FBI ‘misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts,’ and ignored unreliability of principal source
Attorney General William Barr gave an in-depth interview on Dec. 10 during a Wall Street Journal CEO Council conference, detailing material problems with the FBI’s FISA applications and the subsequent surveillance of members of the Trump campaign.
Barr had previously hinted at some of these issues in a statement he issued immediately following the release of the Inspector General’s December 2019 report on FISA abuse. In his official statement, Barr highlighted some of the major findings from the IG report while at the same time making clear that he disagreed with some of the conclusions contained within the IG report—including the Inspector General’s finding that the FBI had “adequate factual predication” to open their counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
Although IG Michael Horowitz noted in his report that the threshold for predication was “low” and also noted his concern that “Department and FBI policies do not require that a senior [Justice] Department official be notified prior to the opening of a particularly sensitive case such as this one,” he noted that “the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened Crossfire Hurricane to obtain information about, or protect against, a national security threat or federal crime, even though the investigation also had the potential to impact constitutionally protected activity.”
Barr’s official statement indicated his disagreement with this conclusion by noting that the “Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
Barr noted that the evidence collected by the FBI from the beginning of the investigation was “consistently exculpatory” but despite the ongoing lack of evidence of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign, the FBI continued its investigation, along with active surveillance of four individuals within the Trump campaign, while pushing “forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration.”
The AG claimed that in the FBI’s “rush to obtain and maintain FISA surveillance of Trump campaign associates, FBI officials misled the FISA court, omitted critical exculpatory facts from their filings, and suppressed or ignored information negating the reliability of their principal source.”
It’s worth noting that the Inspector General stated in his report that he had identified “at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications, and many additional errors in the Woods Procedures.” Many of these errors have been covered in a previous Epoch Times article.
In his statement, Barr noted that the Inspector General himself found the FBI’s explanations for their actions to be satisfactory. And indeed, the Horowitz states this specific fact in the executive summary of the report:
“While we did not find documentary or testimonial evidence of intentional misconduct on the part of the case agents who assisted OI [Office of Intelligence] in preparing the applications, or the agents and supervisors who performed the Woods Procedures, we also did not receive satisfactory explanations for the errors or problems we identified.”
Barr noted that while “most of the misconduct identified by the Inspector General was committed in 2016 and 2017 by a small group of now-former FBI officials, the malfeasance and misfeasance detailed in the Inspector General’s report reflects a clear abuse of the FISA process.”
On Dec. 12, 2109—the day following the release of the Inspector General’s report—Barr elaborated on his official statement during a discussion of the newly released IG report on FISA abuse, along with actions taken by the FBI, at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council.
During the interview, Barr managed to succinctly describe the some of the more egregious actions that were taken by the FBI during their investigation into the Trump campaign and provided further explanation as to why he disagreed with some of the Inspector General’s conclusions.
At one critical point during the Journal interview, Barr was asked if he thought the FISA applications should have been made by the FBI. Barr responded, “This is the meat of the issue and if you actually spend time looking at what happened I think you’d be appalled.”
Barr pointed out that rather than going to members of the Trump campaign and simply speaking with them directly, the FBI elected to instead send in confidential human sources to wiretap members of the Trump campaign—specifically campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page—along with a “high-level Trump campaign official who was not a subject of the investigation.” And rather than finding any information that might have confirmed some of the FBI’s suspicions or provided reasons for continuing their investigation, the information the FBI got back was exculpatory:
“Remember, they [the FBI] say, ‘okay, we’re not going to go in and talk to the campaign, we’re going to send people in and wire them up and have them talk to the individuals’. That happened. That happened in August, September, and October . And it all came back exculpatory.”
Barr noted that the information the FBI received was “not only exculpatory as to the relationship with the Russians but as to the specific facts.”
Barr noted that despite receiving exculpatory, rather than incriminating, information, the FBI “never did anything about that—they just pressed ahead” and equally importantly, the FBI never informed the [FISA] court” of this exculpatory information.
