing to slam the door shut.

    All these TDS people serve to do is make themselves (and legitimate Trump criticism by way of association) look foolish to swing voters who broke for Trump in the last election. This is why the only people in the country less popular than Trump are convicted rapists and the White House press corps.

  • WakaWaka||

    The only good thing about a President Trump is that it has exposed a lot of hypocrites

  • Enjoy Every Sandwich||

    They're clinging desperately to their fantasy that Trump and his campaign can be "proven" to have engaged in "treason" during the election. This would, in their fevered imaginations, disqualify Trump and his entire administration, meaning that the "only" choice would be to put Hillary in his place. In the end, that's what all this is about: somehow, somehow getting Hillary in the Oval Office.

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's like birtherism.

  • BYODB||

    There's going to be a subset of those who are so outraged over their candidate losing that they're going to try and deny the legitimacy of the election. This will continue until:

    A) A legitimate problem with the election is unearthed, perhaps even tangentally

    B) A legitimate election is found to be illegitimate, thus upending the rule of law in the United States completely. (It's really already on it's last legs, it won't take much to kill it.)

    I mean, I'm not saying that this subset of people will stop once one of these things happens, but something will surely change when it does. Probably not for the better, either.

    It mirrors an internet forum, in that the loudest voices get the most attention while also being the most retarded.

  • Domestic Dissident||

    Shackford seems to be auditioning for a CNN job

    This place has sunk so far into the toilet they should just change the masthead to "Hive Minds and Government-Regulated Markets".

    Many of the guys here barely even bother to play act the part anymore.

  • JWatts||

    I can't believe that almost every news source (including Reason) is still declaring that ""just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" is an outrageous lie.

    It's fair to say that Trump hasn't provided direct evidence. It's reasonably fair to claim that there's no evidence (yet) that neither Obama nor a high Administration personally ordered it. However, it seems highly likely that, there was wiretapping, it did include people close to Trump (and potentially conversations directly involving Trump), it more than likely included the Trump tower (or at least a building that's directly connected via an atrium with Trump Tower) and it certainly covered the time frame.

    Trump's statement was more than likely an exaggeration but in light of everything that's come out so far it seems more truthful than false. And at this point, it seems every week we see further evidence that tends to make Trumps version sound more correct.

    When I first heard this, I just assumed that Trump made a completely idiotic and paranoid tweet off of something he heard on Fox News. The story keeps getting deeper.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "It's reasonably fair to claim that there's no evidence (yet) that neither Obama nor a high Administration personally ordered it."

    That was a non-denial denial.

    No one had to order it. They took it to a FISA court.

    My understanding is that the FISA court rejected the first request--which almost never happens.

    I don't know what the judge didn't like. For all we know, maybe he or she thought that granting permission for the Obama administration to investigate an ongoing campaign in the 11th hour was disgraceful.

  • wareagle||

    No evidence of a personal order is not evidence of either something not happening or those in order-giving jobs to not know of something. If I remember right, Ben Rhodes was very clear in the Trump tweet aftermath to say journos should avoid saying there was no surveillance at all. That surveillance did not order itself.

  • JWatts||

    "It's reasonably fair to claim that there's no evidence (yet) that neither Obama nor a high Administration personally ordered it."

    That was a non-denial denial."

    I didn't mean to imply it wasn't ordered, I was just differentiating between the claim that Obama (or a high administration official) order it versus an independent FBI (or whomever) investigation. I agree that the wording looks suspicious.

    Furthermore, Susan Rice's comment seem contradictory:

    "On Tuesday, Rice told MSNBC that she didn't use the intelligence reports to spy on Trump associates for political purposes. She acknowledged that in her senior White House role, she had the ability to request the names of Americans swept up through U.S. spying. But she declined to say whether she saw intelligence on Trump's associates or whether she asked for their identities, since that information would be classified.

    When Rice was asked last month about Trump transition officials and the president himself being picked up in the surveillance of foreigners, Rice said: "I know nothing about this," adding that she was "surprised" by Nunes's March 22 report."

    http://fortune.com/2017/04/04/.....usan-rice/

  • Ken Shultz||

    It's important to remember that the FBI is not independent. They're part of the Department of Justice, and the Attorney General serves at the pleasure of the president.

