The cover story of the current issue of the Weekly Standard is “The Truth About Carter Page, the FBI, and Devin Nunes’ Conspiracy Theory” by one April Doss. I have contrasted Doss’s disparagement of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes in this story with the profile of Nunes by Standard executive editor Fred Barnes in the same issue. I’m with Fred and against Doss. The two pieces sit uneasily in the same issue without editorial explanation.
If the cover story appeared somewhere other than the Standard, I wouldn’t be interested in commenting on it. The Standard is one of my favorite magazines. I rely on it. I’ve proudly contributed more than 25 columns and articles to it over the years and gotten to know the editors personally and professionally. I like and respect them. Indeed, I have learned from them.
Fred Barnes accurately observes in his profile: “Democrats and their allies have been waging a war of abuse, slander, and name-calling [against Nunes]. They’ve tried with occasional success to make his life miserable.” In the cover story we find the magazine joining in the Democrats’ war on Nunes. The cover story could serve as Exhbit A in Fred’s indictment. This is wrong.
In the author’s tag to her story Doss describes herself in part as former “senior minority counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.” In relevant part this is the same tag she used to describe herself in the Atlantic version of her piece. Without more, we wouldn’t know whether she served as the Democrats’ or Republicans’ counsel. One has to go to her current law firm bio to determine that she served as Democratic counsel, of course, and that her efforts included (my italics) “all facets of the SSCI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.” Why so shy?
I think it is indicative of her lack of candor in the crux of her cover story. Doss is dishonest by the omission of relevant factual context in the same manner as she is in her own author’s identification.
After paying tribute to FISA and the FISC, Doss props up Democratic Party talking points on the FISA warrants secured by the FBI And the Department of Justice against Carter Page. Applying her expertise to a reading of the FISA warrant applications on Page, she assures us that everything is in order. All the i’s have been dotted and all the t’s have been crossed. There has been no gambling in Casablanca, so to speak, and there never has been. Rumors to the contrary represent “a crazy conspiracy theory.”
Conceding the redactions in the documents, Doss expresses her judgment (my italics): “it is apparent that the FBI would have been derelict in its duty if it didn’t at least investigate whether there was cause for concern. Page had longstanding ties to Russia, including past ties to indicted and convicted Russian spies; the intelligence community had concluded that Russia was undertaking active measures to influence the 2016 U.S. election; and Page made a trip to Russia, possibly meeting with Kremlin officials, while he was an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign. Taken together, it appears to be probable cause.”
There is a lot to unpack here and it is not worth our time to do so in every particular (as in her labored defense of the applications’ disclosures regarding the Steele Dossier, with respect to which see Byron York’s column on the Nunes memo). Let me confine myself to a few points:
• Under Title I of FISA, it was the burden of the government to establish probable cause that Page was a Russian agent. Doss states: “Although Page had left the campaign, the FBI feared Russia was using him for its own purposes. The application states that the FBI alleged there was probable cause to believe Page was an agent of a foreign power under a specific provision of FISA that involves knowingly aiding, abetting, or knowingly conspiring to assist a foreign power with clandestine intelligence gathering activities, engage in clandestine intelligence gathering at the behest of a foreign power, or participate in sabotage or international terrorism or planning or preparation therefor.”
• Doss to the contrary notwithstanding, the allegations cited by Doss in her article don’t appear to make out probable cause that Page is a Russian agent on any fair reading of the facts once the Steele Dossier is seen for what it is.
• The FBI relied in substantial part on the allegations of the Steele dossier to obtain the FISA warrant on Page. Although the application swears otherwise, these allegations were unverified. Among knowledgeable observers who dispute Doss on the propriety of this reliance I would cite Andrew McCarthy. Doss simply omits any acknowledgement of the related issues.
• The FBI nevertheless secured the FISA surveillance warrant on Page in October 2016 and renewed it three more times at 90-day intervals. Maybe the cited facts together with the redacted material fairly establish probable cause, but we have yet to see it.
• Whether or not the FBI made out probable cause, it must have monitored Page’s every communication by text, email and cell phone for a year. Yet Page remains a free man. No charge of any kind — not even a process crime such the one used against Michael Flynn and George Papadoploulos — has been brought against Carter Page. The circumstantial evidence strongly suggests that Page is not a Russian agent.
• Given the year-long surveillance on him without any resulting charge, Page might not only not be a Russian agent, he might be the cleanest man in Washington.
• Page first came into the view of the FBI in the case brought against Russian agents Evgeny Buryakov et al. in 2015. The criminal complaint is here (see paragraphs 27 et seq, where Page is referred to as Male-1), the indictment here.
• Page himself was first interviewed by the FBI in the case in June 2013 (see paragraph 34 of the criminal complaint). He was trying to make a living in Russia’s energy business: “[Page] stated that he first met VICTOR PODOBNYY, the defendant, in January 2013 at an energy symposium in New York City. During this initial meeting, PODOBNYY gave Male-1 PODOBNYY’s business card and two email addresses. Over the following months, Male-1 and PODOBNYY exchanged emails about the energy business and met in person on occasion, with Male-1 providing PODOBNYY with Male-l’s outlook on the current and future of the energy industry. Male-1 also provided documents to PODOBNYY about the energy business.”
• With the two other defendants having fled the jurisdiction of the United States, the 2015 case resulted in the guilty plea of Evgeny Buryakov. We now know that the individual identified as Male-1 in the criminal complaint is Carter Page and that he cooperated with the government in the case. He was not charged and the government alleged no incriminating facts against him in the case.
• Why would the FBI go to the FISC in 2016 to undertake surveillance premised on the assertion that Carter Page is a Russian agent? Doss treats this question as though we have learned nothing of the players orchestrating the investigation inside the FBI and elsewhere. She formulates an answer premised on principals acting in good faith. Doss is like the fox in the henhouse proclaiming to the farmer “ain’t nobody here but us chickens!”
• To take just one example, Doss omits any mention of the role played by Peter Strzok at the FBI in initiating the counterintelligence investigation that swept up Carter Page. She somehow overlooks Strzok’s August 2016 text message to FBI lawyer/mistress Lisa Page that they couldn’t risk Trump’s election. They needed something “like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…” It is unreasonable to think Strzok was referring to anything other than the investigation that swept up Page.
In short, the Doss cover story seems to me a nasty and dishonest piece of work. I am posting the FISA application documents below once again for readers who may want to take another look in light of the Doss article.