The IG report noted that the FBI failed in its first attempts to obtain a FISA warrant on Carter Page due to insufficient evidence and proof that Page was “an agent of a foreign power” as claimed by the FBI:
“When the team first sought to pursue a FISA order for Page in August 2016, a decision was made by OGC [Office of General Counsel], OI, or both that more information was needed to support a probable cause finding that Page was an agent of a foreign power.”
The FBI only attempted to reapply for a FISA on Page after meeting with former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele on Sept. 19, 2016, and obtaining copies of the documents that made up his dossier to that point in time. It was quite clearly Steele’s dossier that provided the FBI with the additional information needed to obtain a FISA warrant.
Stated more directly, the Steele dossier was the only evidence the FBI had prior to obtaining documents from the Steele dossier during their Sept. 19, 2016, meeting that Carter Page was somehow “an agent of a foreign power”. And this evidence from Steele ran contrary to the documented work that Page had done for another governmental agency.
The Inspector General stated in his report that the FBI omitted information from the FISA application that detailed the work that Page had previously done for another U.S. government agency. This reference likely relates to the case of convicted Russian spy Evgeny Buyrakov in which Page had provided evidence against Buryakov to assist the U.S. government’s case.
The IG report noted that the Page FISA “omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an ‘operational contact’ for the other agency from 2008 to 2013.”
The report added that “Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application.”
Barr effectively noted this in his interview, saying that the FBI “were told they didn’t have probable cause to get a warrant so they took the Steele dossier, which they had done nothing to verify, and they used that to get the warrant.”
And, as we now know, there was a significant problem with the FBI’s reliance on the Steele dossier. As Barr noted, the FBI “withheld from the court all the exculpatory information and they withheld from the court information about the lack of reliability of Steele.”
In addition to the omission of exculpatory information on Page, the FBI failed to fully detail the material fact that Steele was being paid by Fusion GPS—an opposition research firm employed by the DNC and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The IG report specifically notes that the FBI was aware of this matter prior to the application of the Page FISA:
“Steele’s election reporting was developed at the request of his consulting firm’s client, Fusion GPS, and was provided to the FBI with his client’s consent. We found that the FBI was aware of the potential for political bias in the Steele election reporting from the outset of obtaining it. Handling Agent 1 told us that when Steele provided him with Report 80 in July 2016 and described his engagement with Fusion GPS, it was obvious to Handling Agent 1 that the request for the research was politically motivated.”
“The Supervisory Intel Analyst explained that he also was aware of the potential for political influence on the Steele election reporting when it became available to the Crossfire Hurricane team in September 2016.”
But the disclosure problems with the FBI’s Page FISA application do not stop there. The IG report also noted that despite its singular reliance on the Steele dossier in the Page FISA application, the FBI “was unable to corroborate any of the specific substantive allegations against Carter Page contained in the election reporting and relied on in the FISA applications.”
According to the IG report, the only items the FBI were able to confirm were a “limited number of circumstantial facts, most of which were in the public domain, such as the dates that Page traveled to Russia, the timing of events, and the occupational positions of individuals referenced in the reports.”
This fact was also verified by former FBI Director James Comey when he testified before Congress to the FBI’s lack of verification of the Steele dossier:
“What I understand by verified is we then try to replicate the source information, so that it becomes FBI investigation and our conclusions rather than a reliable source’s. That’s what I understand it, the difference to be.
“And that work wasn’t completed by the time I left in May of 2017, to my knowledge.”
Contrary to popular belief, Steele did not have a network of direct sources that he worked with. In fact, he only had a singular source—referred to as the “primary sub-source” in the IG report. The primary sub-source had their own network of sub-sources and relayed information from these sources to Steele, who then used this second- and third-hand information in the preparation of his dossier.
Barr highlighted this during his interview with the Journal, noting that “Steele was dealing with one person—only talked to one person—and that was what we called the ‘primary sub-source.’ And it was that person who had the so-called network of sub-sources.”
