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FISC Reveals DOJ Has Withdrawn Probable Cause Assertion for Two of Carter Page Applications

The FISA Court just declassified an order — issued on January 7 — revealing that along with the previously released December 9 order listing problems with the Carter Page applications, DOJ also reassessed its previous probable cause assessment.

DOJ assesses that with respect to the applications in Docket Number 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.”

[snip]

The Court understands the government to have concluded, in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the Court’s authorizations in Docket Numbers 17-375 and 17-679 were not valid. The government apparently does not take a position on the validity of the authorizations in Docket Numbers 16-1182 and 17-52, but intends to sequester information acquired pursuant to those dockets in the same manner as information acquired pursuant to the subsequent dockets.

The function of this January 7 order is to demand that FBI follow up on a previous agreement to “sequester all collection the FBI acquired pursuant to the Court’s authorizations in the above-listed four docket numbers targeting [Carter] Page pending further review of the OIG Report and the outcome of related investigations and any litigation,” to explain how it is doing so, how it has chased down all information collected pursuant to the Page orders, and why it needs to keep the data at all.

The reason it needs to keep the data, incidentally, is in case it is sued or John Durham decides to prosecute someone (including Kevin Clinesmith, who altered an email that was used as back-up to the final renewal application) or Page decides to sue. Indeed, one of the most unprecedented aspects of this order is that the docket numbers have been declassified, which will make FOIAing the records far easier.

Which is probably what the only substantive redaction remaining in the order pertains to: the possibility that someone will be held liable under FISA for illegal surveillance.

A lot of people are assuming that DOJ took this stance only because Bill Barr wanted to prove that Trump was illegally wiretapped (which would only be true if he was in direct contact with Page, which everyone has denied). That’s certainly possible!

But it’s quite possible that DOJ and FBI feel the need to be proactive on this point and FISC — particularly given the letters it has received from Congress — feels the need to look stern. Moreover, it is in everyone’s interest for DOJ to withdraw at least the last application (the one influenced by Clinesmith’s actions). It’s an important precedent, and there’s no reason Carter Page’s personal data should be floating around the FBI after discovering he was improperly surveilled. This doesn’t mean the FBI didn’t have reason to investigate Page. In a March 23, 2017 interview, after all, Carter Page was quite clear he knew he was being recruited by Russian intelligence officers and he believed the more immaterial non-public information he gives them, the better off we are.

But, first of all, he wasn’t hiding his happiness to share information with Russian spies, meaning he wasn’t acting in the clandestine matter that would merit a FISA order. And by April 2017, it was pretty clear that the Russians had lost all interest in recruiting Page.

In any case, FISC’s demand for what the government is doing with the data is not unusual. Similar things have happened virtually every other time the government did something improper.

There’s one more important lesson, though: Even from the start, people raised questions about whether the applications targeting Page were prudential. By the third application — the first one being withdrawn — there were not only real questions about whether it would yield anything more, but whether Page was central enough to their investigation to want to surveil him. Had the FBI simply not pursued surveillance it questioned whether it really needed, the worst revelations of the IG Report would have been avoided.

So one of the lessons of this whole fiasco is that the FBI would benefit from giving greater consideration about whether its most intrusive methods are necessary.

Beware the Deep State Bearing Granola Bars: George Papadopoulos’ 302s

The government released another bunch of 302s in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA last night. They include a bunch (but not all, and not the most important) of the reports from George Papadopoulos. This post will lay out what they show.

As background, however, remember what FBI knew about some of his interactions with Joseph Mifsud before interviewing Papadopoulos.

Interactions with informants

First, there was the tip FBI received from Australia on July 27, 2016, after the release of the WikiLeaks emails made it seem like Papadopoulos had had advance knowledge they would be released. As laid out in the DOJ IG Report, after telling Alexander Downer and Erica Thompson that,

he felt confident Mr. Trump would win the election, and … the Clintons had a lot of baggage and that the Trump team had plenty of material to use in its campaign.

Papadopoulos then,

suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama). It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly of [sic] through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump’s team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team’s reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump’s cooperation.

In at least one (late October 2016) interview with the informant identified as “Source 3” in the IG Report, Papadopoulos had laid out the outlines of his conversations with Mifsud in direct connection with the possibility he might meet Putin.

In the second consensually monitored conversation, at the end of October 2016, Papadopoulos told Source 3 that Papadopoulos had been “on the front page of Russia’s biggest newspaper” for an interview he had given 2 to 3 weeks earlier. Papadopoulos said that he was asked “[w]hat’s Mr. Trump going to do about Russia if he wins, what are your thoughts on ISIS, what are your thoughts on this?” and stated that he did not “understand why the U.S. has such a problem with Russia.” Papadopoulos also said that he thinks Putin “exudes power, confidence.” When Source 3 asked Papadopoulos if he had ever met Putin, Papadopoulos said that he was invited “to go and thank God I didn’t go though.” Papadopoulos said that it was a “weird story” from when he “was working at … this law firm in London” that involved a guy who was “well connected to the Russian government.” Papadopoulos also said that he was introduced to “Putin’s niece” and the Russian  Ambassador in London. 472 Papadopoulos did not elaborate on the story, but he added that he needed to figure out

how I’m going monetize it, but I have to be an idiot not to monetize it, get it? Even if [Trump] loses. If anything, I feel like if he loses probably could be better for my personal business because if he wins I’m going to be in some bureaucracy I can’t do jack … , you know?

That said, with both Stefan Halper and this source, Papadopoulos had denied that the campaign had any foreknowledge of the WikiLeaks releases, likening optimizing them (in the way that Roger Stone did) to treason. Papadopoulos had told Source 3 that he gave that story to Halper, in part, because he thought Halper might tell CIA what he had said, so he was already crafting a story to tell authorities.

The FBI also knew Papadopoulos was spending a lot of time with Sergei Millian, whom they also had under a counterintelligence investigation.

January 27, 2017

The government didn’t release the substantive 302 from Papadopoulos’ first interview, there’s just the 302 recounting what happened on the way to the FBI and that Papadopoulos sent the FBI agent two emails after the interview. There are 12 pages withheld for a referral right before that 302 — which makes me wonder whether they’ve referred Papadopoulos’ original 302 to John Durham (which would be really corrupt, because there’s nothing classified in there, and hiding would make it harder to assess the legitimacy of the Durham investigation). The 302 that got released does make it clear the FBI told Papadopoulos, “the nature of the interview was to discuss a contact of his, who currently resides in New York,” meaning Millian, who had just been reported as a source for Christopher Steele. That is consistent with what Papadopoulos has said about the interview; he has complained he accepted the interview thinking it would only be about Millian.

Excerpts of this interview described in the government’s sentencing memo make it clear that Papadopoulos only raised Mifsud after pressed by agents.

the defendant identified the Professor only after being prompted by a series of specific questions about when the defendant first learned about Russia’s disclosure of information related to the campaign and whether the defendant had ever “received any information or anything like that from a [] Russian government official.” In response, while denying he received any information from a Russian government official, the defendant identified the Professor by name – while also falsely claiming he interacted with the Professor “before I was with Trump though.” Over the next several minutes in the interview, the defendant repeatedly and falsely claimed that his interactions with the Professor occurred before he was working for the Trump campaign, and he did not mention his discussion with the Professor about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Clinton. That fact only came up after additional specific questioning from the agents. The agents asked the defendant: “going back to the WikiLeaks and maybe the Russian hacking and all that, were you ever made aware that the Russians had intent to disclose information [] ahead of time? So before it became public? Did anyone ever tell you that the Russian government plans to release some information[,] like tell the Trump team ahead of time[,] that that was going to happen?” The defendant responded, “No.” The agents then skeptically asked, “No?” The defendant responded: “No, not on, no not the Trump [campaign], but I will tell you something and – and this is . . . actually very good that we’re, that you just brought this up because I wasn’t working with Trump at the time[.] I was working in London . . . with that guy [the Professor].” Only then, after acknowledging that the agents had “brought this up” and lying about when he received the information, did the defendant admit that the Professor had told him “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

February 1, 2017

On February 1, the FBI agent called Papadopoulos directly to set up a meeting at George’s Ice Cream & Sweets shop for another interview (the call was recorded in a 302).

The substantive 302 makes it clear that, in the previous one, Papadopoulos had agreed to help the FBI, because he “stated that he wished to hear more about how he could potentially help the FBI.” The agent explained that he wanted Papadopoulos’ cooperation “specifically in an attempt to obtain further information about his London-based contact, JOSEPH MIFSUD.” Papadopoulos revealed what he had learned from Googling Mifsud subsequent to his first interview. He revealed that Mifsud was “an associate of a Russian discussion club of some sort” — a reference to the Valdai Discussion Club, which Mifsud had attended between the time he first met Papadopoulos and started cultivating him in London.

It’s clear that Papadopoulos had provided more information about Olga Polonskaya (possibly her email), because the agent asked about her, and Papadopoulos explained he was first introduced as one of Mifsud’s students (which was true), but then Nagi Idris told him she was Putin’s niece.

The agent also asked Papadopoulos whether he had ever met the Russian Ambassador, which he had told Source 3 he had the previous October. Papadopoulos said he had not met any Russian government officials, the meeting with the Ambassador never happened.

The agent asked Papadopoulos (who, remember, said he learned about the emails before he joined the campaign) if he had told the campaign about the emails. He responded by saying he had raised Mifsud’s name, though appears to have dodged whether he raised the emails.

Papadopoulos told the FBI that Mifsud had recently reached out and would be in DC in February, and also offered to go meet with him in the UK.

Papadopoulos was asked about Millian; his responses appear defensive, affirmatively raising both whether Millian knew about the emails and his role in the dossier.

The agent then told Papadopoulos he may have been recruited and asked if there was anyone else who might be doing so.

The agent then asked Papadopoulos if he still wanted the FBI to analyze his phone for malware; Papadopoulos said he had replaced it, but would still like to have the FBI analyze his old phone (nothing in the record suggests that happened, and the statement of the offense reveals he got a new phone on February 23, so it’s possible he just decided he didn’t want to hand over the phone and afterwards got a new one).

Papadopoulos said he wanted to speak to an attorney before committing to help the FBI, said he did not yet have one, but would be getting one the following day.

Note: From this interview, I can understand why Republicans think Papadopoulos got a bad deal, because he clearly kept saying he wanted to cooperate.

February 2, 2017

As he said he would do, the agent tried to call Papadopoulos the next day, only to find his voicemail box was full. Instead, he texted Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos said he had discussed the matter with a lawyer and had been advised not to engage any longer.

I truly feel proud that was able to do my part to assist with everything I know but as you saw yesterday there was nothing else to add and we had a nice coffee but nothing of substance.

[snip]

You guys are professionals and am sure you can deal with that person if he truly is a threat. Can’t help anymore than I have. If there is something directly related to me then that’s another matter.

The agent said he had one more thing to clear up, asked to talk to Papadopoulos, they agreed to meet at 6:30 PM, then Papadopoulos called back and said he had spoken with an attorney who told him not to go, but offered to meet Monday in the Chicago Field Office.

In spite of repeated questioning, Papadopoulos did not offer up the name of the attorney he had consulted (nor did they meet the following Monday, which would have been February 6). That’s significant, because in his Congressional testimony, Papadopoulos revealed that he had called Marc Kasowitz — at a time when he was representing Trump — and asked him if he wanted to represent him (meaning, this happened before he had an attorney).

Q And you didn’t talk to anyone from the Trump organization about that interview with the FBI?

A I don’t think I did, no. Q So you were interviewed again by the FBI — A I can’t remember if I reached out to Marc Kasowitz about either that or my subpoena from the Senate. And I emailed him and I said, Look, would you be interested in representing me? I think that’s what happened. But I don’t — I can’t remember exactly why I emailed him, but I think I emailed Marc Kasowitz’ firm sometimes after the interview, but I don’t remember if he ever responded or anything like that.

[snip]

Q Right, right, right. So when you sent this email, would it have been after the first FBI interview, but before the second one, or –

A I think it would be after I was done with my initial contacts with the FBI.

It’s certainly possible that Papadopoulos just consulted a friend who was an attorney (who wisely told him to stop meeting with the FBI without representation). But it is possible that the President’s then-defense attorney told him to stop meeting with the FBI.

February 10, 2017

The date of interview recorded on the second 302 is February 10, 2017. But both Papadopoulos’ arrest affidavit and his statement of offense say the interview happened on February 16. That’s actually a fairly significant discrepancy because, per the Mueller Report, the FBI interviewed Mifsud on February 10, and one argument they made to substantiate that his lies were material were that those lies prevented them from pinning down Mifsud on his lies. It appears the February 10 date is correct, but that FBI treated a call (also with his counsel) on February 16, as the interview in question.

In any case, this is Papadopoulos’ first interview represented by counsel. The government has said that Papadopoulos repeated the same lies he told on January 27, and it’s clear he did. He said Mifsud wanted to impress him because he “had recently come off his advisory position for the BEN CARSON campaign.” Papadopoulos misrepresented how he got hired by Sam Clovis, suggesting there was a time between when they spoke and his hiring, when it happened on the same call; in the interview Papadopoulos said happened in person in London, though it happened by phone. Papadopoulos describes the emails coming up during a discussion about Hillary’s campaign, not Trump’s. He left out that Mifsud said the Russians planned to anonymous leak the emails. Papadopoulos twice falsely said he hadn’t told any foreign government officials that Russia planned to disclose information (in addition to Australia, he told a Greek official).

This 302 seems to reflect the FBI agents cueing Papadopoulos to tell them about telling someone at a nightclub about emails, which he said he had not; it makes me wonder if he said that to Source 3 in one of their interviews after the election (which, if so, would make the IG Report’s silence on the topic really suspect), or whether — as many people suspect — he said that to Erica Thompson at a dinner party, then repeated it again to her and Downer when they had drinks.

February 16, 2017

On February 16, the Assistant General Counsel for FBI’s Cyber Law Branch called and set up a phone interview to try to clarify the timing of the conversation with Mifsud, explaining that resolving some inconsistencies in his story was time sensitive. The 302 is heavily redacted, but it’s clear that Papadopoulos refused to be pinned down on timing — it even seems like FBI had figured out that it had occurred at his breakfast meeting with Mifsud, but Papadopoulos couldn’t recall whether it had happened then.

Papadopoulos then dug in on a story that tried to claim these emails couldn’t be the ones stolen from the DNC, first reiterating that “he did not believe MIFSUD’s claims that the Russians had HILLARY CLINTON’s e-mails” (a claim utterly inconsistent with having told others about it), and then suggesting that the emails might be Hillary’s deleted emails.  This passage — and its heavy redaction — is particularly interesting, because it appears to be the first time Papadopoulos told this story, and it’s the story he has since settled on, but it appears that he only told it after the FBI asked him about the comments three times.

This interview appears to be the first time the FBI asked Papadopoulos not to speak to the media, which he agreed to do.

July 27, 2017

The next interview report documents his arrest at Dulles on July 27, 2017. While this was not an interview — indeed, arresting agents had to tell Papadopoulos several times to shut up because he didn’t have his attorney present — Papadopoulos did offer up some lame excuses that seem to indicate he knew he hadn’t told the full truth:

[H]e was only able to provide the information that he remembered, PAPADOPOULOS then stated that if he had forgotten something, that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s lying.

[snip]

[Papadopoulos] then added that he was only twenty-eight years old when he was thrust into the national spotlight with all this.

[snip]

PAPADOPOULOS stated that he didn’t understand why he was in the current situation that he was, when both FLYNN and MANAFORT are not.

[snip]

At one point while PAPADOPOULOS was waiting in the booking room he expressed concern with the fact that he was just a small fish and yet he was going to look like the fall guy for this investigation.

Papadopoulos appears to have asked to call a second attorney, in addition to his own, who by the length of last name could be Jay Sekulow, which would be consistent with him having reached out to Kasowitz earlier in this process.

Papadopoulos also repeatedly said he had told the whole story in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is interesting given that this would have taken place when Jared Kushner and Michael Cohen were writing statements for Committee testimony as a way to script and coordinate stories. That would make it all the more interesting if Papadopoulos did mention Sekulow, because Sekulow was the one coordinating all these statements.

After he turned into a MAGA star, Papadopoulos would suggest the FBI bullied him during his arrest. According to the 302, he thanked them for their kindness.

At approximately 10:40 PM PAPADOPOULOS was provided with coffee and water and PAPADOPOULOS thanked the agents for treating him very well.

July 28, 2017

The day after he was arrested, Papadopoulos needed help getting home because he had had his passports confiscated and had not replaced his driver’s license after he had recently lost his wallet, so the agents drove him to the airport and made sure he could get on a plane.

Agents then provided PAPADOPOULOS with his attorney’s telephone number and a granola bar for his travel back to Chicago.

August 10, 2017

In his first interview after being charged, Papadopoulos told a very clear story of the chronology of working for Carson, then interviewing with Clovis and being hired that same call, then traveling to Rome where he met Mifsud, all details he had claimed to not remember previously. He explained how Olga offered to connect him with people in Russia. He described both Trump and Jeff Sessions responding to his offer to try to set up a meeting with Putin enthusiastically. He described Mifsud introducing him to Ivan Timofeev, something he had not disclosed previously (but which would have been apparent once FBI accessed his Facebook account). Papadopoulos still claimed, at this point, not to have told anyone about the Russians having dirt on Hillary.

August 11, 2017

Though heavily redacted, this 302 appears to parallel the August 10 one, getting the timeline of meeting Mifsud correct, describing Trump and Sessions’ enthusiasm for a Putin meeting,

It describes Papadopoulos remembering, then backing off a memory of discussing the emails with Clovis.

PAPADOPOULOS stated to the best of his recollection he remembered CLOVIS being upset after PAPADOPOULOS said, “Sam, I think they have her emails.” PAPADOPOULOS then reiterated he was not certain if that event actually happened or if he was wrongfully remembering an event which did not occur.

