The FBI sought permission from a high-level surveillance court to wiretap President Donald Trump’s former campaign aide Carter Page a month before the 2016 presidential election because it believed he had “been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” according to more than 400 pages of documents made public by the FBI Saturday night.
Trump, in a series of Sunday morning tweets, sought to frame the release of the heavily redacted documents as confirmation that “with little doubt . . . the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts.”
Top Democrats, including the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, argued that the stack of documents “affirm that our nation faced a profound counterintelligence threat prior to the 2016 election, and the Department of Justice and FBI took appropriate steps to investigate whether any U.S. persons were acting as an agent of a foreign power.”
Page, who served for several months as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, said during a Sunday morning appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the FBI allegations he was a foreign agent were “a complete joke.”
“This is so ridiculous. This is just beyond words,” Page said. “No, I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of an imagination.” Page refused to answer questions from host Jake Tapper about whether he has relationships with Kremlin officials.
The release of the documents came after The New York Times, USA Today and other news outlets sued for their release amid months of bipartisan bickering about whether the so-called FISA warrant used to wiretap Page was obtained properly. The top-secret application seeking permission to wiretap an American under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has rarely been released as a public record.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, who, like Democrats on the committee previously viewed the warrant, released a memo in February contending the Department of Justice abused its powers to obtain the warrant against Page. The GOP memo argued the FBI did not properly notify the federal government’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign had partly funded a dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that was used in part as evidence in the warrant application.
The documents released Saturday indicate the FBI did acknowledge that those who hired Steele were “likely looking for information that could be used to discredit” then-candidate Trump, but noted Steele had “provided reliable information” to the FBI in the past, and investigators believed his information regarding Page’s interactions with Russian operatives “to be credible.”
The FISA application also shows the FBI relied on other sources of information besides portions of the “Steele Dossier” to make its case for a wiretap against Page, including its own intelligence that Page “has relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”
Page has touted having close ties with Kremlin officials, noting in a 2013 letter obtained by Time magazine that he “had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit.” The FBI had interviewed Page about his contacts with Russia as early as June 2013, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Trump, on Twitter, has long embraced the GOP memo asserting bias by the FBI to bolster his assertions that he is the target of a “witch hunt” as special counsel Robert Mueller continues his more than yearlong investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and purported ties to the Trump campaign.
The president on Sunday repeated some of his long-standing arguments on Twitter, saying his campaign “was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” and called on Republicans to “get tough now.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said the FBI acted properly in obtaining the FISA warrants against Page.
“I don’t think they did anything wrong,” Rubio said of the FBI on “State of the Union.” He added that Page was not a key member of the Trump campaign and he’s seen no evidence that the campaign colluded with Russia.
Rubio said the administration policy toward Russia remained tough, even if Trump’s rhetoric in the past week, following a much-maligned appearance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, doesn’t match.
“I don’t think it was one of the best moments of the administration,” Rubio said of Trump’s comments questioning U.S. intelligence conclusions on Russian meddling last week as he stood side by side with Putin in Helsinki.
The president later walked back his remarks, saying he misspoke and had complete “faith” in the intelligence community’s findings.