What the FBI didn’t tell the FISA court

The release of a heavily-redacted version of the FBI’s application for a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to wiretap Carter Page triggered a debate over whether the FBI gave the FISA court judges enough information to assess the anti-Trump motives of the people behind the Steele dossier. That dossier was at the core of the FBI’s application.

Defenders of the FBI point to a footnote in the FISA application with this sentence: “The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign.” The “identified U.S. person” is Glenn Simpson, the Fusion GPS opposition researcher who recruited former British spy Christopher Steele to search for Russia-related dirt on Trump, referred to as “Candidate #1” in the application.

However, Byron York counters that the footnote did not disclose the bias of Christoper Steele, the operative upon whose information Simpson relied. Rather, the FBI vouched for Steele without noting his bias, and tried to create the impression that, whatever Simpson’s bias might be, it did not infect Steele’s investigating and the resulting dossier.

The FBI vouched for Steele, telling the FISA court:

“Source #1’s [Steele’s] reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings and the FBI assesses Source #1 to be reliable. Source #1 has been compensated [REDACTED] by the FBI and the FBI is unaware of any derogatory information pertaining to Source #1.

In addition, the FBI told the court that it “believes Source #1’s reporting herein to be credible.”

The FBI tried to use Steele to wash away any problem of bias by Simpson by asserting that Simpson “never advised Source #1 [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #1’s ties to Russia.” Thus, the FISA court was led to believe that the dossier was untainted by bias because, regardless of Simpson’s motivation, Steele’s work was unaffected since he didn’t know the people paying him were out to stop Trump.

It seems implausible that Steele, a veteran operator, wouldn’t know the motivation and intentions of the people who hired him, but let’s assume he didn’t. If Steele himself was out to stop Trump, that could easily skew his work.

At a minimum, the FBI would need to inform the FISA court of this possibility, just as it informed the court that Simpson was “likely looking for information” with which to damage Trump. Otherwise, the FBI would be deceiving the court by withholding important information relevant to Steele’s credibility, for which the FBI was vouching.

But the FBI did not so inform the FISA court.* As Byron says, “In the initial and later applications, the FBI did not even hint that Steele, referred to as “Source #1″ in the application, was biased against Trump.”

Did the FBI know of Steele’s bias when it made its submissions to the FISA court? Yes it did.

In the book Russian Roulette, authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn — both of whom were briefed by Steele about his findings during the campaign — reported that the FBI was aware of Steele’s anti-Trump motivations. FBI officials “knew from the outset that Steele had an agenda and that he was likely working for the Democrats,” they wrote.

In fact, Steele made his bias manifest to high-ranking Justice Department official Bruce Ohr a month before the initial FISA application was filed. He told Ohr he was “desperate that Donald Trump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president,” according to Ohr’s own account quoted in a memo by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes memo. In addition, according to Nunes, this evidence of Steele’s bias was recorded by Ohr at the time, and subsequently in official FBI files.

Yet, from all that appears, this information was never included in the FISA applications — not in the initial October 2017 application, and not in the subsequent renewal applications of January, April, and June of 2017.

In sum, the FBI deceived the FISA court in obtaining the warrant to spy on Carter Page. It based a substantial part of its warrant application on Steele’s work knowing that Steele had a strong and clear anti-Trump bias, but did not so advise the court and, indeed, tried to create the impression that Steele was untainted by such bias.

*At least, that’s how it seems. Byron cautions that we can’t be certain because of the heavy redactions in the documents released to the public. However, Rep. Nunes and Sen. Charles Grassley have seen the unredacted versions and they say the documents don’t disclose Steele’s anti-Trump posture.

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