September 19, 2017

This interview, his most substantive, is almost entirely redacted. From what’s unredacted, it’s clear Papadopoulos was withholding information until shown the evidence of something via communication records. For example, he admitted to an April 12 meeting that did not appear elsewhere. He was prodded to describe a Skype conversation with Timofeev. Papadopoulos needed to be “specifically asked,” before he admitted he told the Greek Foreign Minister about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton, too.

This interview included questions about the Transatlantic Group that he attended with Walid Phares and Sam Clovis, during which Papadopoulos discussed a September 2016 meeting with Putin’s office in London. Papadopoulos refused to walk the FBI through his notes on this planned meeting.

PAPADOPOULOS then stated he could not read his own handwriting and, therefore he could not assist the interviewers with further identifying what his notes referenced.

September 20, 2017

Papadopoulos had one more interview during the pre-plea period, which was memorialized in a 4-page 302. But that was not included in yesterday’s dump. That interview covered:

  • How the campaign supported his efforts to set up a meeting with Putin.
  • Details about how he used his journal.
  • What he told others on the campaign about the Hillary dirt, possibly including the Sam Clovis reference.
  • What an email Sergei Millian sent him on August 23, 2016, offering a disruptive technology that might help his political work, meant.

October 5, 31, 2017

Papadopolous pled guilty on October 5, 2017. A 302 describes how Papadopoulos got the card of the FBI agent to talk to him about a problem he had had with his email account. The next day Papadopoulos explained what the problem was, and the agent told him to change his password and make sure forwarding was not on.

On October 28, the agent asked Papadopoulos whether the media or anyone from the Trump campaign had tried to contact him. Papadopoulos said neither had, and agreed to let the FBI know if that happened. After news of his plea broke on October 31, the FBI agent contacted Papadopoulos again, to find out whether he made any contact. Papadopoulos said he didn’t think the media has his phone number.

November 7, 2017

The agent called Papadopoulos to ask about media reports on people in the campaign that conflicted with his own testimony. Papadopoulos explained he had seenreports that Sessions had shut down his efforts to arrange a Trump Putin meeting. Papadopoulos said he “would stick to his original story,” (which is what he did earlier than year on telling anyone about emails). Papadopoulos said he wouldn’t have continued his efforts if Sessions hadn’t approved.

Papadopoulos disputed Bannon’s claims never to have met with Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos “remembered specifically coordinating with BANNON when he was arranging the meeting between TRUMP and the Egyptian president.” (Bannon would distance himself from Papadopoulos in his second interview with the FBI, saying that Mike Flynn handled all this.)

Papadopoulos responded to reading the first five pages of Carter Page’s HPSCI transcript by describing a call, possibly in late March, where Page told Papadopoulos to “stop showing off,” possibly because Papadopoulos was trying to broker a Russia meeting.

December 2017

Per the sentencing memorandum, the government reached out to set up a meeting in late December, but after learning that Papadopoulos had cooperated in a NYT interview, canceled the interview.

the government arranged to meet again with the defendant to ask further questions in late December 2017. However, upon learning that the defendant had participated in a media interview with a national publication concerning his case, the government canceled that meeting.

There may or may not be a 302 pertaining to this.

Useful But Not Sufficient: FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

As one of her last acts as presiding FISA judge, Rosemary Collyer ordered the government to explain how it will ensure the statement of facts in future FISA applications don’t have the same kind of errors laid out in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page.

THEREFORE, the Court ORDERS that the government shall, no later than January 10, 2020, inform the Court in a sworn written submission of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application. In the event that the FBI at the time of that submission is not yet able to perform any of the planned steps described in the submission, it shall also include (a) a proposed timetable for implementing such measures and (b) an explanation of why, in the government’s view, the information in FBI applications submitted in the interim should be regarded as reliable.

DOJ and FBI submitted their response on Friday. (This post lays out new revelations about the FISA process in it.) While I think there are useful fixes, most laid out in FBI Director Chris Wray’s response to the IG Report itself, the fixes are insufficient to fix FISA.

The filing largely focuses on the institution and evolution of the current accuracy review process. It promises to review the memorandum guiding that process (though doesn’t set a deadline for doing so), and adds some forms and training to try to ensure that FBI Agents provide DOJ all the information that the lawyers should include in an application to FISA. One of those forms — pertaining to human sources — seems important though might lead to counterintelligence problems in the future. Another, requiring agents to provide all exculpatory information, may improve the process. But fundamentally, DOJ and FBI assume that the process they currently use just needs to be improved to make sure it works the way they intend it to.

They’re probably insufficient to fix the underlying problems in the Carter Page FISA application.

The FISA Fix Filing is based on faulty assumptions

I say that, first of all, because the FISA Fix Filing adopts certain assumptions from the DOJ IG Report that may not be valid. The FISA Fix Filing assumes that:

  • FBI was responsible for all the errors on the Carter Page application
  • The right people at FBI had the information they needed
  • The Carter Page application was an aberration

The IG Report ignored where DOJ’s National Security Division contributed to errors

As I note in this post, possibly because of institutional scope (DOJ IG cannot investigate DOJ’s prosecutors), possibly because of its own confirmation bias, the IG Report held the FBI responsible for all the information that was known to investigators, but not included in the Carter Page FISA applications. Yet the report showed that at least two of the things it says should have been included in the Page applications — Page’s own denials of a tie with Paul Manafort, and Steele’s own derogatory comments about Sergei Millian — were shared with DOJ’s Office of Intelligence, which writes the applications. Indeed, Rosemary Collyer even noted the latter example in her letter. It also shows DOJ’s National Security Division had confirmed a fact — that Carter Page had no role in the platform change at the RNC — before FBI had.

Because the FISA Fix Filing assumes FBI is responsible for everything mistakenly excluded from the applications, the proposed fixes shift even more responsibility to FBI, requiring agents, with FBI lawyers, to identify the information that should be in an application. But if — as the IG Report shows — sometimes FBI provides the relevant information but it’s not included by the lawyers, then ensuring they provide all the relevant information won’t be sufficient to fix the problem.

The focus on FBI to the detriment of NSD has one other effect. NSD includes few changes to their behaviors in the FISA Fix Filing (largely limited to training and inadequate accuracy reviews). And where they do consider changes, they do not — as ordered by the court — set deadlines for themselves.

The IG Report barely noted the import of the failure to share information in timely fashion

The IG Report deviates radically from almost twenty years of after-action reports that have consistently advocated for more sharing of national security information. It recommends that Bruce Ohr be disciplined for doing just that. Perhaps to sustain that bizarre conclusion, the IG Report focuses almost no attention on an issue that is critical to fixing the problems in the Carter Page applications: ensuring that the people submitting a FISA application have all the information available to the US government. The IG Report showed a 2 month delay before the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained the Steele reports, a month delay in getting feedback from State Department official Kathleen Kavalec, and delays in obtaining the full extent of Bruce Ohr’s knowledge on the dossier, all of which contributed to the delayed vetting of the dossier. But the IG Report doesn’t explore why this happened. And the FBI FISA Fix only addresses it by reminding agents to consult with other agencies.

In another of the 17 problems with the FISA applications, the people submitting the applications apparently did not learn that Christopher Steele had admitted meeting with Yahoo in court filings.

According to the Rule 13 Letter and FBI officials, although there had been open source reporting in May 2017 about Steele’s statements in the foreign litigation, the FBI did not obtain Steele’s court filings until the receipt of Senators Grassley and Graham’s January 2018 letter to DAG Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray with the filings enclosed. We found no evidence that the FBI made any attempts in May or June 2017 to obtain the filings to assist a determination of whether to change the FBI’s assessment concerning the September 23 news article in the final renewal application.

In other instance (as noted above), while NSD had affirmative knowledge that Carter Page had not been involved in the change to the RNC platform, FBI had a different view, yet this issue was not resolved to fully discount the claim in FISA applications. The IG Report also faults FBI managers (but never NSD ones) for not aggressively questioning subordinates to get a full sense of problems with the applications. All of these are information sharing problems, not errors of transparency. Making the case agent fill out forms about what he or she knows will have only limited effect on ensuring that those agents obtain all the information they need, because if they don’t know it, they won’t know to look for it.

With the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, that problem was exacerbated by the close hold of the investigation (most notably by running the investigation out of Main Justice) and, probably, by the urgency of investigating an ongoing attack while it’s happening, which likely led personnel to focus more on collecting information about the attack than exculpatory information.

The FISA Fix Filing includes a vaguely worded document describing technological improvements — including a workflow document that sounds like bureaucratic annoyance as described — that suggest FBI is considering moving some of this to the cloud.

Corrective Action #11 requires the identification and pursuit of short- and long-term technological improvements, in partnership with DOJ, that aid in consistency and accountability. I have already directed executives in the FBI’s Information Technology Branch leadership to work with our National Security Branch leadership and other relevant stakeholders to identify technological improvements that will advance these goals. To provide one example of a contemplated improvement, the FBI is considering the conversion of the revised FISA Request Form into a workflow document that would require completion of every question before it could be sent to OI. The FBI proposes to update the Court on its progress with respect to this Corrective Action in a filing made by March 27, 2020.

It’s still not clear this would fix the problem (it’s still not clear how Bruce Ohr would have shared the information he had in such a way that he wouldn’t now be threatened with firing for doing so, for example). And for a close hold investigation like this, such a cloud might not work. But it would be an improvement (if FBI could keep it secure, which is a big if).

The FISA Fix Filing does have suggests to improve information sharing. But because the scope of the problem, as defined in the IG Report, doesn’t account for information that simply doesn’t get to the people submitting the application, it’s not clear it will fix that problem.

No one knows whether the Page applications are an aberration or not

Finally, no one yet knows whether the Carter Page application was an aberration, and thus far, no one at DOJ has committed to finding out. DOJ IG has committed to doing an audit of the Woods Procedure process that failed in the Carter Page case (and the FISA Fix Filing committed to respond to any findings from that).

The Government further notes that the OIG is conducting an audit of FBI’s process for the verification of facts included in FISA applications that FBI submits to the Court, including an evaluation of whether the FBI is in compliance with its Woods Procedures requirements. The Department will work with the OIG to address any issues identified in this audit.

Yet everyone involved admits that the most serious problems with the Page applications consisted of information excluded from the application, not inaccurate information in it.

Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were … [when] relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney.

Doing an audit of the Woods Procedures, then, does not test the conclusion that Page’s applications are an aberration, and therefore does not test whether more substantive fixes are necessary.

DOJ IG has considered doing more — and PCLOB suggested last year they might get involved (though technically, their counterterrorism scope wouldn’t even permit them to look at counterintelligence cases like Page’s) — but thus far there’s no plan in this filing to figure out of this is a broader problem.

The existing oversight for FISA may be inadequate

There are several reasons to believe that the existing oversight regime for FISA may be inadequate.

As noted, the existing IG plan to audit the Woods Procedure is insufficient to identify whether the existing FISA Fix Filing is sufficient to fix the problem. Also as noted above, the jurisdiction of DOJ’s IG, because it cannot review the actions of prosecutors, might not (and in this case, pretty demonstrably did not) adequately review all parts of the process, because it could not subject NSD attorneys to the same scrutiny it did FBI.

Then there are shortcomings to NSD’s oversight regime — shortcomings that Judge James Boasberg — the new presiding FISA Judge and so the just now in charge of overseeing these fixes — already highlighted in an opinion on problems with Section 702 queries.

As the FISA Fix Filing describes, OI (the same office that the IG Report let off when it received information but did not include it in applications) does a certain number of oversight reviews each year. But they don’t do reviews in every FBI field office (to which FBI devolved the FISA application process some years ago), and they don’t do accuracy reviews at every office where they do an oversight review.

OI’s Oversight Section conducts oversight reviews at approximately 25-30 FBI field offices annually. During those reviews, OI assesses compliance with Court-approved minimization and querying procedures, as well as the Court orders. Pursuant to the 2009 Memorandum, OI also conducts accuracy reviews of a subset of cases as part of these oversight reviews to ensure compliance with the Woods Procedures and to ensure the accuracy of the facts in the applicable FISA application. 5 OI may conduct more than one accuracy review at a particular field office, depending on the number ofFISA applications submitted by the office and factors such as whether there are identified cases where errors have previously been reported or where there is potential for use of FISA information in a criminal prosecution. OI has also, as a matter of general practice,_ conducted accuracy reviews of FISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use of FISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person. See 50U.S.C. §§ 1806(c), 1825(d).

During these reviews, OI attorneys verify that every factual statement in the categories of review described in footnote 5 is supported by a copy of the most authoritative document that exists or, in enumerated exceptions, by an appropriate alternate document. With regard specifically to human source reporting included in an application, the 2009 Memorandum requires that the accuracy sub-file include the reporting that is referenced in the application and further requires that the FBI must provide the reviewing attorney with redacted documentation from the confidential human source sub-file substantiating all factual assertions regarding the source’s reliability and background.

As Boasberg noted in his 702 opinion last year, this partial review may result in problems going unaddressed for years.

Personnel from the Office of Intelligence (OI) within the Department of Justice’s National Security Division (NSD) visit about half of the FBI’s field offices for oversight purposes in a given year. Id at 35 & n 42. Moreover OI understandably devotes more resources to offices that use FISA authorities more frequently, so those offices [redacted] are visited annually, id at 35 n. 42, which necessitates that some other offices go for periods of two years or more between oversight visits. The intervals of time between oversight visits at a given location may contribute to lengthy delays in detecting querying violations and reporting them to the FISC. See, e.g., Jan. 18, 2019, Notice [redacted] had been conducting improper queries in a training context since 2011, but the practice was not discovered until 2017).

Furthermore, OI’s review of a subset of a subset of applications targeting Americans only reviews for things included in the application, not things excluded from it.

OI’s accuracy reviews cover four areas: (1) facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power; (2) the fact and manner of FBI’s verification that the target uses or is about to use each targeted facility and that property subject to search is or is about to be owned, used, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target; (3) the basis for the asserted U.S. person status of the target(s) and the means of verification; and (4) the factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case.

DOJ admits that this is a problem, and considers doing a check for the kind of information excluded from Carter Page’s applications, but doesn’t commit to doing so and (again, unlike FBI) doesn’t give itself a deadline to do so.

Admittedly, these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application. That is, if additional, relevant information is not contained in the accuracy sub-file and has not been conveyed to the OI attorney, these accuracy reviews would not uncover the problem. Many of the most serious issues identified by the OIG Report were of this nature. Accordingly, OI is considering how to expand at least a subset of its existing accuracy reviews at FBI field offices to check for the completeness of the factual information contained in the application being reviewed. NSD will provide a further update to the Court on any such expansion of the existing accuracy reviews.

Improving these oversight reviews will have a salutary effect on all FISA authorities, not just individualized orders. Since Boasberg has already identified the inadequacies of the current reviews, I would hope he’d ask for at least an improved oversight regime.

Treating alleged subpoenas like they’re not subpoenas

There’s a change promised that I’m unsure about: Chris Wray’s voluntary decision to subject Section 215 and pen register orders to heightened accuracy reviews.

Currently, the accuracy of facts contained in applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1841 , et seq. , or applications for business records pursuant to 50 U.S. C. § 1861 , et seq. , must, prior to submission to the Court, be reviewed for accuracy by the case agent and must be verified as true and correct under penalty ofpeijury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746 by the Supervisory Special Agent or other designated federal official submitting the application. Historically, the Woods Procedures described herein have not been formally applied by the FBI to applications for pen register and trap and trace surveillance or business records. As discussed in the FBI Declaration, FBI will begin to formally apply accuracy procedures to such applications and proposes to update the Court on this action by March 27, 2020.

FBI has, for years, told the public these are mere grand jury subpoena equivalents, and so the privacy impact is not that great. That Wray thinks these need accuracy reviews suggests they’re more intrusive than that, in which case by all means FBI should add these reviews.

But as I suggested in this post, some of the problems with the Carter Page applications might have been avoided had the Crossfire Hurricane team obtained call records from both Page and George Papadopoulos early in the process, which would not only have confirmed Page’s accurate claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails (undermining a key claim from the dossier), but it would have revealed Papadopoulos’ interactions with suspect Russian asset Joseph Mifsud, thereby pinpointing where the investigative focus should have been (and making it a lot harder for Papadopoulos to obstruct the investigation in the way he did). The IG Report doesn’t ask why this didn’t happen, but it seems an important question because if the FBI chose not to use ostensibly less intrusive legal process because existing Section 215 applications are not worth the trouble, then making the purportedly less-intrusive applications even more onerous will only lead to a rush to use full FISA, as appears to have happened here.

Further breaking the affiant-officer of the court relationship

One of the more insightful observations from the IG Report described how OI attorneys and FBI agents applying for FISA orders don’t work as closely as prosecutors and agents on a normal case.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that OI rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

The proposed FISA fixes seem to derive from this OI viewpoint, that because OI don’t work closely with agents they need to replace cooperation that is often inadequate on normal criminal investigations with a process that has even less cooperation for applications that are supposed to have a higher degree of candor.

The FISA Fix Filing seems to envision FBI lawyers picking up this slack, but especially since DOJ devolved the application process to Field Agents some years ago, it’s not clear, at all, why this would result in better lawyering.

Formalizing the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal review;

[snip]

Corrective Action #7 requires the formalization of the role of FBI attorneys in the legal review process for FISA applications, to include identification of the point at which SES-level FBI OGC personnel will be involved, which positions may serve as the supervisory legal reviewer, and establishing the documentation required for the legal reviewer. Through this Corrective Action, the FBI seeks to encourage legal engagement throughout the FISA process, while still ensuring that case agents and field supervisors maintain ownership of their contributions.

As it is, the FISA process requires a more senior agent to be the affiant on an application, which in at least one of the Page applications, resulted in someone who had less knowledge of the case making the attestation under penalty of perjury.

It may be that these changes go in the opposite direction from where FISA should go, which would be closer to the criminal warrant model where a judge will have an FBI affiant who anticipates taking the stand at a trial (and therefore needs to retain his or her integrity to avoid damaging the case), and an office of the court signing off on applications (whom judges can sanction directly). That is, by introducing more layers and absolving OI from some of the direct responsibility for the process, these proposed changes may make FISA worse, not better.

