The big story of the moment is the (sort of) release of the FISA applications used to spy on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. As with virtually every other news item these days, it’s been a Rorschach test in which the respective political tribes see exactly what they want. But beyond the partisan confirmation bias and mindless finger-pointing lies something that we can all benefit from knowing: the facts.
I’m sure many of you have already become acquainted with said facts and thus much of this will be just an echo of your weekend, which I regret (but not that much, I’ll go crazy without my weekend). Hopefully I can add my own distinctive flavor to the topic in order to make it a worthwhile read.
Let’s dive in and explore what we learned.
1) WHO IS CARTER PAGE AND WHY WAS HE SPIED UPON?
Bear in mind, I’ll be covering the *official* justification for spying on Page, not necessarily the *actual* reason. I’m doing so in order to better explain the FISA applications. We’ll get into the actual reason a bit later.
Page is a 1993 graduate of the prestigious United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. In fact, he was a Distinguished Graduate (top 10% of his class) and was chosen for the Navy’s Trident Scholar program, which gives selected officers the opportunity for independent academic research and study. During his senior year at the Naval Academy, he worked in the office of Les Aspin as a researcher for the House Armed Services Committee. He served in the Navy for five years, including a tour in western Morocco as an intelligence officer for a United Nations peacekeeping mission. In 1994, he completed a Masters degree in National Security Studies at Georgetown University.
He’s certainly no academic slouch.
After leaving the Navy, Page completed a fellowship at the ever spooky Council on Foreign Relations and in 2001 received a Master of Business Administration degree from New York University. In 2000, he began work as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch in the firm’s London office, was a vice president in the company’s Moscow office, and later served as COO for Merrill Lynch’s energy and power department in New York. He worked on transactions involving leading Russian energy companies, the most notorious of which being Gazprom. However, according to business people interviewed by Politico in 2016, Page’s work in Moscow was at a subordinate level, and he himself remained largely unknown to decision-makers. This would follow a familiar pattern for Page, as many in the Trump orbit say he greatly exaggerated his own role in the campaign.
Upon leaving the Navy in 2004 (he served in the reserves in addition to his initial contract), Page moved to Moscow, where he became an energy consultant with Merrill Lynch. He told lawmakers he served as an adviser “for many years” for Gazprom, where he developed a decade-long relationship with Andrey Baranov, who later joined Russia’s state-owned energy company, Rosneft.
He found his way to the Trump team via New York State Republican Party chairman Ed Cox, who said he knew him from his volunteer work on the 2008 Cooter McCain presidential campaign, in which McCain made electoral history by running as a second Democrat option. Page became more widely known after PDT cited him by name during a March 2016 meeting with the failing Washington Post editorial board. By September 2016, controversy over his OMG RUSSIA ties had led the Trump team to disavow him, and he left his campaign role accordingly.
Page found himself on the counterintelligence radar back in 2013 when some within the intel community were concerned that he was being cultivated as an unwitting agent of the Russian federation; a fancy way of saying that he was being used by the Russians and was too naive to realize it.
He was swept up in a spy probe involving Victor Podobnyy, an attaché at the Russian consulate in New York City. In 2015, Podobnyy was charged with espionage, accused of posing as a diplomat while trying to recruit Page as a Russian intelligence source. Authorities alleged Podobnyy was an agent for the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service.
Page was described as “a male working as a consultant in New York City.” Page last year confirmed he was the unnamed consultant and said he cooperated with the FBI. Court filings said Page had provided the Russians with documents about the energy sector, which Page said were innocuous. It was his friggin job, after all.
Podobnyy said on an FBI wiretap that he considered Page “an idiot.”
In any event, Page must not have been up to too many nefarious deeds, as he came away from those initial probes unscathed. He did, however, continue to take trips to Moscow through the years, and a couple taken during the election season raised the FBI’s counterintel antennae once again. You know, “officially.”
Most significantly, Page described to lawmakers two visits to Moscow in 2016 — first in July, at the height of the presidential campaign, and again in December, after the FISC (FISA court) had already granted a warrant for his surveillance.
“Just like someone may have mentioned tax policy in November 2017 in Washington, there may have been an analogous brief mention [of sanctions] in Moscow in July 2016,” he told the House Intelligence Committee.
Page said he was not acting on the trip as a surrogate of the Trump campaign, although he acknowledged informing Keebler Jeff Sessions, then just a senator from Alabama, about the trip.
He said his December trip was a personal one, which he paid for himself, and centered around his interest in business possibilities and “a general scholarly context.” He again met with Baranov, and said the discussion ranged from energy markets to the just-concluded election. “Based on public information and nothing nefarious in any way,” he added. On the same trip he also met in London with Russian nationals and the Kazakh ambassador to the U.K., discussing opportunities in the energy market there.
In his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, Page also confirmed he had “either four or five meetings” with FBI investigators in the spring of 2017, and that their questions focused on issues raised in the pee-pee dossier.
Page detailed his long history with Russia during a meeting with House investigators last November, starting with a June 1991 visit to Moscow as a Naval Academy midshipman. He learned to speak Russian enough to “get my ideas across,” according to transcripts of the meeting, developed a relationship with a Russian university called the New Economic School, and in 2015 and 2016 worked on behalf of various clients wanting to do business in Russia.
The most important part here is the fact that he has been more than willing to sit down with the FBI to discuss anything they wished. If they truly felt that he was some naif being taken advantage of by the Russians, one would think that this willingness to work with the FBI would come in handy in their counterintel efforts. In fact, a man like Page, with multiple contacts high up within the Russian energy sector, would be one hell of an intel asset to the bureau.
But something tells me they’re being disingenuous regarding the reasons for their interest in Page. We’ll touch on that a bit later.
So in summation, Page is a former campaign volunteer who specialized in all things Russia, especially energy policy. Since he’d been on the FBI’s radar in years prior, he made an easy target for the bureau to throw on the ol’ wiretap.
The role he played in the campaign was exceedingly small and not even assigned by the campaign itself, but when a fishing expedition is fully afoot, #TheseAreMinorDetails.
2) YES, THE PEE-PEE DOSSIER WAS THE PRIMARY JUSTIFICATION USED TO ATTAIN THE WARRANT.
And that’s a big deal.
When a FISA application is submitted to the FISC, it’s supposed to be the result of rigorous investigation to verify the information contained therein. This was absolutely not the case here.
By the time a FISA application hits a FISC judge’s desk, it arrives with the understanding that the information has been vetted not only by the submitting party, but by every field office that had or has any role whatsoever in the intelligence-gathering related to said application and/or subject of application. The point is to create safeguards against abuse by providing multiple layers of corroboration.
If proper protocols had actually been followed, here is what would have happened: Christopher Steele would have shown up to the bureau with his tabloid rag known as the pee-pee dossier. The FBI, in turn, would have thanked him for the information and then immediately begun the process of verification. This would entail contacting the appropriate field offices and agents/analysts/experts needed to determine the veracity of the information received. It’s quite the tedious process, and it should be. We’re talking about spying on American citizens. There better be more than just a little smoke before yelling “Fire!” at a federal judge.
Obviously that didn’t happen in this case, as judges were presented with nothing more than at best sheer hearsay and at worst intentionally misleading information. And what’s worse, they blatantly lied about it. In each application, the FBI confirmed that it had “reviewed this verified application for accuracy.” And they used sleight of hand to do it.
What I mean by that is they played loose and fast with the phrase “reviewed for accuracy.” What they actually meant was that the application had relayed Steele’s words to a tee, not that the information had actually been verified. That wouldn’t be so bad if Steele was actually the source of the information and had demonstrated some — any, in fact — type of evidence to corroborate his claims. But he wasn’t the actual source of anything. Indeed, Steele hasn’t even been inside Russia in a couple decades. The FBI essentially took Steele’s word for it that his sources were ironclad and that was good enough for them.
Never mind that Steele was a hyper-partisan who absolutely loathed then-candidate Donald Trump. Never mind that the Russian government routinely relays disinformation to Western intelligence sources (for obvious reasons). Never mind that the FBI themselves had been investigating Page for years prior and found no subversive connections to Russia. Never mind that the “information” Steele was relaying was third or fourth hand.
Suddenly, a washed-up British spy — a rabidly anti-Trump washed up spy no less — shows up with some juicy scuttlebutt on a Trump campaign volunteer and it’s solid enough to get a warrant to spy on an American citizen. But hey, they quoted him correctly, so BOOM! — verified.
In light of this revelation regarding the shoddiness of this application, my question is this: Who in the FBI can testify to the fact that they were consulted regarding the pee-pee dossier? As noted above, protocols demand that appropriate field offices/agents/experts sign off that they have verified and corroborated the information contained within the application.
This should be really easy. The FBI only has so many people, and only a handful of them would fit the criteria to be involved in verifying the information for this FISA warrant. Have they been contacted and asked, “Did you sign off on the info used to attain this warrant? If so, who in the hell trained you to sign off on unverified info gleaned from 3rd and 4th hand Russian sources?”
This is all rhetorical, of course, but my point is that it would prove beyond a doubt that these FISA applications were the work of only a few guys at the top, rather than the robust consensus prescribed by the bureau’s own policies to ensure that surveillance powers aren’t abused.
IS ANYONE IN THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE LISTENING? YOU CAN ACTUALLY PROVE THIS CONSPIRACY REALLY EASILY.
Over a year ago, I told my readers that before all was said and done, we’d learn that Christopher Steele’s status within the intelligence community as an oft-used source of info (for things unrelated to this matter) was used to secure a FISA warrant. I hated saying it because, as an intelligence analyst, I hated to believe that sort of thing had happened. But that’s where analysis and logical inference took me.
And I’m sad to say, we’re still there.
3) NO, THE FBI DID NOT DISCLOSE THAT THE PEE-PEE DOSSIER WAS BOUGHT AND PAID FOR BY HILLARY, INC.
Taken from the Washington Examiner, the FISA application describes the dossier’s funders thusly:
Readers will search the FISA application in vain for any specific mention of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign funding of the dossier. For the most part, names were not used in the application, but Donald Trump was referred to as “Candidate #1,” Hillary Clinton was referred to as “Candidate #2,” and the Republican Party was referred to as “Political Party #1.” Thus, the FISA application could easily have explained that the dossier research was paid for by “Candidate #2” and “Political Party #2,” meaning the Democrats. And yet the FBI chose to describe the situation this way, in a footnote: “Source #1…was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to Source #1 that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #1’s ties to Russia…The identified U.S. person hired Source #1 to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised Source #1 as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia. The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.”
Democrats argue that the FISA Court judges should have been able to figure out, from that obscure description, that the DNC and Clinton campaign paid for the dossier. That seems a pretty weak argument, but in any case, the Nunes memo’s statement that the FISA application did not disclose or reference the role of the DNC and the Clinton campaign is undeniably true.
Both Republicans and Dims have a point here. But both sides seem to be missing the larger point.
The fact that Clinton’s campaign isn’t mentioned by name, or that the judge “should have been able to figure it out” is insignificant in the big picture here, which is that THE JUDGE SIGNED OFF ON A FISA WARRANT KNOWING THAT ITS GENESIS WAS POLITICAL.
But this goes back to our #2 item, which was the supposed infallibility conferred unto Christopher Steele as an intelligence source. In the eyes of the court, the fact that the dossier had political roots was irrelevant because the man they hired was a legit spy.
Of course, had the bureau informed the judges that Mr. Infallibility was operating on second, third and fourth-hand information, perhaps he would seem human after all. But they weren’t about to do that, no sir.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s a big deal that the bureau lied by omission by not naming Hillary explicitly. I’m just saying that it’s a small deal when compared to the larger omissions, which get to the heart of the credibility and level of corroboration of the information itself.
In fact, this may be the least consequential lie out of the whole damn thing.
4) BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REDACTIONS? COULDN’T THERE BE MORE EVIDENCE OF WHICH WE’RE UNAWARE?
Not really, no.
It’s true that only a handful of people really know what’s under that blank ink and thus we can’t say for sure what evidence does or doesn’t exist. But thanks to good old basic logical inference, we can safely assume that it’s not ironclad proof of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. To know how, simply scroll up to item #2.