    When Comey announced that there wasn't enough evidence to charge Hillary over the email server scandal, remember, he doesn't have that authority. That determination is made by the Attorney General.

    Comey obviously made that statement publicly at the behest of Obama's Attorney General. He could not have made that determination himself. The FBI is not independent of the White House.

  • Tony||

    And it's led by a Republican who single-handedly torpedoed Clinton's presidential campaign.

    If the shoe were on the other foot Comey's head would be on a spike outside Rush Limbaugh's front gates.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I'm not sure he was exaggerating.

    "He couldn't quite figure it out at first. But what he saw was a bank in Moscow that kept irregularly pinging a server registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue."

    ----Slate October 16, 2016

    http://tinyurl.com/hssfrw8

    Trump Tower is on Fifth Avenue. Read that article. If you read that article and think law enforcement wasn't interested in what was happening there, I don't know what to say.

    The FBI has come out and said that they were do surveillance on some Russians in Trump Tower, but that Trump wasn't the subject of the investigation, which, again, can be a non-denial denial.

    The fact is that our intelligence services were doing surveillance on the Trump campaign. People are resisting this because 1) the media hates Trump and 2) Trump is attacking Obama which is unthinkable since Obama is so very precious.

  • Tony||

    They had surveillance on the Trump campaign because they had some amount of evidence that members of the campaign were colluding with Russia. Why is this so difficult to get through your heads? That's what everyone is acknowledging openly now.

    You are peddling a stupid deranged conspiracy theory that only exists because Trump gets fed horseshit from Breitbart all day long.

  • BYODB||

    Colluding how? And for what time frame?

  • Tony||

    They suspected Carter Page of actually being an agent working for Russia, for one.

  • Headache||

    That is not what the WashPost reported. The WashPost tried making that conclusion, but failed by their own words.

    Page was interviewed by the FBI in a case against a Russian, who was convicted to 30 months, and recently released. That is long before Trump was a candidate.

    Page was Male1 in the report. So how do we know page is Male1?

  • JWatts||

    "Julian Sanchez, Cato senior fellow and one of the founders of Just Security, told Reason that Trump has wide authority to declassify much of the information under debate, though probably not the transcripts of intercepted communications themselves."

    Ummm, since this debate is centered around the transcripts, what could be usefully declassified? An executive summary of the conversation perhaps?

  • Ken Shultz||

    "The debate over whether or not Rice did anything illegal is a little bit of a red herring, but blame the Trump administration and Trump himself for pushing hard on that button. There's little to suggest that Rice broke the law, but focusing on what the law says deflects away a useful debate about how the intelligence community collects and stores information and data about United States citizens."

    What the law says about how the intelligence community collects and stores information and data about U.S. citizens is a legitimate topic, but that's a bit of a red herring to the question at hand.

    The question at hand is whether it's appropriate for the Obama administration to use our intelligence services to dig up dirt on a presidential campaign.

    The question at hand is whether it's appropriate for anybody to use our intelligence services to dig up dirt on a political opponent. This is like the infamous FBI files containing all the dirt on the Clinton's political opponents mysteriously appearing on First Lady Hillary Clinton's desk.

    Are we just taking people's word for this? There needs to be an investigation. If there's no investigation, don't be surprised if and when President Trump, President Liz Warren, or some other president uses our intelligence services to get themselves or their cronies elected. For goodness' sake, why would we let this go by with the explanation that "sources" say it was all perfectly legal?

  • ThomasD||

    Rest assured it will be 'different' when Trump is accused of doing the same.

  • BYODB||

    Hell, this is an open door for Trump to do just that. If anyone raises a stink, he can just say 'Obama did it too, here's the proof' and the media will need to determine if Trump is actually evil enough to also sink Obama. That will be a hard, hard choice for them I think.

  • pan fried wylie||

    And that's when it turns out that Obama really WAS a secret Muslim and so we have to judge his actions in the context of his cultural differences.

  • Bra Ket||

    "Hell, this is an open door for Trump to do just that. If anyone raises a stink, he can just say 'Obama did it too, here's the proof' and the media will ...."

    The media will ignore it and stick to their narrative.

  • Tony||

    The question at hand is whether it's appropriate for the Obama administration to use our intelligence services to dig up dirt on a presidential campaign.