Remarkably, the court might consider something far more effective.

On Friday, Boasberg appointed David Kris as amicus for this consideration. Kris literally wrote the book on all this, in addition to writing the 2001 OLC memo that eliminated the wall between the intelligence collected under FISA and the prosecutions that arise out of them. In a recent podcast, he mused that the way to fix all this may be to give defendants review of their applications, something always envisioned by Congress, but something no defendant has done. That — along with a more robust oversight process — seems like it has a better chance of changing the way the FBI and DOJ approach FISA applications than adding a bunch more checklists for the process.

The frothy right is in a lather over Kris’ appointment, which is a testament to how little these people (up to and especially Devin Nunes) understand FISA. But he has the institutional clout to be able to recommend real fixes to FISA, rather than a bunch of paperwork to try to make the Woods Procedure to work the way it’s supposed to.

DOJ could, voluntarily, provide review to more defendants. Alternately, Congress could mandate it in whatever bill reauthorizes Section 215 this year. Or Kris could suggest that’s the kind of thing that should happen.

Update: David Kris submitted his recommendations to Boasberg. Like me, he finds Wray’s plan useful but not sufficient. Like me he notes that the agents doing the investigation should be the ones signing off on affidavits (and he suggests the FISC review more applications until new procedures are in place). Kris also focuses on cultural changes that need to happen.

One thing he doesn’t do is review DOJ’s role (though he does argue that part of this stems from conflict between DOJ and FBI).

He also notes that DOJ has not imposed deadlines for itself.

The Revelations about FISA Bureaucracy in FBI’s FISA Fix Filing

The government submitted the filing ordered by now (thankfully) former FISA presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer on Friday, explaining how it’ll avoid the problems identified in the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. As I’ll show in a follow-up, I believe the changes — with one possible exception — are worthwhile, if inadequate to the task.

In this post, however, I’d like to lay out what the filing reveals about two aspects of the FISA process that I did not know before.

Other agencies and state and local law enforcement can use FISA: While minimization procedures have revealed that FBI can share FISA information with other agencies, including state and local authorities, this filing reveals those other agencies can serve as the affiant for FISA applications.

Agents from other federal law enforcement agencies or state or local law enforcement officers serving on a Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI may, in some cases, act as the declarants for applications submitted by the FBI after reviewing receiving the necessary training. In the case of state or local law enforcement officers, such officers are deputized as Special Deputy United States Marshals for this purpose. (4)

I’ve never heard of this before and there are a whole lot of questions this raises, both about whether non-DOJ agencies are submitting FISA applications (CIA would be unsurprising, but ICE would be alarming and under this administration, not at all crazy), but also about the accountability for people who aren’t Federal employees. How many “Special Deputy United States Marshals” does SDNY have, for example, and was FISA used during the worst excesses of its intelligence program?

The timeline of updates to the Woods Procedures: The filing explains (I’m sure some of this is public, but it’s laid out here as well) that the Woods Procedures have been updated:

  • On February 2, 2006, FBI reminded its agents they need to,”create, maintain, and update a sub-file that contains all materials that document the support for each factual assertion contained in FISA applications.” Given the timing, this change may have been part of the effort to clean up Stellar Wind, which had been used to substantiate FISA applications without notice for the previous five years.
  • On March 24, 2006, DOJ’s OIPR advised the court about the sub-file requirement, though focused especially on ensuring that, “the federal official currently handling the source (or the federal official who is responsible for liaison to another entity who is handling the source) [confirms] that the source remains reliable, and that all material information regarding the reliability of the source is reported accurately in the FISA application.” This would have been the period when the FBI was cleaning up after Katrina Leung, one of the worst double agents in recent history, so may have pertained to her reporting.
  • In February 2009, NSD and FBI together required the FBI to remove any asserted fact for which there is no documentation, and do so retroactively. It also implemented quarterly accuracy reviews that have since been made semi-annual. The Section 215 disclosures in this same time period suggest Bush got sloppy in its last years, so this may have reflected a need to clean that up, too.
  • August 2016. There was an update to the Woods Procedure and 2009 Memorandum in 2016, but the filing doesn’t describe it (or why).

How OI’s accuracy reviews work:

As DOJ has revealed in the past, OI’s Oversight Section does FISA oversight reviews at 25-30  (of the 56) Field offices a year. They review the compliance with minimization and querying procedures, the latter of which only recently got imposed.

In addition, they do an accuracy review of a subset of FISA applications that reviews:

  • The facts establishing probable cause to believe that the target is a foreign power or agent thereof
  • The verification process that the targeted facilities are used by, owned by, possessed by, or in transit to or from the target
  • The basis for the US person status of the target
  • The factual accuracy of the related criminal matters section, such as types of criminal investigative techniques used (e.g., subpoenas) and dates of pertinent actions in the criminal case

As the filing makes clear, “these accuracy reviews do not check for the completeness of the facts included in the application,” which is the real source of the problems identified in the Page application. Right now, OI is “considering” expanding a subset of reviews to check for completeness, but is not committing to doing so.

Two things are of interest here. The definition of FISA “facilities,” has long been of interest, not least because the government likes to pretend it consists mostly of phone numbers and email addresses. Indeed, 2007, FISC approved a broad definition of “facility” that can be used to target suspects of a terrorist group (and, presumably now, other clandestine networks), in large numbers. The language in this bullet all comes from statute, but the use of “about to be used,” would support the kind of monitoring of a new computer or phone we’ve heard of. This language also might support the monitoring of Amazon and bank accounts. The validation of facilities (both to be sure Page was still using them and to sustain FISA coverage to be able to get to new ones) was something important to the renewal process of Page’s FISAs.

The language on criminal matters reveals how the FBI deals with parallel investigations, such as the one that happened with Keith Gartenlaub (where they government used both criminal subpoenas and FISA searches, which ultimately led to a child porn prosecution unrelated to any FISA suspicion). I knew this section existed, but thought it did so just to comply with a statutory requirement, when targeting US persons, that their clandestine activities may involve violating criminal statute. But this language makes it clear that this part of the FISA application also serves to provide notice of such parallel proceedings. Given that the FBI has to declare that they can’t obtain information under FISA via other means, this raises more questions about the degree to which FISA can serve as an additive authority for certain kinds of investigations that will let the FBI use techniques they wouldn’t use otherwise.

The section on OI reviews also reveals that they review FISA applications before information from an application is used in a proceeding against someone picked up in it.

OI has also, as a matter of general practice, conducted accuracy reviews ofFISA applications for which the FBI has requested affirmative use ofFISA-obtained or -derived information in a proceeding against an aggrieved person.

It’s hard to tell whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. That’s because it doesn’t necessarily help the defendant. After all, if the OI review discovers problems with FISA applications, then DOJ would be more likely to parallel construct the prosecution, thereby burying a problematic part of the investigation. And a review at the period when FBI is already considering using it in a proceeding is too late in the process to protect the civil liberties of the person who is aggrieved if there was a problem with the application.

The section describing these reviews also reveals that, “in enumerated exceptions,” the FBI doesn’t have to rely on “the most authoritative document that exists” in the Woods Procedure. A footnote makes clear that one of the areas where the application itself may not include everything in the underlying documentation is human sources, which permits the lawyer submitting the application to ask a human source coordinator to verify the application matches the underlying documentation. Remember that the language about Christopher Steele used in the Carter Page application didn’t come from his handling agent’s assessment, but it came from a serialized intelligence report based off his reporting. That’s not what this describes, but may be one of the reasons the FBI took that shortcut.

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

As I noted, I spent much of the last month wading through the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page. Back when the IG Report came out, a bunch of people — largely Devin Nunes flunkies — declared, incorrectly and apparently without close review, that the IG Report shows that Devin Nunes was right and Adam Schiff was wrong in their memos from 2018.

The reality is that both were talking past each other, with Nunes trying to make the Steele dossier stand in for and discredit the entire investigation, and Schiff trying to point out that the Steele dossier did not predicate the entire Russia investigation. Nunes made dishonest claims about the Ohrs and Comey’s briefing of the Steele dossier to Trump. Schiff wrongly defended the FBI’s treatment of the September 23, 2016 Michael Isikoff story and overstated the known reliability of the dossier at the time of the memo, to which additional details were added by the IG Report.

Schiff overstates both the predicted and actual efficacy of the FISA collection, which is something it’d be nice to see both parties return to. Though it has long been evident that the FBI and the IC generally often continues surveillance (and surveillance programs) past their point of usefulness, the Intelligence Committees do a piss poor job of challenging such collection.

Before I compare the two, though, consider that both memos came before almost a year of parallel investigations (one conducted by House Republicans, another conducted by the DOJ IG) into the process. Even Nunes was not aware when he wrote his memo of some of the problems identified in the IG Report. I say that with great confidence, not least because I spoke with a Republican who had read the FISA application closely months after the Nunes memo was written who told me there was so much else in Carter Page’s FISA application that approval of the application was not a close call even with concerns about the dossier; the person changed his opinion after that time. In other words, when both parties released a memo about the Carter Page application in early 2018, neither side knew of some of the problems revealed in the IG Report. That’s actually evident from the things Nunes does not complain about in his memo (though he may remain silent about Page’s past relationship with CIA for classification reasons), and it means some of Schiff’s assurances about the dossier have been proven inaccurate since.

This post will conduct a paragraph-by-paragraph assessment of the letters that uses the IG Report, with one key exception, as arbiter of accuracy. The exception is DOJ IG’s conclusions on (but not facts presented about) Bruce Ohr, as that is one area where DOJ IG can be shown to misrepresent the record.

Nunes Memo

¶1-4: The introductory paragraphs of the Nunes memo lays out when FBI obtained FISA orders on Page and who approved them. These details are true, though uncontroversial. From there, Nunes adopts an outline of allegations that are either less sound or inaccurate:

¶5 (marked as 1):

“The dossier was essential:”

The IG Report said the FBI lawyer said ” the Steele reporting in September ‘pushed it over’ the line in terms of establishing probable cause,” and generally the IG Report shows that FBI would not have initiated the FISA process without the dossier, though by the time the application was approved FBI had collected more damning information on Page.

The IG Report describes five things substantiated probable cause against Page:

  • Russia’s effort to influence the election
  • The Papadopoulos report
  • Page’s past history with Russia, including his Gazprom dealings, his serial recruitment by Russian intelligence officers, his comments about what he had told the FBI
  • The Steele allegations
  • His enthusiasm about being offered a “blank check” to start a pro-Russian think tank on his July trip to Russia

“Steele was a longtime FBI source:” Steele had been known to Bruce Ohr and Andrew McCabe via mutual interest in combatting organized crime since the 2000s. Ohr first introduced Steele to an FBI handler in 2010. He was formally opened as a CHS in 2013, though the two sides disagreed about the terms of that relationship.

Steele was paid over $160K, to obtain derogatory research: True, but not part of the IG Report. The Nunes memo doesn’t note that Steele was paid $95,000 by the FBI, none of it for dossier-related work.

¶ 6, 7 (marked as 1a and 1b): “Neither the initial applications nor the renewals disclose the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior DOJ and FBI officials:” The footnote disclosing this did not name any Democrat, but it wouldn’t have in any case. It did say that,

[Steele], who now owns a foreign business/financial intelligence firm, was approached by an identified U.S. person, who indicated to [Steele] that a U.S.-based law firm had hired the identified U.S. person to conduct research regarding Candidate #l’s ties to Russia (the identified U.S. person and [Steele] have a long-standing business relationship). The identified U.S. person hired [Steele] to conduct this research. The identified U.S. person never advised [Steele] as to the motivation behind the research into Candidate #l’s ties to Russia. 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 political origins of the dossier were suspected by senior FBI and DOJ officials before the first application. After that, they had far more specific knowledge of it, thanks largely to Bruce Ohr. The FBI did not disclose its enhanced understanding of the nature of the project in reauthorizations, though some of the people involved believed the initial footnote remained adequate.

“The FBI had separately authorized payment to Steele for the same information.” It wasn’t the same information. FBI authorized Steele to be paid if he completed taskings focused on the subjects of the investigation, but they offered that in the (false) expectation he’d offer them information exclusively. He was not, ultimately, paid for this.

¶8 (marked as 2): “The Carter Page FISA application also cited extensively a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff … This article does not corroborate the Steele dossier because it is derived from information leaked by Steele himself.

This entirely misstates the point of the Yahoo inclusion, which was to include Page’s denials.

Evans told the OIG that 01 included the reference to the September 23 Yahoo News article in the FISA application solely because it was favorable to Carter Page and not as corroboration for the Steele reporting in the application. According to Evans, the application’s treatment of the article was favorable to Page in three respects: (1) the application described statements in the article that the campaign distanced itself from Page and minimized his role as an advisor; (2) the application stated that Page denied the allegations in the news article in a letter to the Director; and (3) as described below, the application made clear that the people who financed Steele’s reporting were likely the same source for the information in the article.

While it is true that the FISA application did not attribute the quote to Steele (not even after FBI learned he had been the source from Bruce Ohr), the application did attribute it to Glenn Simpson.

Given that the information contained in the September 23rd News Article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered during his/her research, the FBI assesses that [Steele’s] business associate or the law firm that hired the business associate likely provided this information to the press.

¶9, 10 (marked as 2a and 2b): “Steele was suspended and then terminated as an FBI source for what the FBI defines as the most serious of violations–an unauthorized disclosure to the media of his relationship with the FBI. … Steele should have been terminated for his previous undisclosed contacts with Yahoo.”

This is correct, insofar as Steele was closed for cause because he disclosed that he had shared information with the FBI, which amounted to being a control problem.

Strzok told the OIG that the FBI closed Steele “because he was a control problem. We did not close him because we thought he was [a] fabricator.” According to Strzok, Steele’s decisions to discuss his reporting with the media and to disclose his relationship with the FBI were “horrible and it hurt what we were doing, and no question, he shouldn’t have done it.”

But there are more serious violations, such as breaking the law.

However, a CHS must be closed for cause “if t here is grievous action by the CHS or a discovery of previously unknown facts or circumstances that make the individual unsuitable for use as a CHS.”97 Reasons that justify closing a CHS for cause include commission of unauthorized illegal activity, unwillingness to follow instructions, unreliability, or serious control problems. 98

Also, Steele’s decision to share the information, while utterly stupid from a HUMINT standpoint, was not actually a violation of any warning the FBI had given him, since he disclosed information he had collected for someone else.

Steele’s handling agent said that Steele should have been closed for cause because of the attention he was attracting for himself, but he recognized that Steele was not leaking information he had collected for the FBI (and the IG Report didn’t find any orders that he not speak to the press, either).

Handling Agent 1 told us that he understood why Steele would believe in September 2016 that he did not have an obligation to discuss his press contacts with him given that: (1) Steele’s work resulted from a private client engagement; and (2) Handling Agent 1 told Steele on July 5 that he was not collecting his election reporting on behalf of the FBI. However, Handling Agent 1 ‘s view was that while it was obvious that Fusion GPS would want to publicize Steele’s election information, it was not apparent that Steele would be conducting press briefings and otherwise interjecting himself into the media spotlight. Handling Agent 1 told us that he would have recommended that Steele be closed in September 2016 if he had known about the attention that Steele was attracting to himself. According to Handling Agent 1, Steele should have had the foresight to recognize this fact and the professionalism to afford Handling Agent 1 an opportunity to assess the situation. However, we are unaware of any FBI admonishments that Steele violated by speaking to third parties, including the press, about work that he had done solely for his firm’s clients and where he made no mention of his relationship with the FBI.

[snip]

According to Handling Agent 1, while Steele appeared to follow the directions of Fusion GPS, he did not treat his other client – the FBI – fairly. According to Handling Agent 1, if Steele “had been straight with the FBI,” he would not have been closed as a CHS.

¶11 (marked as 3): Before and after Steele was terminated as a source, he maintained contact with DOJ via … Bruce Ohr.

This is true, but it was part of a 10 year relationship based on sharing information about organized crime, and this information included non-dossier related information on Trump (focused on Oleg Deripaska’s double game offers to offer evidence against Paul Manafort) and other Russian (including doping) and non-Russian matters.

The IG Report makes the same kinds of errors in its portrayal of Ohr as the FISA Application does about Page, effectively arguing Ohr should be disciplined for the kind of information sharing DOJ and FBI have insisted they need to encourage since 9/11.

Ohr said, “Steele said he ‘was desperate.'”

This is true, though the IG Report shows (but then misrepresents) that Ohr specifically said this was an ideological desperation, not a political one: “but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

¶12 (marked as 3a): “During this same time period, Ohr’s wife was employed by Fusion GPS to assist in the cultivation of opposition research on Trump … the Ohrs’ relationship with Steele and Fusion GPS was inexplicably concealed from the FISC.”

This is dishonest. Nellie Ohr’s last day working as a contractor for Fusion was September 24, 2016, so she was no longer employed by Fusion at the time of the first Page application or at the time when Ohr was helping FBI vet the dossier. The IG Report does not say their relationship should have been disclosed to the FISC, nor should it have been, as Nellie Ohr’s research was a separate stream from Steele’s.

¶13 (marked as 4):

“corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page application.”

This is true, but that is not unusual in the FISA context.

Evans and other witnesses told us that the fact that the source information in the FISA application had not yet been corroborated was not unusual in the FISA context

DOJ assessed the reliability of this information, for the first application, by assessing Steele’s reliability and including information on his subsources. His past as an MI6 officer gave him more credibility than other sources might have had. All the applications misstated what Steele’s handling agent had said about the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated.

“a source validation report … assessed Steele’s reporting as only minimally corroborated.”

The source validation that found Steele’s reporting to be minimally corroborated was done in March 2017, after the first two FISA applications and the Trump briefing.

“Yet in early January 2017, Director Comey briefed President-elect Trump on a summary of the Steel dossier, even though it was–according to his June 2017 testimony–‘salacious and unverified.'”

This is an utterly dishonest attack. As noted, the validation review referred to here took place two months after Comey briefed Trump on the dossier. And Comey briefed Trump on it largely because it was salacious, out of desire to warn Trump about what was out there.