For reasons known only to the FBI, they waited until after the election, in January 2017, to speak directly with Steele’s primary sub-source. And when they finally did so, the FBI encountered some material credibility problems with Steele’s reporting as specified in the IG report:
“In addition to the lack of corroboration, we found that the FBI’s interviews of Steele, the Primary Sub-source, and a second sub-source, and other investigative activity, revealed potentially serious problems with Steele’s description of information in his election reports.”
The IG report notes that the FBI conducted three interviews of the Primary Sub-source in January, March, and May 2017 “that raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.”
The IG noted that the initial January 2017 interview with the primary sub-source “raised doubts about the reliability of Steele’s descriptions of information in his election reports.” The IG noted that the primary sub-source specifically told the FBI “that he/she had not seen Steele’s reports until they became public that month, and that he/she made statements indicating that Steele misstated or exaggerated the primary sub-source’s statements in multiple sections of the reporting.”
As Barr noted in his interview, “When they finally got around to talking to him he said, ‘I don’t know what Steele’s talking about. I didn’t tell him this stuff. It was mostly barroom talk and rumor. I made it clear to him that this was my own suppositions and theories.’”
Worth noting is that the FBI received this information from Steele’s singular source of information “shortly after the FBI filed the Carter Page FISA Renewal Application No. 1 and months prior to Renewal Application No. 2” but failed to inform the FISA Court of this highly material information.
There was another issue surrounding the FBI’s disclosure on Steele’s primary sub-source. The FISA application stated that the primary sub-source was “Russian-based.” But Footnote 389 reflects another issue surrounding the FBI’s disclosure of Steele’s sourcing:
“In March 2017 – after the first FISA application and first renewal were filed and before the last two renewals – the Supervisory Intel Analyst reviewed the first FISA application and the first renewal at OGC’s request to assist with potential redactions before the Department responded to Congressional information requests. The Supervisory Intel Analyst provided comments to the OGC Attorney, including advising him that the Primary Sub-source was not [Redacted] as stated in the FISA applications, and asking whether a correction should be made.”
There was never a correction made to the additional FISA renewals regarding the error in the description of the primary sub-source. As speculated by a fellow internet researcher, the redactions might say that the primary sub-source was “not [Russian-based].”
Barr summed up the entire situation in his interview with the Journal:
“And at that point it was clear that the dossier was a sham. So what happened? What happens at that point? They don’t tell the court and they continue to get FISA warrants based on that dossier. And more damning is that they actually filed with the court a statement saying, ‘We talked to the sub-source and we found him credible and cooperative.’ And they put that in to bolster the dossier.”
As Barr noted, “It’s hard to look at this stuff and not think it was a gross abuse.”
The Journal host of the event closed this section of the interview by asking if Barr thought the “four separate FISA judges in those courts, were badly misled?”
Barr provided only a one-word answer to the question posed to him.
It should be noted that Barr was not the only DOJ official to publicly disagree with some of the conclusions made by the Inspector General. U.S. Attorney John Durham also issued his own statement—one that was much shorter and direct than the one made by Barr.
Durham noted that his ongoing investigation differed somewhat from the one conducted by the Inspector General and was “not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department.” Durham also noted that his investigation was more inclusive and “included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.”
Durham, who recently broadened the timeline and added agents and resources to his ongoing investigation into the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation, traveled in late September to Italy along with the Attorney General to meet with law enforcement officials.
Additionally, both Durham and Barr have also reportedly spoken with officials from the UK and Australia as part of their ongoing investigation.
Durham also recently elevated his investigation from an administrative review to a criminal investigation.
And according to an Oct. 19 New York Times article, Durham has already interviewed “about two dozen former and current F.B.I. officials” and that the “number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known.” The paper also reported that Durham’s efforts were being aided by “two former senior F.B.I. agents” who were assisting with the review.
Durham concluded his statement by noting that “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
This article is part of my ongoing series at The Epoch Times.