    You do know that Trump just made this up out of thin air, right? Well, got it from Alex Jones-level media dregs. This is not the question at hand. This is the shiny object Trump has feebly thrown up to try to distract from the question at hand (did he commit treason).

  • WakaWaka||

    Tony logic:

    Eli Lake with Bloomberg= Alex Jones

    Good grief. You should write for Reason at this point

  • Tony||

    But you didn't get the info from Bloomberg, you got it from Breitbart or some other shitty rightwing analogue. Yes she made the request. No it wasn't part of a political witch hunt. In fact, like everything else Trump is pointing to in a bizarre attempt to vindicate a Tweet he made and distract us all, it only adds to the layers of evidence that he's a corrupt treasoner. (That is, she had legitimate reasons to request the unmasking.)

  • WakaWaka||

    Yes, huge Breitbart reader.

  • Tony||

    If you'd read this at a neutral source you'd be perfectly capable of understanding that the surveillance and associated activities happened as part of an investigation into collusion with a foreign power, not a political witch hunt.

    Every time someone repeats that lie they abet government corruption of like literally the worst kind.

  • Headache||

    Collusion to what end?

  • ThomasD||

    "The debate over whether or not Rice did anything illegal is a little bit of a red herring, but blame the Trump administration and Trump himself for pushing hard on that button."

    Waterboys gotta carry water, eh Shackford?

  • WakaWaka||

    Pretty pathetic article overall. So bad that it pleased Tony.

  • ThomasD||

    You'd think that major players in a presidential campaign involved in deals with Russians over fissionable materials just might attract some scrutiny.

    But apparently they were too busy elsewhere.

  • Spartacus||

    The FISA application then travels to the Justice Department where attorneys from the National Security Division comb through the application to verify all the assertions made in it.

    Sure they do. And then the Easter Bunny personally makes a determination of whether to grant the warrant.

  • ThomasD||

    Wait, you mean to say that the executive branch is not a reliable check on the excesses of the executive branch?

    I'm shocked that anyone could throw around such accusations so loosely.

    Must be a Trumpkin.

  • Headache||

    LOL

  • Tony||

    I liked this place better when it was an Obama-bashing orgy instead of a lineup of people waiting to get pissed on by Trump.

  • pan fried wylie||

    I liked the internet better before the general populace knew about it. Now it's packed full of shit just like the brick and mortar world.

  • BYODB||

    I'm not saying this is evidence of this, or that, but this piece here made me think of something:


    "...a lawyer from DOJ takes the FISA application before the FISC, comprised of eleven federal district judges who sit on the court on a rotating basis."


    Aren't these the very same justice appointments that the Democrats nuked the filibuster over the first time around, thus allowing Obama (or a future Republican) to 'pack' those very same courts?


    That would seem to be in the realm of 'conspiracy theory' but I'm curious to hear if Mark Levin spouts off about it this afternoon.

  • ThomasD||

    You'd think with a yahoo like Trump in the White House that a libertarian magazine just might take an interest in seeing potentially abusive overreach by the Executive branch ( even if it 'only' rises to the level of the unethical and/or inappropriate) slapped down good and hard.

    For the health of the Republic if nothing else.

    But, the bar apparently being set at gross illegality, it would appear there are higher priorities involved.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    So, the Trump tweet doesn't look so insane after all.

    Of course, trying (and failing) to dig up 'dirt' on opponents is completely consistent with what we already know about Obama's (and Hillary's) ethics.

    And equally 'of course', all this furor completely ignores that of the two main candidates in the general election, on is known to have obtained the nomination by shady means. And that one's initials are not D.T.

    What the Democrat hysterics are actually complaining about is that they have to deal with a Republican President who plays hardball as well or better than they do. He doesn't know he's supposed to roll over and expose his throat to them.

    At this point just about anything can happen, but what the Democrats DESERVE to have happen is to spend the next four -minus years boring everybody with this twaddle, and then get buried under a Trump landslide on 2020.

    And I don't even LIKE the guy.

  • Bra Ket||

    Well shit I'm convinced. If you're being investigated it means you're probably guilty of something. And we have corroboration from the FBI agent that the FBI is totally legit. And these secret-warrant guys are her friends and consulting clients, so she would know better than anyone.

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