“McCabe testified … that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from FISC without the Steele dossier.”

McCabe said something different to the IG when asked about this quote and this discrepancy remains unresolved.

McCabe told us that he did not recall his exact testimony, but that his view was that the FBI would have “absolutely” sought FISA authority on Carter Page, even without the Steele reporting, based upon Page’s historical interactions with known Russian intelligence officers and the fact that Page told known Russian intelligence officers about the FBI’s knowledge of those interactions. However, McCabe also told us that he was not privy to the discussions that took place between attorneys in FBI OGC and Case Agent 1 on the sufficiency of the evidence to establish probable cause before the Crossfire Hurricane team received Steele’s election reports. McCabe said he could not speculate as to whether the FBI would have been successful in obtaining FISA authority from the FISC without the inclusion of the Steele reporting.

Schiff Memo

¶1-4: Introductory matter, including an assertion that ODJ would have been remiss if they had not sought a FISA warrant. The IG Report showed that while there was no question about investigating Page’s ties to Russia, there was some question about the efficacy of the FISA application.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly.

¶5: “Steele’s raw intelligence reporting did not inform the FBI’s decision to initiate its counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016. In fact, the FBI’s closely held investigative team only received Steele’s reporting in mid-September.”

This is true. The FBI opened the investigation on July 31 based off the Australian tip, and the Crossfire Hurricane team only got the Steele dossier information on September 19.

¶6-7:

“Multi-pronged rational for surveilling Page” There were five things the first Page application used to establish probable cause, as noted above.

“no longer with the Trump campaign” True.

“narrow use of information from Steele’s sources about Page’s specific activities … did not otherwise rely on Steele’s reporting, including any ‘salacious’ allegations about Trump” This is a bit cynical, because while the FBI did not use all the reports they had gotten from Steele (including the pee tape allegation), the Page application used the specific references to Page plus more general allegations about cooperation between Russia and Trump.

Specifically, the following aspects of Steele’s Reports 80, 94, 95, and 102 were used to support the application:

  • Compromising information about Hillary Clinton had been compiled for many years, was controlled by the Kremlin, and the Kremlin had been feeding information to the Trump campaign for an extended period of time (Report 80);
  • During his July 2016 trip to Moscow, Carter Page attended a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, Chairman of Rosneft and close associate of Putin, to discuss future cooperation and the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia; and a secret meeting with Igor Divyekin, another highly placed Russian official, to discuss sharing compromising information about Clinton with the Trump campaign (Report 94);
  • Page was an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign’s then manager (Manafort) in a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation, which led, with at least Page’s knowledge and agreement, to Russia’s disclosure of hacked DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for the Trump campaign’s agreement to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue (Report 95); 267 and
  • Russia released the DNC emails to Wikileaks in an attempt to swing voters to Trump, an objective conceived and promoted by Carter Page and others (Report 102).

“interaction with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign … FBI interviewed Page in March 2016.” It is both true that Page’s actual interactions with Russian officials — including the offer of an “open checkbook” to open a pro-Russian think tank during his July 2016 trip — and his comments to the FBI in March 2016 were part of the case for probable cause.

“DOJ also disclosed” It is true DOJ disclosed Steele’s prior relationship and the details of his termination as a source — though at first they incorrectly only said he had been suspended — but they did not supplement the application with details of the Fusion project as they became known after the first application.

¶8-10: Repetition of the opening blather.

¶11-13: The investigation was started based off Australia’s tip about Papadopoulos and by the time the Crossfire Hurricane team received dossier information on September 19, they had already opened investigations against 4 Trump people, Page, Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Manafort [the other three names of which are redacted]. That’s true. Here’s what the government told FISC about the Papadopoulos tip:

In or about March 2016, George Papadopoulos [footnote omitted] and Carter Page (the target of this application) were publicly identified by Candidate #1 as part of his/her foreign policy team. Based on reporting from a friendly foreign government, which has provided reliable information in the past … the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #l’s campaign. In or about July 2016, the above-referenced friendly foreign government provided information to a senior official within the U.S. [government] regarding efforts made by the Russian Government to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Specifically, according to this information, during a meeting in or about April 2016 between officials of the friendly foreign government and George Papadopoulos … Papadopoulos suggested that Candidate #l’s campaign had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that Russia could assist with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to another candidate for U.S. President (Candidate #2). It was unclear whether Papadopoulos or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear from this reporting how Candidate #l’s campaign reacted to the alleged Russian offer. Nevertheless, as discussed below, the FBI believes that election influence efforts are being coordinated between the RIS and Page, and possibly others.

Note the Schiff memo supplements what the government told FISC and what FBI knew at the time with information from Papadopoulos’ plea deal, though by October 2016, the FBI had come to learn outlines of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Mifsud via an informant.

¶14: Details about the Page applications. As corrected these claims are true. The Schiff memo doesn’t list the judges, but they are:

  • September application: Rosemary Collyer, W appointee
  • January application: Michael Mosman, W appointee
  • April application: Anne Conway, Poppy appointee
  • June application: Raymond Dearie, Reagan appointee

Note that the Schiff memo describes both electronic surveillance and physical search; the IG Report hides the latter. The physical search authorization is important because that provided FBI authorization to obtain Page’s stored communications, including emails.

¶15: FISA was not used to spy on the campaign. True, but the use of physical surveillance would permit the FBI to obtain stored communication, and it’s not public whether the specific minimization procedures adopted by FISC limited the access to emails Page sent while on the campaign.

¶16-17: Page’s connections to Russian Government and intelligence officials. To the extent this information is public, this is largely true (though it’s probably more accurate to state that one of the Russians indicted, Victor Podobnyy, attempted to recruit Page, and he talked about it with a second). We now know, however, that an earlier attempted recruitment happened with the knowledge of CIA, and there’s no allegation that Page hid his willingness to share information with Russian intelligence officers until 2017. That raises problems for claims he was secretly working with Russian spies.

¶18: Page’s suspicious activity during the 2016 campaign. To the extent this is public, it does reflect what FBI told FISC. The memo doesn’t deal with real questions about the allegations about whom Page met with in Russia. There’s still no corroboration that Page met with anyone named Divyekin (indeed, Dmitry Peskov affirmatively chose not to set up a meeting for him with the Kremlin), but the IG Report reveals that the people who brought Page to Moscow provided RUMINT that he had met with Igor Sechin. The Mueller Report concluded Page’s activities in Moscow “were not fully explained.”

¶19: Subsequent renewals. Much of this discussion is redacted, though it’s clear it provides details of Page’s December trip to Moscow, where he met with the Deputy Prime Minister again, and probably refers to Page’s meeting with the VP of Gazprombank in Singapore.

This table shows the new claims made in each FISA application described in the IG Report.

It’s not clear that Page’s denials in the HPSCI interview are as damning as Schiff makes out, as some of them amounted to denials of claims in the dossier than have not been proven. The IG Report would go on to describe other denials from Page that were provably true, denials that did not get included in reauthorization applications.

¶20: The Court-approved surveillance of Page allowed FBI to collect valuable information. Publicly, Michael Horowitz has suggested this is not the case. But the IG Report admits that that investigation team “did not review the entirety of the FISA [intelligence collected by] targeting Carter Page. We reviewed only those [redacted] under FISA authority that were relevant to our review.”

The Report suggests that the reality is that the first two, and possibly three, warrants were useful, as they captured Page interacting with Russia in suspicious ways, but that the fourth and maybe the third application were far less useful, in part because by that point Page knew he was being surveilled and by that point he was no longer a key player in Trump’s orbit.

¶21-22: DOJ was transparent with the Court about Steele’s sourcing. The Schiff memo accurately describes the footnote used to inform the court of the political nature of Steele’s project. It doesn’t describe that FBI didn’t amend that description as more information became known, though there is disagreement over whether more was necessary.

¶23: DOJ explained the FBI’s reasonable basis for finding Steele credible. The Schiff memo accurately describes how DOJ described Steele. But it doesn’t note that the reauthorizations did not reflect questions FBI had come to raise about the credibility of the dossier, nor does it note (and it probably wasn’t known) that the applications used language from an intelligence report rather than from Steele’s handling agent to describe the degree to which his past reporting had been corroborated, and as a result overstated that.

¶24-25: FBI properly notified FISC after it terminated Steele as a source. As a minor point, in the first reauthorization, FBI said Steele had been suspended rather than closed, when he had actually been closed. More seriously, the Schiff memo badly understates how obvious it should have been that Steele had a role in Michael Isikoff’s October 21 story (though, as noted, the FBI attributed the story to Simpson in any case).

¶26: The FBI never paid Steele for the dossier. Here, the two memos are talking past each other dishonestly. The FBI did authorize Steele to be paid for any exclusive reporting on specific taskings, but what he provided was always his work for Fusion.

¶27: DOJ appropriately provided the Court with a comprehensive explanation of Russia’s election interference, including … Papadopoulos. This is largely true. The IG Report complains that FBI didn’t include Papadopolous’ really damning admissions to informants, but the FBI correctly deemed the denials he made (and Joseph Mifsud’s denials) to be inaccurate, so had they been included they would have been included to substantiate deceit.

¶28: DOJ made proper use of news coverage. The unredacted claims are all true (though don’t account for FBI’s failures to identify Isikoff’s article as coming from Steele).

¶29-30: The Majority’s reference to Bruce Ohr is misleading.

This passage states that Ohr’s meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team happened after the FISA application, which is true, but it doesn’t mention a meeting had with Andrew McCabe (not Crossfire Hurricane) days before the FISA application. The McCabe meeting included reporting from Steele (whom Ohr had spoken to the previous day) and Simpson; I argue, however, that the precipitating reason for the meeting had to do with Oleg Deripaska, which the IG Report inaccurately treats as synonymous with the Steele dossier (though it’s problematic for other reasons).

Also, the Schiff memo speaks of “debriefs” without describing the multiple meetings.

The Schiff memo correctly calls the Nunes memo on insinuating that because Ohr worked with Sally Yates and Rod Rosenstein that meant there was a conspiracy; in fact, the IG Report argues he should be disciplined because he didn’t provide them enough notice of what he was doing.

The evidence in the IG Report backs Schiff’s conclusion — that Ohr’s contacts with the Crossfire Hurricane team amounted to debriefing about Steele’s project — more than it backs its own.

¶31: Strzok and Page’s text messages are irrelevant to the FISA application. That is true. The IG Report found,

As part of this review, in order to determine whether there was any bias in the investigative activities for Crossfire Hurricane that we reviewed, we asked agents and analysts assigned to the case about the roles Strzok and Page played in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and their level of involvement in decision making. With respect to Strzok, these witnesses told us that while he approved the team’s investigative decisions during the time he was in the supervisory chain of command for the investigation, he did not unilaterally make any decisions or override any proposed investigative steps. Priestap, in addition to telling us that it was his (Priestap’s) decision to initiate the investigation, told us that to his knowledge, Strzok was not the primary or sole decision maker on any investigative step in Crossfire Hurricane. Further, as described above, in January 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were divided between two operational branches within CD, and Strzok no longer supervised the Carter Page investigation, which was transferred to Operations Branch II, CD-1, under the supervision of then DAD Boone. In this report, we describe those occasions when Strzok was involved in investigative decisions.

With respect to Lisa Page, witnesses told us that she did not work with the team on a regular basis or make any decisions that impacted the investigation.

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Before and continuing into the holiday break, I wrote a slew of posts on the DOJ IG Carter Page Report. Those are:

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

The IG Report made nine recommendations, which FBI largely accepted with implementing plans. Those recommendations focus on the paperwork side of FISA applications and the protections against purported politicization. Most of those recommendations (save, especially, the one suggesting Bruce Ohr be punished for sharing national security threat information) are worthwhile. But they are inadequate to ensuring similar problems don’t recur. Moreover, there are questions that should be asked even before we get to “fixing” FISA.

This post attempts to ask some of those questions.

What should FBI have done when faced with a credible allegation Trump’s associates had advance knowledge of a hostile attack on our elections?

This is a question I’ve asked over and over of Republicans, but I’ve never got an answer.

Three of four people who were original subjects of this investigation covered up their actions. There are outstanding questions about all four and there were ongoing investigations into at least Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn when Mueller closed up shop. And a fifth Trump associate — Roger Stone — was found guilty of hiding details of how he tried to optimize the fruits of the Russian attack, without yet revealing what it is that he was hiding. So there’s no question the investigation was merited.

So what should the FBI have done when it got the tip from Australia? The IG Report raises questions about whether FBI should provide defensive briefings in this situation, but not how to conduct an investigation at a time when our country and elections are under active threat.

In retrospect, was the decision not to use other legal process the best one?

Peter Strzok famously lost a fight to investigate more aggressively, the true meaning of his “insurance file” comment. As a result, the FBI did not use any overt methods during the election.

Significantly, that means they didn’t get call records that would have provided a ready explanation for how Papadopoulos had learned Russia wanted to dump emails (particularly in conjunction with what he told CHS 3 about Mifsud). Doing so might have confirmed Carter Page’s claim that Paul Manafort never returned his emails. And it would have identified that Konstantin Kilimnik (who could be targeted under 702) had a suspicious record of communications with Manafort.

Rather unbelievably, FBI may not have asked Apple or Google for Carter Page’s app download history, which is how they usually find out if someone is using encrypted messaging apps (they did not learn what he was using until April 2017).

Particularly given all the chatter about the subjects of investigation, and given that three of them — Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos — were “fired” from their free campaign jobs because of their ties to Russia, was that really the right decision? And given how successful FBI is at obtaining gags on legal process, was using FISA with Page really that much less invasive or was FISA used simply because his sustained ties to Russian intelligence officers meant FISA was the appropriate framework?

Why did FBI forgo a Section 215 order on Page?

Nothing in the public record suggests FBI got a Section 215 order before they obtained traditional FISA (including physical search) against Page. That’s true, even though the predication for 215 is lower (just talking to an agent of a foreign power, which Page had long been doing, is enough). This would have been a way to obtain the call records and download history that might have indicated that Papadopoulos was a more urgent target than Page, lessening the urgency to get a FISA targeting Page. If FBI in fact did not obtain that 215 order before the content order (once he was approved for the content order, the 215 order would have been presumptively approved), why not, and should they have? Past IG Reports have said the process of applying for a 215 is onerous enough that Agents often forgo it; is that what happened here?

Does the public agree with the FBI about the intrusiveness of informants?

One of the disconcerting aspects of the IG Report is its treatment of informants (Confidential Human Sources, or CHS, in the report). It spends a long time assessing whether the use of informants against Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos had the requisite oversight, ultimately concluding FBI followed the rules but the rules for politically exposed people should be more stringent.

Along the way, it revealed that the FBI:

  • Happened to have an informant on the books (Stefan Halper) with existing ties to three of the subjects of the investigation
  • Managed to convince someone Papadopoulos trusted (CHS 3) to report on him and used an accelerated process to open him or her as an informant, and tried but failed to get at least two other people to report on him
  • Had five other people in Trump’s orbit who were informants (Felix Sater might be one of these)
  • Accepted information obtained voluntarily from one of those informants
  • Had used informants to targeted the Clinton Foundation during the election period and at least some of those informants were handled by an Agent who wanted her to lose

That’s probably on top of Patrick Byrne, if indeed his claims to have been tasked against Clinton and Maria Butina in 2016 are true.

That’s a lot of informants situated to report on very powerful people.

Trump’s supporters have declared all this proof that they were “spied” on (ignoring the targeting against Hillary). Meanwhile, the FBI has pointed out that they more than complied with FBI’s rules on using informants, though there was less discussion in the IG Report about the fact that per its Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, FBI could have used these informants at lower levels of predication. Before the IG Report recommended rules about heightened review (much of which would have been satisfied in this case anyway), we might ask whether we, as the public, agree that the use of informants is really as unintrusive as FBI thinks. And does it involve tradeoffs as compared to other methods? For example, which would have been preferable, getting Papadopoulos’ call records (which would have shown his ties to Mifsud), or throwing a series of informants at him?

Is the consideration of least intrusive means adequately reviewed?

The DIOG requires that FBI agents at least consider whether the “least intrusive” means of investigation will be an appropriate investigative step. The IG Report reviews this requirement, which is meant to ensure FBI agents balance privacy considerations with the import of the investigation, but never comments on whether the review here was correct. Moreover, it seems that there’s a rule that lowers this consideration significantly when a matter is deemed to pertain to national security (as this would have been).

I’ve long wondered whether FISA process in general gets adequate review on whether it’s really the correct least intrusive means judgment.

Is the FBI Director declaration regarding other investigative techniques adequately reviewed?

FISA requires that the FBI Director or his designee certify that the information the FISA application wants to obtain, “cannot reasonably be obtained by normal investigative techniques.” The IG Report notes this, largely because that’s what Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe reviewed the Page applications for, not probable cause. But it did not discuss how this determination is made, and I would bet a lot of money that this is an area where FISA could use more review.

Particularly given the use of gags in so much criminal process and the widespread availability of fairly exotic surveillance techniques, what is the measure for this declaration?

Does FBI conduct certain investigative techniques using FISA to keep them secret?

I noted that the FBI was close to concluding they didn’t need another FISA on Carter Page, but then learned he had used some encrypted app, and so got another FISA. This supports my suspicion that the FBI will use certain surveillance techniques under cover of FISA they otherwise would eschew just to keep it secret. There may be good reason for that (indeed, it might ensure that the most exotic surveillance only gets used with much closer District Court judge review than magistrates normally give warrant applications), but it would also skew the incentives for using FISA. While policy makers may not need to know what those techniques are, they deserve to know if FISA makes certain otherwise unavailable techniques available.

Why do we need FISA?

