Yesterday, after President Trump had declassified the memo, the House Intelligence Committee (full name: House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence or HPSCI) finally released the notorious FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) memorandum.
The memo was released in PDF format that does not enable copying. So I took screenshots of the memo and posted them yesterday.
Since I prefer a document in text format because it enables copying, pasting, highlighting, and reproduction, I painstakingly copied and typed the FISA memo from the screenshots into a text document.
Below is the text version of the FISA memo, followed by my bullet-point analysis. Word between brackets [ ] are my comments.
The FISA Memo
January 18, 2018
To: HPSCI Majority Members
From: HPSCI Majority Staff
Subject: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Abuses at the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation
This memorandum provides Members with updates on significant facts related to the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and their use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the 2016 presidential election cycle. Our findings, which are detailed below, 1) raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and, 2) represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process.
On October 21, 2016, DOJ and FBI sought and received a FISA probable cause order (not under Title VII) authorizing electronic surveillance on Carter Page from the FISC. Page is a U.S. citizen who served as a volunteer adviser to the Trump presidential campaign. Consistent with requirements under FISA, the application had to be first certified by the Director or Deputy Director of the FBI. It then required the approval of the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General (DAG), or the Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division.
The FBI and DOJ obtained one initial FISA warrant targeting Carter Page and three FISA renewals from the FISC. As required by statute (50 U.S.C. §1805(d)(1)), a FISA order on an American citizen must be renewed by the FISC every 90 days and each renewal requires a separate finding of probable cause. Then-Director James Comey signed three FISA applications in question on behalf of the FBI, and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe signed one. Then-DAG Sally Yates, then-Acting DAG Dana Boente, and DAG Rod Rosenstein each signed one or more FISA applications on behalf of DOJ.
Due to the sensitive nature of foreign intelligence activity, FISA submissions (including renewals) before the FISC are classified. As such, the public’s confidence in the integrity of the FISA process depends on the court’s ability to hold the government to the highest standard–-particularly as it relates to surveillance of American citizens. However, the FISC’s rigor in protecting the rights of Americans, which is reinforced by 90-day renewals of surveillance orders, is necessarily dependent on the government’s production to the court of all material and relevant facts. This should include information potentially favorable to the target of the FISA application that is known by the government. In the case of Carter Page, the government had at least four independent opportunities before the FISC to accurately provide an accounting of the relevant facts. However, our findings indicate that, as described below, material and relevant information was omitted.
(1) The “dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele (Steele dossier) on behalf of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign formed an essential part of the Carter Page FISA application. Steele was a longtime FBI source who was paid over $16,000 by the DNC and Clinton campaign, via the law firm Perkins Cole and research firm Fusion GPS, to obtain derogatory information on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia.
a) Neither the initial application in October 2016, nor any of the renewals, disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials.
b) The initial FISA application notes Steele was working for a named U.S. person, but does not name Fusion GPS and principal Glenn Simpson, who was paid by a U.S. law firm (Perkins Cole) representing the DNC (even though it was known by DOJ at the time that political actors were involved with the Steele dossier). The application does not mention Steele was ultimately working on behalf of—and paid by—the DNC and Clinton campaign, or that the FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information. [That means Steele, in addition to producing an egregiously flawed dossier on Trump, double-dipped!]
(2) The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focuses on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow. This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself to Yahoo News. The Page FISA application incorrectly assesses that Steele did not directly provide information to Yahoo News. Steele has admitted in British court filings that he met with Yahoo News—and several other outlets—in September 2016 at the direction of Fusion GPS. Perkins Cole was aware of Steele’s initial media contacts because they hosted at least one meeting in Washington, D.C. in 2016 with Steele and Fusion GPS where this matter was discussed.
a) Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations—an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship to the FBI in an October 30, 2016, Mother Jones article by David Corn. Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo and other outlets in September—before the Page application was submitted to the FISC in October—but Steele improperly concealed from and lied to the FBI about those contacts.
b) Steele’s numerous encounters with the media violated the cardinal rule of source handling—maintaining confidentiality—and demonstrated that Steele had become a less than reliable source for the FBI.
