Last summer, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page, an adviser to Donald Trump. Sources familiar with the case leaked this development to The Washington Post last night, though it does not mean that Page was involved in any wrongdoing. At the same time, it does show that the Bureau felt there was enough evidence to suspect that Page was in contact with Russian agents, which saw this order to place him under surveillance. The FBI, White House, and The Justice Department declined to comment of course (via WaPo):
The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.
The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.
This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.
Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.
The officials spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.
Again, Page has denied any malfeasance, adding that what this development does confirm is that he was under politically motivated surveillance. That remains to be seen. President Trump had taken to Twitter, accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of wiretapping Trump Tower. The allegations concerning surveillance and possible wrongdoing by the intelligence community reached a boiling point when former National Security Adviser Susan Rice was named as the Obama official who requested the unmasking of at least one person on Trump’s transition team.
Typically, when an American is caught through incidental collection through these FISA warrants, minimization protocols are initiated to protect this person’s privacy, usually writing “American #1” (or something in that manner) on the transcripts. An unmasking is considered a rather unusual event, though not totally out of bounds. But due to the increased fear of lone wolf attacks on American soil, the Obama White House tweaked the protocols when it came to unmasking individuals. Circa News reported on how the Obama changes could give way to political espionage.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, first unveiled the news of the unmasking in a short presser last month, where he later briefed the White House on the find. The move was seen as controversial, with members of the committee crying foul that they were not shown the documents that Nunes said revealed this information. Nunes also viewed these documents on White House grounds, where two staffers aided in a navigator capacity since intelligence services were reportedly stonewalling Nunes. While the two White House staffers did not turn out to be his direct sources, the optics were bad and the damage was done. Now, given that the Trump White House appears to have known about the unmasking, hence the president’s wiretap tweets—that means that Nunes presented information that the Trump administration already had known as something akin to a bombshell development. Nunes has since recused himself from the House probe, though he retains his chairmanship.
Fox News’ Adam Housley and Malia Zimmerman were the ones that broke the news that the person who requested the unmasking was high up the food chain in the intelligence community, not a member of the FBI, and well known. That person was Rice, who said last month on PBS that she had no clue about the leaks. Now, she says that unmasking was part of the job; she changed her story. Rice isn’t exactly an arbiter of truth either. She lied about the nature of the 2012 Benghazi attack, which she said was due to a spontaneous reaction to a YouTube video when in fact—the administration knew that this was a coordinated terrorist attack by a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Now, both GOP and Democratic House Intelligence committee members have looked at the documents that Nunes and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) looked at and concluded that there doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary (or illegal), even with Rice’s unmasking request. Yet, the silver lining here, I guess—and Bloomberg’s Eli Lake pointed this out—is that both the House and Senate probes seem to be set on calling Ms. Rice in for further questioning.
So, Carter Page was under a FISA warrant, according to unnamed sources. We still don’t know if anything felonious or impeachable was captured. FISA warrants are almost never turned down, so it’s apparent that the threshold is rather low. What is absolutely true as of right now is that there is no definitive proof that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. That was from Mr. Schiff himself last week.