I don’t mean to be glib. Since the IG Report came out, a lot of people who’ve used it have said we need to preserve this ability. But they’re not explaining why. That’s a two-fold question. First, why does FBI need a different probable cause standard for foreign intelligence (the likely and noncontroversial answer is, spying on a lot of people, including diplomats, who haven’t committed an obvious crime). But the other question is, why can’t that level of secrecy and court review be accomplished at normal district courts? In the wake of 9/11, most courts (especially most courts that will regularly have FISA cases, like DC, NY, VA, and CA) have sophisticated court security procedures that would seem to accomplish much of what FISA was originally intended for. Having normal district judges — even if only a subset of them — review FISA applications might inject more viewpoints onto the Fourth Amendment review. Furthermore, it would ensure that more judges reviewing such applications are also seeing the kinds of criminal cases that might arise from them (something that I’ve argued was useful with Michael Mosman, who ironically was the judge that approved Page’s second FISA application).

In recent years, the FBI has devolved its FISA process to its field offices; why can’t that happen in the courts, as well?

Is relationship between lawyers and FBI agents on FISA too attenuated?

The explanation the IG Report used for blaming the FBI agents for all the missing information in FISA applications stems from the more attenuated involvement of National Security Division lawyers (Office of Intelligence, or OI here) in warrant applications than happens in traditional criminal investigations.

NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if 01 received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files.

From that the IG Report decides that the problems in the Page applications arose through sloppiness or worse from the agents. But perhaps this is entirely the wrong conclusion. Perhaps, instead, the problems arose from OI lawyers having less ownership of what happens downstream from a FISA application than normal prosecutors would have, meaning they’re outsourcing more decision-making about relevance to agents whose motivations are at odds with that kind of decision-making. In other words, the remedy for this may not be instituting more checklists (which is what DOJ IG recommended and FBI has committed to), but changing the relationship between OI lawyers and the FBI agents applying for FISA?

Is there any legitimate reason to withhold review from defendants?

When Congress passed FISA, it envisioned that at least some defendants would review their FISA applications, but that hasn’t happened, at all. In the interim, the “wall” between FISA and criminal prosecutions has come down, making it more likely that FISA collection will end up as part of a criminal prosecution. Indeed, former NSD AAG David Kris suggests defendants should get review, which would mean that agents would know that any given FISA application might get shared with a defendant if it turned into a criminal case. At the very least, it seems that FBI and NSD should explain to Congress why they shouldn’t be asked to do this.

One of the problems may be with the definition of “aggrieved” under FISA. That includes both the target and those subject to collection under a FISA order. For example, Carter Page would have been aggrieved in Victor Podobnyy’s FISA order (which is probably where the reports that he had been collected under FISA in the past came from), and Mike Flynn would have been aggrieved under a FISA application targeted at Sergey Kislyak. Normally, only the target of a criminal warrant would get to challenge it. Effectively, one way the government is likely using FISA is to find out what Americans are talking to suspected spies, so the FBI would not want to reveal that use. (Though one of the problems likely arises from how the government defines “facilities” that can be targeted, because they don’t have to be owned by the person being targeted.)

Perhaps, then, one way to extend review to the actual defendants who were the targets of FISA surveillance would be to change the definition of aggrieved party, but along the way to change how searches on already collected FISA data are conducted.

What are the boundaries between FISA’s agent of a foreign power, 18 USC 951’s Agent of a Foreign Power, and FARA?

As I noted, the entire DOJ IG Report may suffer from a misunderstanding about what crime(s) FBI was targeting. Until 11 days after the report was released, it appeared to believe that Trump’s aides were only being investigated for FARA, which is basically unregistered political influence peddling. That appears to have been true, but it’s almost certainly not true of Page, against whom there was already an investigation into his willingness to share non-public economic information Russia’s spies ask for. If that’s true that the entirety of the First Amendment analysis in the report is superfluous, because Page — the only Trump aide targeted under FISA — had already met the standards for targeting under the First Amendment before FBI turned to his political speech in August 2016. That is, because Page was already being investigated for sharing non-political stuff with Russian spies , there should never have been a First Amendment question.

Particularly given the different status of FARA in 1978 when FISA was passed, its virtual lapse for years, followed by a recent focus on it in recent years (at a time when there are fewer protections against foreign influence peddling). it seems vitally important for Congress to demand an understanding of how these three statutory regimes intersect, and — hopefully — provide some clarity on it for everyone else.

Update: Added the question about various Foreign Agent designations.

A Few Thoughts On Carter Page Warrants, Franks v. Delaware and Michael Horowitz

Marcy Wheeler did a giant post on the Page warrants and the Horowitz report, one she just updated significantly this morning. I did a comment on there, but since this is pretty much my hobby horse from long before the Horowitz IG Report was released, I decided it needed at least a short standalone post.

This concerns the Franks v. Delaware standards for warrant affidavit review, how it should apply to Carter Page’s series of four warrants signed by four different experienced and sober judges, and the complete ignoring of said standards by the typically Michael Horowitz’s usual attempt to validate his own work and time.

First, there are two types of identifiable errors in warrant affidavits for Franks v. Delaware challenge purposes. The first is what I call the error of commission, i.e. affirmatively inserting materially false information, and the second is error of omission, i.e. leaving out materially critical information. Courts are generally much more loathe to grant relief on omission claims than commission claims. This is important as to the caterwauling about Page having talked to the CIA (long ago as Marcy notes) claim. Sorry, that is so old, stale and meaningless as to be completely irrelevant for these purposes. Nobody would ever get dinged for that nonsense. It is not like the IC was running Page as a asset, this is just nonsense. But that is what uninformed howlers like Page, Nunes and Chuck Ross roll with.

Secondly, when Marcy says “Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause”, that is true. But it has to be established that the actual affiant knew that as opposed to some diffuse other government agent or person may have known. And the actual affiant gets every benefit in the world of “good faith” in this regard. Always. Darn near impossible to overcome. So, that isn’t going to work either for the reasons Marcy lays out.

Third. It is infuriating that Horowitz did not address one lick of any of this. In 435 pages of his “report” Horowitz could not find just a few to address the actual standards he should have been reviewing under. Not once. Couldn’t even be bothered to mention it in passing. And it has not entered many, if at all, other post hoc discussions, either, short of at this blog. That is just laziness.

Lastly, for now, I would suggest the law review article Marcy linked to above, specifically pps. 443-449. It is not the most complex dissertation of Franks v. Delaware law and review standards, but it is one easily understandable by the lay person, especially if you read the footnotes carefully too.

I have been successful on a couple of Franks attacks in days gone by….out of a LOT attempted. Very few defense attorneys can claim even that. I cannot possibly tell you how difficult it is. But I can, without any reservation, tell you I think there is about little to no chance that the Page affidavits would not stand up with sufficient probable cause if subjected to such a review. Since Page would have never gotten there, it was derelict of Horowitz to have not done so.

It is not that Horowitz did not identify some error, whether of commission or omission, in the Page applications, he did. But he very much overplayed how significant they are under extant warrant law. Now, the argument that FBI, and other law enforcement entities, ought to tighten up their policies for submission of affidavits, whether under FISA or Title III, is well taken. They should. All defendants and surveillance targets deserve that. But under the applicable law at the time, the thought that the Page affidavits would not stand up under the mere ex-parte probable cause standard is ridiculous. Of course they would have.

Horowitz

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Update, January 6: After much haranguing from bmaz, I’m updating this post with a new section discussing whether any of the problems with Carter Page’s FISA application would have mattered, had be been criminally charged. I argue that, given precedents about reviewing FISA applications and suppressing warrants, none of the problems with Page’s FISA application would have mattered were it used in a criminal prosecution. As the IG carries out further review of FBI’s FISA work — and as policy makers decide how to integrate the lessons of this IG Report — that reality needs to be part of the consideration, and, in part because Horowitz dodged the issue of these precedents, that’s missing from this discussion.

I’ve spent the last week doing a really deep dive into the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and am finally ready to start explaining what it shows (and what it does not show or where it demonstrably commits the same kinds of errors it accuses the Crossfire Hurricane team of). This post will be a summary of what the IG Report shows about the Carter Page FISA process (with some comment on the FISA process generally).

I will do follow-up posts on — at a minimum — how the report treats “exculpatory” information and the biases of this report, what the report says about Bruce Ohr (where I think this report fails, badly), the details the Report offers on the Steele reports, and what it implies about Oleg Deripaska. I’ll probably do one more demonstrating how this IG Report radically deviates from past history on similar reports in ways that are remarkable and troubling. Eventually I’ll do some posts on what should be done to fix FISA.

This post will address the following topics:

  • The predication of the investigation
  • The errors impacting Carter Page
  • The details about whether Carter Page should have been targeted
  • Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants had he been charged

The predication of the investigation

The Report is quite clear: “Crossfire Hurricane,” as the investigation was called (henceforth, CH), started in response to the tip Australia provided in the wake of the release of the DNC emails on WikiLeaks.

The FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane in July 2016 following the receipt of ·certain information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG). According to the information provided by the FFG, in May 2016, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, “suggested” to an FFG official that the Trump campaign had received “some kind of suggestion” from Russia that it could assist with the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton (Trump’s opponent in the presidential election) and President Barack Obama. At the time the FBI received the FFG information, the U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC), which includes the FBI, was aware of Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. elections, including efforts to infiltrate servers and steal emails belongfng to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The FFG shared this information with the State Department on July 26, 2016, after the internet site Wikileaks began releasing emails hacked from computers belonging to the DNC and Clinton’s campaign manager.

The WikiLeaks release made Papadopoulos’ comments to Alexander Downer (and, probably, his aide Erica Thompson, who had an earlier meeting with him in May 2016 before one she attended with Downer) look like the campaign had advance knowledge from the Russians about that release. That it did has since been confirmed with respect to Papadopoulos and — evidence in Roger Stone’s trial suggests — possibly Stone, too.

Australia provided the tip first to the US embassy in London (which may or may not have involved the CIA), which then passed it on to the Philadelphia Field Office, which passed it to the Section Chief of Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination at FBI HQ, where it arrived on July 28. People at HQ, including Peter Strzok, spent the next three days discussing what to do, after which Bill Priestap opened a full investigation to determine whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with the government of Russia.

On July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a full counterintelligence investigation under the code name Crossfire Hurricane “to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.”

A big part of that was trying to figure out how Papadopoulos might have gotten advance notice of the email dump, which is why, over the next 16 days, the FBI opened counterintelligence investigations into the four most likely sources of that information: Papadopoulos himself, Carter Page (who was already the subject of a counterintelligence investigation opened in April 2016), Paul Manafort (who was already the subject of a money laundering investigation opened in January 2016), and Mike Flynn (who had met with Putin the previous December and had ongoing communications with the GRU).

Of the four, Page is the only one not charged with or judged to have lied to obstruct the investigation (though the FBI believed he was not telling the full truth in his March 2017 interviews). The government still has questions about what Page, Manafort, and Papadopoulos did during the campaign period. And a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn remained ongoing as of May. In other words, not only was the investigation justified, but it still is, because questions about everyone originally included remain.

The IG found no bias in the opening of the investigation, and everyone asked said the FBI would have been derelict had they not done so.

That’s worth keeping in mind as Bill Barr lies about the reasons for and results of this investigation, not least because had FBI made different decisions early in the investigation, it might have had more success in figuring out what (especially) Paul Manafort was up to.

The errors impacting Carter Page

In part because the FBI already had substantiated concerns about Page’s willingness to work with known Russian intelligence officers, it moved immediately to get a FISA order on him in August 2016. Lawyers deemed it premature. Then, days after the CH belatedly got the first Christopher Steele reports (which had been churning around FBI for two months), they moved to get a FISA order on him. By the time they applied for the order, they had additional damning information about his July 2016 trip to Russia (that he believed he had been offered an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank in the US), but it is true that the dossier was the precipitating event that led the CH team to start the FISA process.

The decision to get a FISA order relying on an unverified tip from an existing “Confidential Human Source” was, per the report, no unusual. Not only does that happen, but Steele is a more credible informant than lots of sources for intelligence targeting. Moreover, by the time of the application, FBI had laid out who his assumed sub-sources were (including Sergei Millian, whom they knew to be interacting closely with Papadopoulos by the time the order was approved).

That said there were clear errors with Page’s applications. Those fall into three areas:

  • The FBI did not tell FISC that Page had been an approved contact for CIA until 2013
  • The FBI did not describe Steele accurately and failed to update the application as it discovered problems with the dossier
  • The FBI did not include information that the IG deemed exculpatory to either Page (correctly) or Papadopoulos (less convincingly)

Notice about Page’s past CIA contacts

Before the FBI first applied for a FISA targeting Page, and again in June 2017, it learned that Page had been approved for “operational contact” from 2008 until 2013. Per a footnote, an operational contact is someone the CIA can talk to about information he has, but not someone they can task to collect information.

According to the other U.S. government agency, “operational contact,” as that term is used in the memorandum about Page, provides “Contact Approval,” which allows the other agency to contact and discuss sensitive information with a U.S. person and to collect information from that person via “passive debriefing,” or debriefing a person of information that is within the knowledge of an individual and has been acquired through the normal course of that individual’s activities. According to the U.S. government agency, a “Contact Approval” does not allow for operational use of a U.S. person or tasking of that person.

While the details are not entirely clear, Page appears to have told CIA honestly about his contacts with the first Russian intelligence officer who recruited him after he returned to the US from Russia, but not another (probably Victor Podobnyy). His last contact with CIA was in July 2011, which seems to suggest he did not reveal his ongoing ties to Russian intelligence officers to CIA. Moreover, the FBI would come to have concerns about his earlier ties with Russian spies that would not be excused by this CIA designation, not least because after Podobnyy and his fellow Russian intelligence officers were indicted, Page told a Russian stationed at the UN and some others that he knew he was the person described in the indictment, which they discovered when preparing for trial in 2016. The FBI would come to believe Page was less than honest about Page’s comments about showing up in the indictment in 2017.

The FBI did not provide notice of the CIA designation, at all, to FISC. That’s a big problem because the FBI had included both Russian recruitment attempts in its application without explaining that Page had been candid about the first one with the CIA. Worse still, in advance of the last reauthorization in June 2017, FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith — who is one of the people who had sent anti-Trump texts using his FBI phone — altered an email to hide the relationship.

None of that changes that Carter Page, throughout this period, told anyone who asked that he thought it was okay to provide non-public information to people he knew to be Russian intelligence officers, nor that he enthusiastically considered taking money from Russia to set up a pro-Russian think tank. But it does raise real questions about whether Page was acting clandestinely, a key requirement for a FISA application.

Inaccurate descriptions of Steele

The IG Report also shows a number of problems with the way the FBI described Steele.

For the first application, that consisted of two problems. First, the FBI didn’t ask Steele’s handler, Mike Gaeta, for his description of Steele’s reliability. As a result, the description overstated how much of his past reporting to the FBI had been corroborated (some of it had been, but much of it was, like the Trump dossier, based on single sources in Russia who couldn’t easily be replicated), and falsely stated that his earlier reporting had been used in court cases, which would have signaled that prosecutors had found it reliable. His reporting had been key to starting the FIFA investigation, but mostly to start the investigation, not to substantiate evidence for trial. Unlike the non-notice about this CIA relationship, this is an error that would have been fixed had the FBI rigorously adhered to the Woods procedures (though the FBI Agent who did the application did have a document — an intelligence report on Steele — he relied on, just not the proper one).

The other initial problem is that the FBI claimed that Steele had not been behind a September 23 Michael Isikoff story relying on Steele’s reporting, something I’ve always found inexcusable. That said, the FBI did alert FISC to the article — they just ridiculously assumed that Glenn Simpson had been the source for the story, not Steele, and did so after initially stating that Steele was behind it. Had they attributed the story to Steele, they would have had to close him as a source weeks before they otherwise did, but it probably wouldn’t have affected the initial approval for the order.

The far more egregious error, however, came on reauthorizations (see this post for a timeline of the events laid out in the report). Starting immediately after they closed Steele as a source, the FBI started getting more details — initially from Bruce Ohr, then Steele’s former colleagues, then his primary sub-source — about his reporting. And most of the things they learned should have raised general concerns about Steele and serious concerns about the reliability of the dossier. Of the ten additional problems DOJ IG found with the applications on the renewals, six of them pertain to providing no notice of increasing reason to doubt the Steele dossier.

I’ll write about the Steele fiasco in a follow-up post. But one detail is worth noting here. There was disagreement between Steele and the FBI about his work dating back to 2013, with Steele understanding he was a contractor and the FBI treating him (partly for bureaucratic reasons) as a CHS. Then, in October 2016, when the CH team tried to task him to answer specific questions about the investigation — about the predicated subjects of the investigation, physical evidence, sub sources who might serve as cooperating witnesses — there was again a misunderstanding about whether Steele was working exclusively for the FBI or simply providing information he was providing to Fusion. As a result, Steele believed he could speak to the press about anything he wasn’t doing for FBI exclusively (which included the dossier), but the FBI considered that cause to stop using him altogether.

Failure to include exculpatory information

Finally, the FBI failed to include exculpatory information pertaining to denials from Page, Papadopoulos, and Joseph Mifsud, and reliability questions about Millian (who was himself the subject of a counterintelligence investigation).

The DOJ IG is absolutely right that FBI should have included Page’s denials in these applications, which include denials that he had ever spoken to Paul Manafort (as alleged in the dossier), had a role in the Republican platform on Ukraine (also alleged in the dossier), or had a role in the email release (the question they were supposed to be answering). All those denials are, as far as we know, absolutely correct. It also excluded his denials of meeting Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin (as alleged in the dossier), which is probably true, though FBI obtained RUMINT supporting a Sechin meeting.

I’ll address DOJ IG’s stance on the Papadopoulos and Mifsud denials later, both of which were (and were deemed to be by the FBI) at least partly false. But it raises a key problem with a FISA application that — unlike a criminal warrant affidavit — will never be shared with the target of it. Excluding this kind of stuff is generally deemed acceptable in a normal criminal warrant. It is not (and should not be) here, because there will never be discovery. But that raises real questions about what gets counted as exculpatory, which is a topic I’ll return to.

Ultimately, the IG Report judged it should all have been noticed to DOJ which, for the most part, it was not.

Note, Julian Sanchez argues — convincingly, I think — that many of these errors come not from malice or political bias, but from confirmation bias.

Whether Carter Page should have been targeted

The errors in the Page applications are inexcusable.

But they don’t address (and the IG Report pointedly avoids addressing) whether he should have been targeted, from a Fourth Amendment, prudential, or investigative focus standpoint.

Without the full application, it’s impossible to say with certainty whether it would meet probable cause had FBI addressed the problems laid out in the IG Report. But a summary of what the IG Report says appeared in the applications (which I’ve laid out here) suggests there probably was probable cause to support the first two applications. In the first one, the derogatory evidence against Steele’s reporting was not yet known to the agents submitting the application (more on that in a follow-up), so he would have been deemed a credible informant by any measure. And by the second one, the FBI had obtained enough information on Page’s trips to Moscow that likely would have supported a probable cause finding without the dossier — though that finding would have far less to do with whether the Trump campaign had foreknowledge of the email dump, which is unsurprising given that FBI already had an investigation into Page in April 2016. The third and fourth application, however, are much closer calls.

That’s a separate question from whether it was a good idea to get a FISA order on Page, something that multiple people at DOJ raised even before the first application, including Stu Evans (the same guy who ensured there’d be a footnote clarifying that Steele likely was working for a political candidate). As the IG Report describes, everyone at FBI responded by saying they could not pull their punches because of political risk.

According to Evans, he raised on multiple occasions with the FBI, including with Strzok, Lisa Page, and later McCabe, whether seeking FISA authority targeting Carter Page was a good idea, even if the legal standard was met. He explained that he did not see a compelling “upside” to the FISA because Carter Page knew he was under FBI investigation (according to news reports) and was therefore not likely to say anything incriminating over the telephone or in email. On the other hand, Evans saw significant “downside” because the target of the FISA was politically sensitive and the Department would be criticized later if this FISA was ever disclosed publicly. He told the OIG that he thought there was no right or wrong answer to this question, which he characterized as a prudential question of risk vs. reward, but he wanted to make sure he raised the issue for the decision makers to consider. According to Evans, the reactions he received from the FBI to this prudential question were some variations of-we understand your concerns, those are valid points, but if you are telling us it’s legal, we cannot pull any punches just because there could be criticism afterward.

It’s easy to say Evans was right on this. But if you go there, it also raises the question that no Trump supporter ever wants to answer (when discussing this FISA or the use of CHSes): what should FBI have done when faced with evidence that Trump was amenable to the help from Russia and might be coordinating with them?

That’s a debate we really need to have but won’t because Barr is trying mightily to pretend the correct answer is “nothing.”

Which is a pity, because I suspect there are key policy issues that trying to answer the question would raise. For example:

  • Aside from the National Security Letters FBI had already served on Page’s providers in the spring, were there other less intrusive kinds of legal process that would have answered some of the questions about Page (and Papadopoulos) without obtaining content?
  • Given FBI’s success at gagging providers, why couldn’t it have used normal criminal process?
  • Are CHSes really as unintrusive as FBI claims, or should they be reserved for higher predication in the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (though because CH was a full investigation, they would have achieved that level of predication anyway)
  • Why did FBI wait to obtain Page’s financial records — which, for someone working for “free” for the campaign didn’t implicate the campaign at all — until the spring?
  • If FBI believed — because this was clearly a counterintelligence investigation — it had to use FISA, did something prevent it from using Section 215 first to obtain more probable cause?
  • Was Page even the key person they should have been focusing on?

The last question gets into whether targeting Page with a FISA was the right question — both on the first application, and on the fourth — from an investigative standpoint.

In an effort to ensure the investigation would not leak, from its inception through December 2016, CH was done out of FBI Headquarters (for diagrams of the three different organizations used before Mueller took over, see PDF 117-119), meaning it didn’t have the investigative resources it would have had if it had left the investigations in the field offices. That may have necessitated some resource allocation questions.

Then, by the time of (at least) the second renewal, Page had not only been spun well free of the Trump Administration, but the FBI investigation into everyone but Papadopoulos had already become public.

Because it was not its job, DOJ IG only reported on questions about whether getting a FISA on Page was the right investigative choice — both focusing on him more aggressively than the others, and obtaining a FISA on him.

Start with the former question. By the time CH decided to obtain a FISA order on Page, Papadopoulos had given answers to Stefan Halper that Republicans like to claim were exculpatory but were in fact correctly identified as a cover story and — I think but am awaiting response from the IG’s office — actually could be provably shown to be a lie in real time. Had CH obtained the call records on Papadopoulos at that point rather than a full content warrant on Page, they would have identified Papadopoulos’ ties with Joseph Mifsud, someone already suspected of being a Russian asset. Papadopoulos then laid out the outlines of his interactions with Mifsud in an October conversation with an informant. Had FBI focused on this more closely, they would have known before they interviewed Papadopoulos in January that he had these ties and was lying about them, which might have led FBI to obtain enough information about Mifsud in time to detain him rather than just interview him in early 2017.

The same could be said of Paul Manafort. Had CH focused on him, they might have obtained call records reflecting his ongoing communications with Konstantin Kilimnik, who (as a foreigner overseas) could be targeted under Section 702 and EO 12333. That might have revealed Manafort’s ongoing coordination in real time, which he continues to lie about.

Perhaps they did some of this, or perhaps they could have done it all. But it’s worth asking whether, because the prior concerns about Page meant they could get a FISA on him, they chose that path rather than other less intrusive but potentially more productive approaches.

Then there’s the question of whether ongoing FISAs on Page had merit. The Report suggests the FBI believed the first and, probably, the second order were really productive (the IG only reviewed those comms that were pertinent to its study, but based on that partial review, seemed more skeptical).

But by the later applications, the FBI was not keeping up with the incoming FISA materials, something we’ve seen in FISA collections in the past. There ought to be a rule: if you can’t keep up with incoming surveillance collection, it probably means it’s not important enough to justify the impact on an American.

Although there were no recent relevant FISA collections the team found useful, we were told that the FBI was still reviewing FISA collections identified prior to Renewal Application No. 2.

Finally, by the last collections, the FBI admitted that it was no longer getting anything from the FISA (in part, they believed, because Page knew he was being surveilled).

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30.  Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information.

There’s an exchange in the Report that leads me to suspect they kept targeting Page not because he remained interesting, but because there were new facilities they had IDed in April 2017 that would be easier to target using FISA than criminal process, including encrypted communications. First, they describe finding out that he used an encrypted app.

NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone.

Then, the report describes “previously unknown locations” they could target, which led them to seek a renewal.

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal.

There’s very good reason to believe that the FBI either has techniques (probably including hacking phones to get encrypted chat texts) that are easier to conduct using FISA, or techniques they’d like to hide by using FISA.

That’s a policy question that needs to be answered. If FBI is choosing to use FISA to hide techniques, it changes the import and use of the law. But it seems clear: by the time of the fourth if not the third order on Page, they really should have stopped for investigative reasons, but may not have because it’s too easy to avoid the risk of detasking against someone who might be a risk.

Whether Page would have been able to suppress these warrants

Finally, there’s the question of whether, had Carter Page been prosecuted using information obtained under these FISA warrants, he would have gotten any of the information thrown out. As bmaz has been screaming since this IG Report became public, the standard for suppression would require Page to argue that this affidavit didn’t meet the probable cause he was an agent of a foreign power, that the FBI Agents who submitted the application knew or should have known there was a problem with the claims they made in the affidavit, and — because this was a FISA order — he’d have to get a judge to allow him to review the affidavit where no prior defendant has been able to. 

And that’s assuming Page even got notice. Often, the FBI will build criminal cases without relying on information obtained under FISA at all. In such cases (as seems to be the case with Lev Parnas and his co-defendants), the government doesn’t have to notice their use of FISA, meaning the defendant never gets the opportunity to try to challenge the FISA warrant. Given how high profile this case is, FBI likely would have tried to avoid giving notice.

Had Page gotten notice, I feel safe in saying he would not have gotten to review his FISA application, because that never has happened, not even in cases with more obviously problematic affidavits

The IG Report carefully avoids saying whether the applications against Carter Page met the threshold of probable cause, either with or without the errors it lays out. Generally, if a magistrate has found probable cause, defendants have a tough time getting those warrants suppressed; and here, four different District Court judges had approved his applications. 

In Page’s case, the way to do this would be to show that stuff in the applications was knowingly false or omitted. In this hypothetical prosecution, Page should have gotten the detail that he was an approved contact with the CIA until 2013, evidence to support his claim that he hadn’t done two of the things in the dossier (interact with Paul Manafort and change the platform), and possibly some of the evidence undermining the Steele dossier (though sometimes the FBI can withhold stuff pertaining to informants). 

As for the first, with his efforts to sustain contact with Russia after CIA’s approved contact lapsed and his interactions with a second Russian intelligence officer CIA didn’t know about, it’s not clear that’d be enough to convince a judge that the prior approvals were improper. 

As to information proving the dossier wrong, because FBI took such a conservative investigative approach prior to the election, it took some time before the FBI discovered it. The FBI first appears to have gotten evidence that would prove Carter Page wasn’t involved in changing the platform in March 2017, though it appears DOJ’s NSD had better information at the time than FBI. Had FBI taken a more aggressive approach prior to Mueller taking over, they might have developed call records to support Carter Page’s claim that Manafort never returned his emails, but it’s not sure that’s enough. The IG Report doesn’t focus as much on the Manafort exculpatory evidence, perhaps because the FBI plausibly believed Page could have been working with Manafort indirectly, as George Papadopoulos had suggested to Stefan Halper. And, as the IG Report notes but minimizes, one reason the FBI didn’t take details undermining the Steele dossier that seriously is because they believed Steele’s Sub-Informant was withholding information from them, which (given the political firestorm at the time and the claims that the Sub-Source might be in danger are quite likely, even ignoring the possibility the Sub-Source had been involved in disinformation).

Then there’s the standard that would apply to both Fourth Amendment and Franks challenges: whether the FBI affiant on the application knew or should have known their claims were wrong.

In this case, a supervisory special agent who wasn’t closely involved in the investigation was the affiant on the first application. He wouldn’t have known, personally, of any problems with the application. He said he relied on the case agent’s Woods review (though said he routinely does review Woods files). So in that first case, the FBI’s policy of having more senior FBI agents sign FISA applications actually make it harder to challenge the warrant, because it would be harder to claim he knew the application was deficient. 

The affiant on the other three applications, called SS2 in the IG Report, was more closely involved in the case. The IG Report provides two specific examples where he swore to something that the IG Report presents as knowably untrue. The first pertains to claims Steele’s Sub-Source made about Millian. But the IG Report said specifically that, “the investigators believed at the time that the Primary Sub-source was holding something back about his/her interaction with [Millian],” which actually accords with what Steele said. Which is to say, the FBI had reason (which may actually have been justified) to believe that the Sub-Source’s comments did not need to be added to the application. 

The other thing SS2 might have known by the last application is Page’s past relationship with the CIA; indeed, he made an effort to nail that down for that application. But Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of the email that thereby hid that Page had been an approved contact for the CIA specifically prevented SS2 from learning that information. So while Clinesmith can (and is in this case) be disciplined, that doesn’t change that the affiant specifically tried to clarify Page’s relationship with the CIA, but got bad information preventing him from being able to.

And it’s not just the two affiants (though they would be the ones at issue in a suppression motion of Franks hearing). The IG Report specifically says that the agents providing that information did not believe they were withholding relevant information.

In most instances, the agents and supervisors told us that they either did not know or recall why the information was not shared with OI, that the failure to do so may have been an oversight, that they did not recognize at the time the relevance of the information to the FISA application, or that they did not believe the missing information to be significant. 

The reality is it is usually enough, in criminal prosecutions, for FBI agents to attest to such belief in the case of suppression motions, and probably would be here too, even if Carter Page had succeeded in getting the first ever review of his FISA application.

Finally, there’s the standard for Franks challenges, the means by which, on very rare occasions, defendants argue that the law enforcement officers who obtained a warrant on them were so negligent or malicious in their application so as to merit the warrant and its fruit being thrown out.

Franks challenges require the defendant to prove that false statements in a warrant application are false, were knowing, intentional, or reckless false statements, and were necessary to the finding of probable cause (as this law review article explains at length).

Franks challenges involve heavy burdens for defendants to meet, even at the earliest stages. First, the defendant must make “a substantial preliminary showing that a false statement knowingly and intentionally, or with reckless disregard for the truth, was included by the affiant in the warrant affidavit.”79 A defendant’s claim will fail if it only alleges innocent or negligent misrepresentation;80 it will similarly fail if the court determines that the evidence fails to demonstrate falsity.81 At this stage, the defendant must also show that “the allegedly false statement is necessary to the finding of probable cause.”82 Many Franks challenges fail at this stage because the court determines that the allegedly false statement is not important enough to affect the probable cause analysis.83 If the defendant’s “preliminary showing” clears all three of these hurdles (falsity, intent, and materiality), then the defendant is entitled to a hearing on the allegations.84 At the evidentiary hearing, the defendant has to establish by a preponderance of the evidence the same three things; only then will the evidence be suppressed “to the same extent as if probable cause was lacking on the face of the affidavit.”85 Reviewing courts presume the affidavit’s validity and require the defendant to provide specific allegations and an offer of proof.86

As noted, the IG Report itself notes that the agents believed they had submitted what was necessary for the application, so Page could not show they were knowing falsehoods, meaning he’d have to prove that such a belief was reckless, which — particularly for the matter of relying on Steele — would be hard to do, given that he’s a more credible informant than most FISA informants. 

Moreover, aside from Page’s alleged involvement in the platform, it’s not even clear Page could prove that some of the key allegations were false. The FBI did obtain evidence — weak, RUMINT, but nevertheless evidence — that Page may have met with Igor Sechin, and the fact that he met with related people would make disproving those details difficult. Ultimately, the FBI suspected Page was not entirely truthful in his March 2017 interactions with them, and Mueller found that, “Page’s activities in Russia-as described in his emails with the Campaign-were not fully explained.” 

Finally, in addition to the Trump-related allegations about Page in his application, the FBI showed that Page willingly remained a recruitment target of known Russian intelligence officers, shared non-public information (possibly deemed trade secrets) with them, and enthusiastically considered an offer of an “open checkbook” to start a pro-Russian think tank. That’s not enough to prove he was an agent under 18 USC 951, but it probably reaches probable cause in any case. 

I’m not saying any of this is the way it should be — for FISA warrants or traditional criminal warrants. But that’s the way it is. It is virtually guaranteed that if Carter Page had been prosecuted, he would never have been able to challenge his FISA applications and even if he had, he likely would not have succeeded with either a Franks challenge or a Fourth Amendment suppression motion. That suggests that the way FISA works right now raises the bar well further than it already is for criminal defendants to ensure that the searches against them were proper in the first place. 

Update: Corrected post to indicate last contact between Page and CIA was in July 2011.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

 

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

Oleg Deripaska was working to weaken Manafort even as he was pushing him to help carve up Ukraine

On July 30, 2016, as explained by the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page, Christopher Steele met with Bruce Ohr in DC. They discussed several things: reporting, paid for by an unknown source, about Russian doping; Steele’s reporting, paid for by Fusion GPS, about Carter Page’s travel to Russia and a claim that Russia had Trump over a barrel; and Steele’s work for one or several Oleg Deripaska attorneys digging up evidence in support of the aluminum oligarch’s lawsuit against Paul Manafort.

Three days later on August 2, 2016, as explained by the Mueller Report, Konstantin Kilimnik met with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates in NYC. They discussed several things: how Manafort planned to win the election by winning PA, MI, WI, and MN; what role Manafort might play in a Russian-backed plan to put Viktor Yanukovych in charge of an autonomous Donbas region that Manafort recognized was a back door effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking; and how Manafort could fix his urgent financial woes by getting his Ukrainian paymasters to pay money due him and by getting Deripaska to dismiss that lawsuit.

That is just one of the temporal overlaps that make it clear Oleg Deripaska was playing a brutal double game in 2016, pitching a renewed relationship with a financially desperate Manafort via Konstantin Kilimnik at the same time — sometimes even on the same days — when he was offering to provide evidence to the FBI on Manafort’s corruption via Christopher Steele.

Another such overlap came in December, 2016. On December 7, in an interagency meeting, Bruce Ohr suggested the US government engage with Deripaska to learn about corruption — “all the way to the President” — alleged by Steele. The next day, December 8, Kilimnik sent Manafort an email (probably using foldering in a failed attempt to hide it from surveillance) where he pitched Manafort on leading the Ukraine peace deal again. “All that is required to start the process is a very minor ‘wink’ (or slight push) from [Trump] and a decision to authorize you to be a ‘special representative’ and manage this process.” (See the timeline below for the chilling way this double game played out over the course of 2016.)

The double game that Deripaska was playing — making Manafort more vulnerable with threats of legal trouble even while pushing him to lead an effort to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking — may be a far more consequential question for American security than the Steele dossier itself is, particularly given how Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation have led him to undercut Volodymyr Zelensky as he tries to negotiate a peace deal with Russia. If Manafort, out of financial and possibly even electoral desperation, made commitments in August 2016 — and whether he did or not was a question Mueller was unable to answer, in part because Manafort risked more prison time to hide the answer — it would compromise Trump as well, even if he didn’t know of or approve Manafort’s efforts in advance.

Bill Priestap underestimated Vladimir Putin’s strategy

The outline of this double game provides a ready answer to a question that Bill Priestap — the top FBI counterintelligence person at the time he oversaw the Russia investigation — posed when asked whether the FBI had considered that the dossier might be disinformation.

Priestap told us that he recognized that the Russians are “masters at disinformation” and that the Crossfire Hurricane team was aware of the potential for Russian disinformation to influence Steele’s reporting. According to Priestap:

[W]e had a lot of concurrent efforts to try to understand, is [the reporting] true or not, and if it’s not, you know, why is it not? Is it the motivation of [Steele] or one of his sources, meaning [Steele’s] sources?… [Or were they] flipped, they’re actually working for the Russians, and providing disinformation? We considered all of that. …

[snip]

Priestap told us that the FBI “didn’t have any indication whatsoever” by May 2017 that the Russians were running a disinformation campaign through the Steele election reporting. Priestap explained, however, that if the Russians, in fact, were attempting to funnel disinformation through Steele to the FBI using Russian Oligarch 1, he did not understand the goal. Priestap told us that

what he has tried to explain to anybody who will listen is if that’s the theory [that Russian Oligarch 1 ran a disinformation campaign through [Steele] to the FBI], then I’m struggling with what the goal was. So, because, obviously, what [Steele] reported was not helpful, you could argue, to then [candidate] Trump. And if you guys recall, nobody thought then candidate Trump was going to win the election. Why the Russians, and [Russian Oligarch 1] is supposed to be close, very close to the Kremlin, why the Russians would try to denigrate an opponent that the intel community later said they were in favor of who didn’t really have a chance at winning, I’m struggling, with, when you know the Russians, and this I know from my Intelligence Community work: they favored Trump, they’re trying to denigrate Clinton, and they wanted to sow chaos. I don’t know why you’d run a disinformation campaign to denigrate Trump on the side. [brackets original]

Priestap convinced himself this was not disinformation based on three assumptions:

  • Nobody thought Trump would win at the time
  • The Russians favored Trump
  • To help Trump, the Russians were trying to hurt Hillary and sow chaos

Those assumptions led Priestap to believe Russia would, therefore, never do anything to harm Trump, and so concluded this dossier could not be a Russian disinformation effort. But, with the benefit of three years of hindsight, I think we can restate these assumptions such that filling the dossier with disinformation makes perfect sense. Yes, Russia preferred Trump and yes, few people believed Trump could win. But the Russians stood to optimize the chances that Trump would defy expectations by preventing the FBI from thwarting their ongoing operation. And sowing chaos was a goal independent of the hope that Trump might win. Indeed, while Trump would have been preferable for Russia based on policy stances alone, Russia would prefer a weak Trump they could manipulate over a strong Trump any day. By the time of the 2016 operation, Vladimir Putin had already exhibited a willingness to take huge risks to pursue Russian resurgence. Given that audacity, Trump was more useful to Putin not as an equal partner with whom he could negotiate, but as a venal incompetent who could be pushed to dismantle the American security apparatus by playing on his sense of victimhood. Putin likely believed Russia benefitted whether a President Trump voluntarily agreed to Russia’s policy goals or whether Putin took them by immobilizing the US with chaos, and the dossier protected parts of the ongoing Russian operation while making Trump easier to manipulate.

How the dossier might work as disinformation tactically

With that as background, I’d like to repeat an exercise I’ve done before: show how the dossier, as disinformation, would work to Russia’s advantage. Note, this is speculative, based on an assumption the dossier is disinformation, but I’m not accusing anyone of seeding that disinformation. Indeed, the dossier would work as disinformation whether or not Deripaska was the one feeding it, and whether or not Manafort was a willing participant in the Russian operation.

This section will lay out how each of the Steele reports would serve Russia’s interest tactically. These descriptions treat all of the dossier is disinformation, an assumption I don’t believe to be true; I’m just treating them as such to show how they could fit into this frame. I’ve marked the ones that I think would be most useful for these purposes with ⇒ arrows.

Below, I’ll show how it would serve Russia’s larger goals. As background, this spreadsheet lists all reports with the dates they got shared with the FBI.

⇒Report 80, June 20, 2016: Steele’s first report came out on June 20, after several parts of the Russian operation had already been rolled out, privately and publicly. On June 9, Don Jr had listened to a pitch to eliminate the Magnitsky sanctions (possibly as a part of a quid pro quo offering dirt on Hillary in exchange), then expressed a willingness to lift sanctions but not to make any commitments until after the election. On June 14, the Democrats unexpectedly announced the hack and attributed it to Russia. That same day, Michael Cohen decided against attending the St. Petersburg Economic Forum to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal (where Deripaska would meet Sergei Millian), possibly in part because the DNC hack revelation would make the Trump Tower deal more controversial.

Steele’s first report would include the pee tape, kompromat that Michael Cohen had known about since 2013 and that, therefore, would not be terrifically effective leverage over Trump in practice (as Cohen’s exchange with Giorgi Rtskhiladze would bear out). But it would likely be news to Hillary and would hold out promise of the kind of scandal that might make Democrats believe Steele’s project would swing the election. The first report would also include a claim that Trump had declined real estate deals with Russia, even though he was, at that moment, still pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow one. And, as noted, this report would tell the Democrats that the Guccifer 2.0 releases were not the kompromat described in the dossier — dated FSB intercepts — which might lead them to be complacent about further dumps from the hack.

Report 94, July 19, 2016: This report came after public reporting of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, just before which Dmitry Peskov responded to an email that included US-based Dmitri Klimentov on July 6 by judging he should not arrange a meeting for Page at the Kremlin: “I have read about [Page]. Specialists say that he is far from being the main one. So I better not initiate a meeting in the Kremlin.” It also came out days before the dump of the DNC emails. It would have had the effect of leading Democrats to believe that Page had had the meeting at the Presidential Administration, with Divyekin, that Peskov had pointedly decided not to schedule because Page wasn’t the key Trump person Russia wanted to influence. And it would have repeated the earlier suggestion that the anticipated Hillary kompromat consisted of dated FSB intercepts rather than recently stolen emails.

⇒Report 86, July 26, 2015: Steele’s third report came out in the wake of the WikiLeaks’ release of the DNC emails (though this report is one that only got shared with the FBI much later). It made ridiculous claims that Russia hadn’t had success hacking G7 and NATO targets, even though anyone following Russia’s hacking would have known they had compromised several American targets the previous year. It also said that the FSB had the lead on such hacking, which might have led the Democrats to ignore the more immediate threat from GRU. Both might have been intended to support Russia’s unsuccessful efforts at denying responsibility. And if the report had leaked in detail, the focus on FSB would have minimized the political damage of all the people with GRU ties reaching out to Trump’s people (including Mike Flynn’s past relationship with Igor Sergun, Cohen’s willingness to rely on former GRU general Evgeny Shmykov to broker the Trump Tower deal, and Deripaska’s aides), had those contacts ever became public.

⇒Report 95, July 28, 2016: Report 95 alleged a well-developed conspiracy between Trump and Russia just as the public was raising questions about it (literally, the day after Trump had made his “Russia if you’re listening” comment). It would also have invoked Sergei Millian (as Source E) admitting that there was an active conspiracy days before he would first meet Papadopoulos. This report raised the prospect that DNC insiders were part of the operation on a day when the first Seth Rich conspiracies were starting. It described the import of Russia’s diplomatic facilities to the 2016 operation, but focused on pension payments and the (in the case of Miami, non-existent) consulates rather than the overt involvement of Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And it suggested that Trump’s ties to China were more corrupt than his Russian ties, something not without basis that might have distracted attention from Russia.

Perhaps most interesting, given Deripaska’s double game, is the allegation that Manafort “was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE and others as intermediaries.” This report came out between the day Manafort accepted Kilimnik’s request for an in-person meeting in NYC and the date of that meeting on August 2. Focusing on Page might have had the effect of providing Kilimnik cover.

Report 97, July 30, 2016: This report came out in the wake of Trump’s “Russia if you’re listening” comment, the day after Roger Stone emailed Manafort promising “Good shit happening” as he was trying to figure out what WikiLeaks had coming, and in between when Manafort had agreed to meet with Kilimnik in NYC and the day they would meet on August 2, and as reporters were working on the stories that would make Manafort’s Russian ties toxic. While junior level Trump aides (including both Papadopoulos and JD Gordan) were being instructed to avoid any outreach involving Russia, both Manafort and Stone were aggressively taking steps to foster outreach. Report 97 suggested that both sides, Russia and Trump, were operating cautiously in the wake of the DNC release, when in fact the outreach was ratcheting up among key players.

⇒Report 100, August 5, 2016; Report 101 August 10, 2016: These two reports offer similar claims about Russia regretting the operation and worrying about releasing any further documents. They came out, however, at a time when Roger Stone was openly claiming that WikiLeaks would release more and he knew what it would be, and just days before Guccifer 2.0 started releasing the DCCC documents. Not only might these reports have further led the DNC to be complacent before more of their files got released, but it helped provide more plausible deniability to active efforts at the time to magnify the benefit of the leaks. (Note, these reports also came out during the period when the Seth Rich conspiracy started forming part of Russia and WikiLeaks’ denials.)

Report 102, August 10, 2016: Days before stories on Manafort’s Russian ties would create new problems for the campaign, this report claimed that the Trump campaign was planning on turning the tables on Hillary (they would, in fact, do so, but with a delayed effort to maximize the Podesta emails). This report also claimed that Trump’s campaign would focus on TV when the campaign was prepping to maximize Facebook and social media backed disinformation, assisted by the Internet Research Agency efforts. The report came long enough after the August 2 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik that it could have reflected Kilimnik’s briefing on how Manafort planned to win swing states.

⇒Report 105, August 22, 2016: Particularly given Deripaska’s double game, this report focusing on Manafort is of particular interest. It falsely suggests there was no record of Manafort’s kickbacks from Yanukovych and other Ukrainian backers. Moreover, it suggests that Putin was worried that Manafort’s Yanukovych graft would become public, when the reality was that Deripaska was using the vulnerability created by the scandal to push Manafort to lead an effort, headed by Yanukovych, to carve up Ukraine. This report feels really consistent with Deripaska’s double game, both emphasizing Manafort’s corruption, but obscuring the real details of it.

Report 111, September 14, 2016: This report suggests that the decision to release more emails wasn’t made in August, as by all reports it was (indeed, Craig Murray would be involved in some kind of handoff in DC just 11 days later). This would have, again, placated Democratic concerns about still more email dumps. Note, too, that even in September, this suggests the 2016 operation consisted solely of kompromot and not also social media disinformation and probes of voting facilities.

Report 112, September 14, 2016: The IG Report makes clear that Steele and Glenn Simpson were pushing the Alfa Bank story via more channels (including Report 132, which never got released publicly, but which per the IG Report pertained to both Alfa and Manafort). That makes this report, confirming that “Alpha” [sic] was close to Putin, mildly interesting. The Alfa story, as packaged, is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that the Spectrum Health angle, which purported to show a secret tie between Erik Prince and Trump, came at the same time Prince was interacting with Stone (partly on WhatsApp), including funding him. The Alfa story also served to get Petr Aven to be more responsive to Putin’s order to reach out to Trump to push back against sanctions than he otherwise might have been.

Report 113, September 14, 2016: This report is yet another offering conflicting information about Trump’s success in real estate. The reference to Agalarov would have raised the stakes for any discovery of the June 9 meeting. And the allegation of sexual scandal came as Trump’s hush payments were bubbling up in the press.

Report 130, October 12, 2016: After reporting repeatedly that Russia was getting cold feet on more releases, this report claims that Russia was pissed the releases hadn’t had more effect. It also “predicts” the WikiLeaks Podesta releases that had started the previous week. This report includes a credible explanation of why Russia did this (including a focus on Ukraine), but seems to blame FSB for things GRU did (Note: I half wonder whether much of this dossier, including the focus on Millian, arose out of the intra-spook competition in Russia, in which blaming FSB for things GRU had done would serve several purposes).

⇒Report 134 October 18, 2016; Report 135 October 19, 2016; Report 136, October 20, 2016: In three October Reports that would be the last of the publicly released reports before the election, Steele reported that Michael Cohen was trying to clean up after Russian-related scandals. The series came at a time when Cohen was making real attempts to clean up after Trump’s hush payment scandals (including at least one call while he was visiting his daughter in London) and Hope Hicks asked him to address pee tape rumors that TMZ was chasing. The series also came during the Kilimnik-Gates-Manafort crime spree attempting to cover up their Ukrainian graft. It came during a period when the campaign — according to a Mike Flynn reference that has yet to be fully explained — was talking about reaching out to WikiLeaks. And it came during a period when — according to a Trump confession — Cohen’s earlier attempts to chase the Trump Tower deal remained ongoing. (This post shows that the things Cohen was alleged to have done in the dossier were all accounted for in other indictments.) In short, there was a lot of secret stuff going on in October, a month when the Russians might actually have begun to believe that Trump could pull off the win. Some of it even involved Cohen. None of it took place in Prague, and to the extent that anyone looked for it there, they’d be looking in the wrong place for the wrong cover-up.

The other content on this is more interesting. Report 134, mentioning Page, came after Page had told Stefan Halper he believed he had an “open checkbook” to form a pro-Russian think tank. This report suggests his monetary incentive to work with Russia was instead brokerage fees tied to the Rosneft sale. Returning to Carter Page at this point would have been useful for Deripaska given Kilimnik’s personal involvement in attempting to cover up the Ukrainian graft.

Report 135 is the only one that mentions something that could be construed as Manafort’s Deripaska-related scandals, which he and Kilimnik were trying hard to minimize.

Non-titled, non-dated: Bruce Ohr passed on a Steele report that has never been released publicly, suggesting that Russia delayed the selection of Secretary of State to ensure there’d be a pro-Russian person. Once Trump did nominate Rex Tillerson, seeding such a story would let Russia claim credit, whether or not it was true.

⇒Report 166, December 13, 2016: The final report in what BuzzFeed would publish as the dossier came at a time when it was clear there would be a vigorous investigation into Russia that could, if it discovered his embarrassing ties to Russia, discredit Trump. This report is by far the most incendiary one, alleging (among other things) that Cohen paid Russia’s hackers. It also blames the two key parts of the Russian operation on others, blaming Webzilla for activities that sound vaguely like what Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls did, and blaming “Romanian hackers” for what GRU did (effectively doubling down on the Guccifer 2.0 persona). This report was never directly shared with the FBI. It got published after John McCain had shared a set of the dossier reports directly with Jim Comey, at a time when the FBI was fighting with CIA and NSA over whether to include Steele’s intelligence in the Intelligence Community Assessment report on Russia.

How the dossier might serve Russia’s larger goals

The final dossier report (as published in BuzzFeed) seems perfectly suited for what would come next. On January 6, 2017, Jim Comey would brief Trump on the existence of the dossier, focusing in particular on the pee tape allegation that, according to Cohen, Trump should have known about since 2013. The FBI did not yet have, and so could not have briefed Trump, on the last, most inflammatory, report. At least one part of that last report — the claim there were hackers in Romania — would contradict the finding in the ICA  that Guccifer 2.0 was just a persona run by the GRU.

Around January 12, 2017, Manafort attended a meeting with a Deripaska executive, Georgiy Oganov. They discussed “recreating [the] old friendship” between Manafort and Deripaska. Manafort also pushed to resolve the Pericles lawsuit before inauguration day. Either while at that meeting or immediately on his return, Manafort started advising Reince Priebus on how Trump allies could discredit the Russian investigation — which was not predicated on the Steele dossier — by discrediting the Steele dossier. It was a superb strategy! Even in spite of that last, inflammatory report and other sketchy details, even in spite of warnings from the press that they had not been able to corroborate the dossier, it nevertheless was taken as confirmation of the worst accusations against Trump, and served as the focal point of such claims until the June 9 meeting broke in July.

For two years, for many commentators on both sides of the political aisle — up to and including the first journalist to rely on it publicly, Michael Isikoff — the dossier became the measure of whether Trump had conspired with Russia, even as direct evidence of his ties to Russia piled up. The right believed that if it could prove Cohen didn’t go to Prague, it would prove Trump’s innocence of other equally incendiary claims. The left believed if it could prove that Page met with people vaguely like those described in the dossier, it would prove Trump was working with Russia from the start. And just as Paul Manafort, fresh off a meeting to discuss how to return to Deripaska’s good graces, advised, Republicans capitalized on that, using attacks on the dossier as a way to discredit the counterintelligence investigation into Manafort and others that was predicated almost two months before the core investigators first got the dossier (and in Manafort’s case, an investigation that had started a year earlier).

Even before the Republican effort got started in earnest, then, the dossier served to emphasize already toxic political polarization and gave Trump a basis to claim victimhood around which Republicans could rally.

Then there’s the way in which it could discredit Russia’s adversaries.

Christopher Steele. First, consider what an attractive target Steele would be for the Russians. If Russia had identified Steele as one source of the investigation into their sports cheating, on top of pinning former Alexander Litvinienko’s murder on Russia, they’d have real reason to take him out. And he and his business were vulnerable, too. In his meeting with the Crossfire Hurricane team, he accused the FBI of leaks that had led his source network to dry up, something that understandably pissed off the FBI team when they finally acknowledged that Steele had been sharing his intelligence with the press.

that due to leaks, his source network was “drying up.” According to Case Agent 2, Steele complained to the FBI during the meeting about these leaks.

[snip]

Handling Agent 1 added that it “blew his mind” that, given Steele’s intelligence background, Steele was meeting with the press and taking actions that endangered the safety of those in his source network. Case Agent 2 told the OIG that he thought it was “terrible” for Steele to complain to the FBI about leaks during the early October meeting given that he had been meeting with media outlets in September and had provided information that was used in the Yahoo News article.

Steele’s conversations with Bruce Ohr in 2017 also seem to reflect growing concern for his business. Any financial vulnerabilities would make him all the more intent (in an odd mirror image of Manafort’s own desperation) to keep Deripaska’s business. Ultimately, though, the dossier project ended Steele’s relationship with the FBI, publicly exposed his intelligence collection efforts, and damaged his reputation.

Democrats. I’ve written before about how mind-numbingly stupid it was for the Democrats to dig in, not just in hiding their own role in funding the dossier, but also in insisting it remained credible. Had they simply said, early in 2017, “we shared our oppo research with the FBI, just like Steve Bannon did with Clinton Cash, and both led to investigations during the Presidential campaign,” we might be having a bipartisan discussion about the FBI’s use of oppo research during election years. But because Democrats didn’t do that, and because they dug in on the credibility of the dossier even as abundant evidence of other Trump ties to Russia became public, it put them on the defensive and embroiled them in several damaging lawsuits. Now, no one remembers that the Clinton Cash-predicated investigation leaked during the election, but they do think Democrats played dirty for doing precisely what Trump’s team did and, like Trump’s team, succeeding in interesting the FBI in their opposition claims.