(3) Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, a senior DOJ official who worked closely with Deputy Attorneys General Yates and later Rosenstein. Shortly after the election, the FBI began interviewing Ohr, documenting his communications with Steele. For example, in September 2016, Steele admitted to Ohr his feelings against then-candidate Trump when Steele said he “was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president.” This clear evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time and subsequently in official FBI files—but not reflected in any of the Page FISA applications.
a) During this time period, Ohr’s wife [Nellie Ohr] was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump. Ohr later provided the FBI with all of his wife’s opposition research, paid for by the DNC and the Clinton campaign via Fusion GPS. The Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.
(4) According to the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, Assistant Director Bill Priestap, corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its “infancy” at the time of the initial Page FISA application. After Steele was terminated, a source validation report conducted by an independent unit within FBI assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated. Yet, in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steele dossier, even though it was—according to his June 2017 testimony—“salacious” and “unverified”. While the FISA application relied on Steele’s past record of credible reporting on other unrelated matters, it ignored or concealed his anti-Trump financial and ideological motivations. Furthermore, Deputy Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.
(5) The Page FISA application also mentions information regarding fellow Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, but there is no evidence of any cooperation or conspiracy between Page and Papadopoulos. The Papadopoulos information triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok. Strzok was reassigned by the Special Counsel’s Office to FBI Human Resources for improper text messages with his mistress, FBI Attorney Lisa Page (no known relation to Carter Page), where they both demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton, whom Strzok had also investigated. The Strzok/Lisa Page texts also reflect extensive discussions about the investigation, orchestrating leaks to the media, and include a meeting with Deputy Director McCabe to discuss an “insurance” policy against President Trump’s election.
Here are the main points you need to know about the FISA memo:
(1) The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978 is a federal law that establishes procedures for the U.S. government’s physical and electronic surveillance of foreign powers and domestic (U.S.) agents of foreign powers suspected of espionage or terrorism. The Act created the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to oversee requests for surveillance warrants by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
(2) To prevent abuse of FISA against U.S. citizens, FISA applications require the government to produce valid and unbiased documentation in support of the application.
(3) In October 2016, the Obama Administration made a FISA application to FISC to conduct electronic surveillance of an American citizen named Carter Page, who was at the time a volunteer advisor to the Trump presidential campaign.
(4) The validity of the Carter Page FISA application depended on two supporting documents:
- A “dossier” compiled by a former British spook named Christopher Steele which claims that Trump was colluding with Russia, which meant Trump was a foreign (Russian) agent — thus triggering the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and justifying the government’s surveillance on Trump and members of his campaign team.
- An article in Yahoo News by journalist Michael Isikoff.
(5) Both supporting documents are seriously flawed:
- The Steele dossier’s information is tainted because:
- The information in the dossier was unverified and unsubstantiated.
- The dossier was politically motivated, paid for by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign to be used as “opposition research” against Trump.
- The dossier’s author, Christopher Steele, had made known to the DOJ (in the person of Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr) his political objections to and bias against Donald Trump — the subject of the dossier.
- Michael Isikoff’s Yahoo News article is a duplicate of the Steele dossier because Isikoff’s source was none other than Christopher Steele. Since the Steele dossier is tainted, Isikoff’s article is also tainted.
(6) An individual involved in the Page FISA application, DOJ official Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, should have recused himself due to conflict of interest. Ohr’s wife, Nellie Ohr, was working for Fusion GPS — the firm that hired Christopher Steele — to produce “opposition research” on Trump. All of this, however, was concealed from the FISC — information relevant to the FISC’s consideration of the Page FISA application.
(6) FBI agent Pete Strzok, who conducted a counterintelligence investigation of another Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, should have recused himself because of his bias against Trump, expressed in text messages to his mistress, another FBI agent named Lisa Page. To compound his misdeeds, Strzok then leaked information to the media, which was used to attack Trump.
(7) Similarly, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who signed the Page FISA application, should have recused himself because of his anti-Trump bias. McCabe had met with Bruce Ohr to discuss an “insurance policy” to ensure that Trump would not be elected President.
Lock Them Up!
The FISA memo shows that the Obama Administration abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to illicitly obtain court approval to conduct surveillance of at least one Trump team member, Carter Page, in violation of Page’s Fourth Amendment Constitutional rights.
This means that the following FBI and DOJ officials committed malfeasance when they certified, approved, and signed the FISA applications:
- FBI Director James Comey
- FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe
- Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
- Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente