In the Wall Street Journal, Byron Tau reports that the Justice Department now acknowledges that it secretly surveilled former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page for far longer than was justified.
Tau writes: “The Justice Department made that determination in a December letter to the secret court that oversees surveillance of suspected foreign spies, acknowledging it may have lacked probable cause to continue wiretapping in the last two of the four surveillance applications it sought against Mr. Page.”
This is a positive step in getting at a clearer non-partisan portrait of the FBI’s runaway investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged Russia connections. But the truth is that a still fuller portrait must involve the admission that even the initial FISA warrant to surveil Page was unjust.
And there’s reason to hope that we’ll get there eventually. In the January 7 judicial order that reveals the Justice Department’s admission, FISA Judge James Boasberg wrote: “DOJ assesses that with respect to the applications in Docket Numbers 17-375 and 17-679, ‘if not earlier, there was insufficient predication to establish probable cause to believe that [Carter] Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power.’”
“If not earlier,” indeed.
Federal prosecutor John Durham is currently conducting a criminal probe into the FBI investigation and might in time have something to say about the launch of the investigation into Page.
As Eli Lake meticulously recounts in “The FBI Scandal,” the lead article in COMMENTARY’s February issue, “The fact that Page was surveilled at all by the FBI is a scandal.”
Lake explains that “the central piece of evidence in the surveillance warrant on Page” was the so-called Steele Dossier, which contained uncorroborated tales alleging a Page-Russia alliance. Lake writes:
Without question, the FBI should have been more skeptical of Steele’s reporting before submitting it to the surveillance court. After all, Page…told the FBI informant that he had never met with the senior Russian officials with whom Steele reported he had met. Page said these things in conversations with someone he did not know was working for the FBI and did not know was surreptitiously recording him. Oh, the Page warrant did contain elements of Page’s conversation with the informant, such as his prediction of an October surprise against Hillary Clinton’s campaign and his hope that he would get Russian funding for a think tank he wanted to start. It just failed to include the parts of the conversation that exonerated him.
The importance of revealing the FBI’s wrongdoing here goes well beyond scoring points in the Trump–anti-Trump warfare that’s consumed the country. It’s about ensuring that what happened to an innocent American citizen like Carter Page doesn’t happen again. Lake writes: “while the electronic surveillance of Page did not begin until after he had left the campaign in October 2016, the FBI was given license to comb through his past texts, emails, and phone records.”
And there’s more, much more, that went wrong during the course of the investigation. Read the “The FBI Scandal” for a thorough examination of the bureau’s misdeeds.