We’ve established that the bulk of the evidence used to obtain the warrant consisted of nothing more than the nonsensical tabloid garbage known as the Steele pee-pee dossier. If the FBI had something better than that, it would have at least been hinted at in the unclassified sections. In fact, the bureau would’ve loved nothing more than to silence its critics in that FISA application release by showing that the dossier was but a small part of the whole operation. But they couldn’t, because it wasn’t. For all intents and purposes, it was the operation.
Even Deep State Andy McCabe acknowledged that: 1) the warrant could not have been attained without the dossier, and 2) the FBI couldn’t verify the information contained within it. And so given that fact, what evidence could possibly be contained under that black ink? Whatever it is, it obviously wasn’t more important than the dossier. And if it’s related to the dossier, it obviously hasn’t been verified, so it could hardly be called “evidence.”
McCabe went on to say that nothing could be verified beyond the trips that Page took to Russia; the same trips that Page, again, was more than happy to discuss with the FBI. Remember, this is the same Deep State McCabe who hosted meetings between himself, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and God-knows-who-else in his own office regarding “insurance policies” against PDT’s election. I’m fairly certain that if there were something more there, he’d be happy to let us know.
It’s really simple, folks. The fact that the FISA application largely depended on the dossier indicates that the redacted portions are far more likely to be attempts to cover the bureau’s own rear end than efforts to protect additional evidence.
But that’s a recurring theme as of late, now isn’t it.
The Nunes Memo, as it’s called, has been proved essentially correct.
A FISA warrant was obtained using third-hand gossip (at best). That is a scandal of monumental proportions and one that Americans of every political stripe ought to care about. Unfortunately, only one side seems to care that the only thing saving us from becoming a full-blown police state was the miraculous electoral victory of Donald Trump. And even with PDT in office, we’re still fighting tooth and nail to defeat it.
Carter Page wasn’t spied upon due to any fear on the part of the FBI that he was being cultivated by Russian intelligence. They’d investigated that possibility in earnest and already knew better. He was merely another way to get inside the Trump campaign. They saw a guy who had a history with Russia and found another way to put their ear to the ground. They also saw another way to add legitimacy to the Russian narrative that would later be used to take down the President of the United States.
As odd as it sounds, though, this is an exciting time. Here’s why.
There is good reason to believe that beneath all that redaction ink is a graduation from lies-by-omission into blatant, bald-faced lying. The reason being, each application would have to provide justification for continued surveillance. Leakin’ James Comey himself called the pee-pee dossier “salacious and unverified,” and not in early 2016. He said as much after PDT took office.
So, if the top man at the FBI acknowledged that the dossier was unverified as late as 2017, what was being used as justification to continue surveillance? Whatever it was, it sure as hell wasn’t the truth.
Again, this is simple logical deduction.
But why should that excite us, Trey? Shouldn’t that just make us even angrier?
In the short term, yes. But in the long term, it could be our best friend.
See, to learn what supposed ‘evidence’ was being used to get subsequent applications approved, we need to know what notes were included in said subsequent FISA applications and by whom they were written. We also need to know which field offices were involved, which agents produced the additional “evidence” to keep the warrants going and more. We need to know what on Earth could’ve possibly been included to show that the surveillance was bearing fruit, especially when the FBI’s own top man admitted that the main justification for the warrant in the first place, the dossier, remains unverified.
Guess who has the power to reveal all of it: Donald J. Trump.
Now let’s do one last bit of logical deduction.
We’ve been able to deduce that the FBI not only lied to get the warrant in the first place, but that they must have piled on the lies to keep it going. Do you think PDT is sitting in the Oval Office right now wondering, “Golly gee, I sure would like to know who was involved in the conspiracy to spy on my campaign”?
Of course not. He knows full well. And in the extremely unlikely event that he doesn’t, he can find out anytime he wants.
Now ask yourself, why would he withhold this information from us? It’s called timing, my friends.
I’ve been asking you to have patience for quite a while now.
Are you beginning to see why?
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