By Anthony Leonardi, Washington Examiner–
The Justice Department concluded there was insufficient evidence to authorize the extended electronic surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
In a letter delivered to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in December, the agency said it found “there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause to believe that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power” in justifying the two final FISA warrant renewals.
FISA court presiding Judge James Boasberg acknowledged the lack of evidence in a court order, made public on Thursday, writing that the government concluded, “in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the court’s authorizations … were not valid.”
The revelations come after DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report that lambasted the agency and the FBI for 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to its wiretapping of Page, stretching from October 2016 to summer 2017, and relying on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s salacious and unverified dossier. The watchdog also determined that the opening of the Trump-Russia investigation was justified, which was disputed by the Justice Department.
The FISA court order does not reveal whether the Justice Department found the first two orders were flawed in the same way.
Representatives for the Justice Department and the FBI declined to comment for this report.
Page was one of a handful of Trump campaign aides under FBI scrutiny as part of the broader counterintelligence investigation dubbed Crossfire Hurricane. In making their case to the FISA court, the bureau said they believed Page, a U.S. citizen, had been “the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government” to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.
Page was never charged with any wrongdoing by special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the counterintelligence investigation in May 2017. He released a statement on Thursday, saying, “Today’s unprecedented court filing represents another step on the road to recovery for America’s deeply damaged judicial system. I hope that this latest admission of guilt for these civil rights abuses by the Justice Department marks continued progress towards restoring justice and remedying these reputationally ruinous injuries.”
Following Horowitz’s investigation, FBI Director Christopher Wray ordered more than 40 “corrective steps” to address the watchdog’s report, including 12 reforms related to the FISA process.
In a rare public order, the FISA court criticized the FBI’s handling of the Page applications as “antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above” and demanded an evaluation from the bureau. The FISA court also ordered a review of all FISA filings handled by Kevin Clinesmith, the FBI lawyer who altered a key document about Page in the third renewal process. He is now under criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney John Durham, a prosecutor from Connecticut who was tasked by Attorney General William Barr with investigating the origins of the Russia inquiry.
In a Jan. 10 response to the court, Wray said he “deeply regrets” the FBI’s failures in the Page FISA process and offered a timetable of reforms and training the bureau is undertaking. But the FISA court’s pick to advise it on the reform process, Obama administration lawyer David Kris, submitted a brief last week that pushed for improved communications between FBI and DOJ attorneys on FISA matters beyond what the bureau has proposed.
In the order revealed on Thursday, the FISA court demanded feedback from the government, including a “detailed description of the steps taken or to be taken to restrict access to such information in unminimized form,” plus the completion of a declassification review by the end of the month.
Republicans have raised concerns about Kris, citing how he talked up Mueller’s Russia investigation, criticized the House Intelligence Committee’s 2018 memo on alleged FISA abuses, and heralded Horowitz’s report for how it “repudiates the claims of a coup and related deep-state conspiracies in the FBI as advanced by President Trump and his supporters.” With three FISA provisionsexpected to sunset in March, GOP lawmakers threatened to make a stand against Kris, as some talk about begrudgingly abolishing the FISA court if their concerns about it being used to target political opponents are not addressed.
On the Democratic side, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler requested the Justice Department and the FBI share FISA-related documents with the panel as it considers potential reforms.
A number of high-ranking officials at the Justice Department and the FBI signed off on the Page FISA warrant applications, including FBI Director James Comey. Horowitz criticized the FBI’s “entire chain of command” in the Page FISA process and said, “The activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this.”
In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Comey took responsibility for the “sloppiness” revealed in Horowitz’s report.