The FBI. The FBI took reporting from someone who — compared to the other kinds of sources they rely on for counterintelligence investigations (and the DOJ IG Report admits this) — looked like Prince Charming. They used it to advance the one of four individualized investigations into Trump associates on which they had crystal clear direct involvement of sustained attempted recruitment by Russian intelligence. The first two FISA applications against Page probably would have been approved even if FBI had fully declared all the derogatory information they knew, and the key details Devin Nunes complained about (as part of the Manafort-launched attempt to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier) really don’t hold up, because DOJ complied with normal bias reporting on the source of funding for the dossier (and even blamed the Isikoff story on Glenn Simpson). Yes, FBI should have integrated the derogatory information on Steele as they discovered it for later applications. Better yet, they should have stopped relying on the dossier and instead used the intelligence they collected to establish probable cause for ongoing surveillance of Carter Page, or dropped the surveillance altogether as it became clear Page was no longer a key player in Trump’s world. But they didn’t. And now the FBI’s use of intelligence from a credible source, akin to the kind of intelligence they have to rely on every day, has become the excuse for the everyone from the President to DOJ’s Inspector General to former tough on crime Republicans to claim FBI’s counterintelligence experts are corrupt for pursuing counterintelligence investigations against Russian organized crime and election tampering that showed every subject was lying about damning ties to Russia. Along the way, FBI was investigating Manafort without fully realizing that Deripaska was engaged in this double game — something probably alluded to in two key redactions in the IG Report.

[Steele] explained that he worked for Russian Oligarch l’s attorney on litigation matters that involved Russian Oligarch 1 but that he could not provide “specifics” about them for confidentiality reasons. Steele stated that Russian Oligarch 1 had no influence on the substance of his election reporting and no contact with any of his sources. He also stated that he was not aware of any information indicating that Russian Oligarch 1 knew of his investigation relating to the 2016 U.S. elections. 211

While Steele did not get a fuller picture of the FBI’s investigation until early October (generally, the FBI seems to have been pretty good about avoiding telling Ohr anything he might share with Steele, but they did tell Steele the four people who were being investigated in a misguided belief they were tasking him to collect on those people), when the FBI interviewed Deripaska sometime in September 2016, they would not have known that someone separately working for his lawyers was, for a different customer, feeding and directing some of the understanding of Trump’s ties to Russia. (Note, I suspect that, because DOJ IG conflated Steele’s Deripaska work for his Fusion work, reports in it claiming that Steele’s dossier work arose out of his Manafort work may be based on a misunderstanding.)

Bruce Ohr and other experts on Russian organized crime. But it’s not just FBI’s counterintelligence investigators (though it does include people like Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok, who both had had success pursuing Russian organized crime earlier in their career). Because Steele shared his dossier with those he knew to have an interest and expertise in Russian organized crime — including Bruce Ohr, Kathleen Kavalec, and Jonathan Winer, to say nothing of Fusion GPS and Nellie Ohr — they were implicated as the dossier became a political target, even those like Ohr and Kavalec who raised questions about it in real time. Indeed, DOJ’s IG reversed almost 20 years of recommendations that DOJ and FBI share more information to insinuate that Bruce Ohr should be disciplined or even fired because of his justifiable ties to Steele. And Deripaska would have known this would happen, because he met Ohr through Steele, and knew they continued to share information (additionally, the IG Report describes McCabe explaining that he and Ohr, “spoke periodically between 2003 and 2016 regarding” Deripaska). Effectively, this dossier gave many of America’s top experts on Russian organized crime a kind of Cooties, at precisely the time the country needs experts.

Oleg Deripaska. Donald Trump should be absolutely furious at his campaign manager, who knew months before it broke publicly that he — and with it, Trump’s campaign — would be publicly implicated in Yanukovych’s corruption. Trump should be livid that Manafort’s offer to work for “free” came with tremendous strings attached, largely in the form of Oleg Deripaska leveraging his feud against Manafort all through the campaign (this double game makes sense of Rick Gates’ testimony that Manafort shared polling data to stave off Deripaska; effectively so long as it looked like he might help Trump win, Manafort believed, erroneously, Deripaska wouldn’t press the Pericles lawsuit). Deripaska is the one, via Christopher Steele, who focused some of the FBI’s attention onto Manafort and therefore onto Trump. But because of the way the dossier triggered all the partisan bickering Russia had already stoked during the election, and helped along by Rusal’s investment in the Senate Majority Leader’s state, the opposite has occurred. Trump’s Treasury Department used shell games to permit Rusal to evade the sanctions imposed on Deripaska. And key Republican propaganda outlets — including John Solomon and The Daily Caller — have embraced Deripaska as some kind of truth teller about 2016. This is Reagan rolling over in his grave kind of stuff. But a remarkable coup on Deripaska’s part. And even while Republicans have embraced the possibility that the dossier included disinformation, they don’t, at the same time, realize how that disinformation has made them the playthings of a Russian oligarch who was playing a brutal double game, stoking the investigation into Trump while hard balling his campaign manager, all through the election.

Timeline

2005-2009: Manafort works for Deripaska

2007: Manafort founds Pericles with Deripaska as the sole investor

2012: Orbis hired as a subcontractor by Deripaska lawyer

February 22, 2014: Yanukovych flees Ukraine

December 4, 2014: Deripaska sues Manafort for $18.9 million

September 2015: Ohr meets with Deripaska

January 11, 2016: Steele writes Ohr about Deripaska seeking a visa to attend APEC (many of these 2016 contacts rely on Byron York’s description)

February 8, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to tell him Deripaska has been given an official visa to the US

February 21, 2016: Steele writes Ohr to say there would be a US government meeting on Deripaska, claims he had some Orbis reporting showing that Deripaska was not a “tool” of the Kremlin, says he’ll send it to (probably) Gaeta

March 17, 2016: Steele asks Ohr if he has any travel to Europe planned

March 28, 2016: Manafort hired as Convention Manager

March 30, 2016: Manafort sends Deripaska, Rinat Akhmetov, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and Boris Kelesnikov memos announcing his appointment to the Trump campaign and indicating his willingness to consult on Ukrainian politics in the future

April 11, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if “our friends” had seen the media coverage of his new role, specifically asking about Deripaska:

Manafort: How do we use to get whole. Has [Deripaska] operation seen?

Kilimnik: Yes. I have been sending everything to Victor [Boyarkin], who has been forwarding the coverage directly to OVD.

April to May 2016: On Manafort’s instructions, Gates starts sending the Ukrainian oligarchs and Deripaska internal polling data via WhatsApp

May 7, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort meet for breakfast in NYC; they discuss Ukrainian events and the Trump campaign

May 19, 2016: Manafort promoted to Campaign Manager

July 1, 2016: Steele says he’s going to meet someone (possibly Gaeta) to discuss ongoing business, then says he wants “to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!,” meaning Deripaska

July 7, 2016: Steele and Ohr speak by Skype

July 7, 2016: Manafort asks Kilimnik if there has been any movement on the Pericles lawsuit; Kilimnik replies with optimism they can return to “the original relationship” with Deripaska

Kilimnik: I am carefully optimistic on the question of our biggest interest. Our friend [Boyarkin] said there is lately significantly more attention to the campaign in his boss’ [Deripaska’s] mind, and he will be most likely looking for ways to reach out to you pretty soon, understanding all the time sensitivity. I am more than sure that it will be resolved and we will get back to the original relationship with V. ‘s boss [Deripaska]

Manafort: if [Deripaska] needs private briefings we can accommodate.

July 28, 2016: Kilimnik flies from Kyiv to Moscow

July 29, 2016: Kilimnik pitches a meeting to talk about Yanukovych

Kilimnik: I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it. … It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.

Manafort: Tuesday [August 2] is best . .. Tues or weds in NYC.

July 30, 2016: Steele meets with Bruce and Nellie Ohr in DC and tells them, among other things, about Deripaska’s allegations of corruption against Manafort

July 31, 2016: Kilimnik tells Manafort he needs two hours for the meeting

August 2, 2016: Kilimnik and Manafort (and, for part of the meeting, Gates) meet in NYC and discuss how to win Rust Belt swing states, how to carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking, and how to get back on the Ukrainian-Deripaska gravy train

August 10, 2016: Manafort books $2.4M in revenue from his Ukrainian paymasters

August 18, 2016: Manafort tells NBC he hasn’t had dealings with Deripaska in four years

September 2016: FBI Agents interview Deripaska, with no notice, about whether Manafort was working with Russia (per John Solomon)

September 23, 2016: Steele tells Ohr that Deripasksa would be willing to share information on Manafort with FBI

October 18, 2016: Steele calls Ohr in a panic because Ukraine has sanctioned Deripaska

December 7, 2016: Interagency strategy meeting including Ohr and FBI on whether and how to engage with Deripaska

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik emails (probably using foldering) Manafort about Ukraine “peace” plan

January 12, 2017: Manafort meeting in Madrid with Deripaska executive Georgiy Oganov

Janaury 19-22, 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik and Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin at the Westin Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia; Ukraine “peace” plan comes up again

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid, ostensibly for update on Black Ledger investigation

January 10, 2018: Deripaska sues Manafort and Gates in NYS

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

Horowitz

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

I want to start this post by reiterating that I agree with the conclusion of the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page that there were significant errors with the Carter Page FISA applications, especially the reauthorizations. I think the Report provides a lot of valuable detail about the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, though not necessarily the details about the FISA process or keeping the country safe that policy makers need (which I’ll return to). I think its recommendations are worthwhile but insufficient to fix the problems identified by the review.

So I find the IG Report an important review of the FISA process.

But it is also the case that the IG Report commits precisely the kinds of errors it finds inexcusable in the FBI.

As I lay out here, the major problems with the Carter Page FISA applications all amount to FBI not providing (first) DOJ’s Office of Intelligence and then the FISA Court critical information (regarding Page’s 2009-2013 ties to the CIA, information that undermine claims that Christopher Steele and the dossier were reliable, and other information — some that contradicted the dossier — that the IG Report deems exculpatory). The IG Report also found 17 items over the course of four applications that did not meet the Woods procedure requirement of being backed by documentation in the file (this table lays out that information, along with all the derogatory information in Page’s applications). Some of these Woods procedure problems reflect bureaucratic sloppiness in the procedure that’s supposed to guarantee reliability on FISA issues; some are more significant errors.

Given those errors (again, errors I significantly agree are shown in the Report), then, DOJ IG ought to make damn sure they don’t commit the same kinds of errors they deem serious enough to refer the entire FBI chain of command for discipline up to and including firing). But they did.

Errors identified on publication

Let’s start with the corrections made to the report, first on December 11 and then on December 20. On December 11, there were three changes, one of which reflected prior declassification of the dates of the FISA orders targeting Page and additional declassification regarding Sergei Millian, The other two changes are corrections of inaccurate claims made in the first release of the report.

The first involves an utterly central part of DOJ IG’s inquiry: at what point in time the FBI got informants to interview Carter Page, Sam Clovis, and George Papadopoulos. When the report was initially released, it falsely claimed that Page and Papadopoulos had been targeted with informants before FBI had formally opened its investigation on July 31, 2016.

On pages iv, xvi, 400, and 407, we changed the phrase “before and after” to “both during and after the time.” In all instances, the phrase appears in connection to the time period during which we found that the Crossfire Hurricane team used Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) to interact and consensually record conversations with Page and Papadopoulos. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate information concerning these time periods that previously appeared, and still appears, on pages 305 and 313 (e.g., the statement on page 305 that “the Crossfire Hurricane team tasked CHSs to interact with Page and Papadopoulos both during the time Page and Papadopoulos were advisors to the Trump campaign, and after Page and Papadopoulos were no longer affiliated with the Trump campaign”).

Based in part on the fact that Stefan Halper met Carter Page before he was formally tasked as an informant to collect information from him, and in part on George Papadopoulos’ paranoid rants, the frothy right had been accusing the FBI of using informants before the investigation was opened. And when then Report was initially released, it stated that that had, in fact occurred, even though the narrative in the Report made it clear that that did not happen (though it did show that the FBI had used informants before either Page or Papadopoulos had been kicked off the campaign). So the initial report falsely claimed the Report confirmed a frothy right conspiracy, but within days DOJ IG corrected that false claim. In other words, before subjected to the scrutiny of public review, the Report made a false claim about a core topic of its investigation.

Another of the corrections made on December 11 involves information about what an interview of Christopher Steele’s Sub-Source said when the FBI interviewed him or her to assess the credibility of Steele’s reporting. The report originally stated that the Sub-Source affirmatively stated he or she had no discussion with Steele about WikiLeaks, but the revised Report instead stated that the Sub-Source did not recall having such a discussion.

On pages xi, 242, 368, and 370, we changed the phrase “had no discussion” to “did not recall any discussion or mention.” On page 242, we also changed the phrase “made no mention at all of” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of.” On page 370, we also changed the word “assertion” to “statement,” and the words “and Person 1 had no discussion at all regarding WikiLeaks directly contradicted” to “did not recall any discussion or mention of WikiLeaks during the telephone call was inconsistent with.” In all instances, this phrase appears in connection with statements that Steele’s Primary Sub-source made to the FBI during a January 2017 interview about information he provided to Steele that appeared in Steele’s election reports. The corrected information appearing in this updated report reflects the accurate characterization of the Primary Sub-source’s account to the FBI that previously appeared, and still appears, on page 191, stating that “[the Primary Sub-Source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks.”

The distinction is important because Steele claimed — plausibly — that his Sub-Source was shading how much he gave Steele, given how controversial things had become by 2017; Steele also claims to have documentation of what his Sub-Source claimed when.

Whatever the truth on this point, as the correction acknowledges, the FBI’s 302 of the interview uses the “did not recall” language.

[The Primary Sub-source] recalls that this 10-15 minute conversation included a general discussion about Trump and the Kremlin, that there was “communication” between the parties, and that it was an ongoing relationship. (The Primary Sub-source] recalls that the individual believed to be [Source E in Report 95] said that there was “exchange of information” between Trump and the Kremlin, and that there was “nothing bad about it.” [Source E] said that some of this information exchange could be good for Russia, and some could be damaging to Trump, but deniable. The individual said that the Kremlin might be of help to get Trump elected, but [the Primary Sub-source] did not recall any discussion or mention of Wiki[L]eaks. [my emphasis]

In other words, the FBI had an official source for the Sub-Source’s comments, the 302, and the DOJ IG, in its first release, used language that deviated from what the official source said.

This is precisely the kind of error the Report pointed to as Woods procedure violations, such as the FBI’s description of Steele’s reporting as “corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,” when in fact the official document said something different. The Report complains about a similar variance of phrasing in the renewals specifically as they pertain to whether Steele was “high-ranking” or “moderately senior.”

One might excuse the discrepancy because — after all — DOJ IG fixed this language almost as soon as it became public. Except that language pertaining to Steele’s Sub-Source was declassified the night before the Report release, without Steele having had an opportunity to read it. Thus, it is language that appeared in public in violation of DOJ IG’s rules on document reviews, so might have been avoided if it had followed its normal process.

Finally, one of the corrections made on December 20 — fixing of an error of fact regarding the laws that criminalize acting as an agent of a foreign government or principal without registration, but claiming falsely the correction just amounted to adding a reference to the statute in question — would also be the same kind of error that, in the FISA context, would amount to a Woods procedure violation, as it asserts the statute said something it didn’t. Furthermore, a later discussion of the Senate Report on FISA (still) miscites a page discussing FARA, something else that would count as a Woods violation, particularly given that the passage of the Senate Report cited actually undermined the point DOJ IG was trying to make, explaining why Carter Page’s direct ties to known Russian intelligence officers got well past (according to the intent of Congress) the concerns about him being targeted for his First Amendment activities.

Information excluded from the Bruce Ohr discussion

As this post lays out, the IG Report left out at least two key details in its discussion of Bruce Ohr’s communications with Christopher Steele. First, it made no explicit mention of the at least five communications Ohr had with Steele in 2016 prior to their July 30, 2016 brunch meeting. Those contacts were significantly about — but probably not limited to — Oleg Deripaska. Including those contacts would make it clear that the Deripaska reference during their July 30 meeting was a continuation of past discussions, not a new reference tied to the dossier (indeed, nothing that could relate to the Deripaska feud with Paul Manafort showed up in the dossier until October 19, and even then it would have simply been a reference to his Russian ties). Moreover, it would show that all of the contacts between them were a continuation of past information sharing tied to Ohr’s job.

In addition, the IG Report’s discussion of the July 30 meeting omits a Steele mention about Russian doping. That reference, like the multiple references to topics other than Trump in 2017 that the IG Report does acknowledge, make it clear that Ohr and Steele’s communications always included information about their mutual concerns about transnational organized crime.

In other words, DOJ IG twice left out or glossed over details that would have made it clear the Ohr – Steele communications consisted of more than just dirt on Trump, the equivalent of leaving out exculpatory information in the Carter Page application. And the IG Report’s entire presentation of their Deripaska discussions overstate the degree to which those discussions amounted to to information from the dossier (though there are a lot of other problems with the Deripaska-related communications between the two men).

Possible information excluded from the George Papadopoulos transcript

This post shows that, rather than being exculpatory (as the frothy right has long claimed), the substance of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Stefan Halper and another informant were actually fairly damning. The IG Report does not complain that the Carter Page applications leave out the damning details of these interactions (including that both he and Page spoke similarly about an October surprise).

It does, however, complain that the Carter Page applications leave out Papadopoulos’ denials that the campaign was trying to optimize the WikiLeaks releases, even though those denials were internally inconsistent and Papadopoulos explained to the second informant he had made a categorical denial to Halper because he worried Halper might tell the CIA if had made anything but such a categorical denial.

So the IG Report’s case that these denials should have been included in the Carter Page applications is not all that convincing (though it does therefore endorse one of the frothy right complaints that led to this investigation). DOJ lawyer Stu Evans, who generally always supported more disclosure, treated Papadopoulos’ denials like Joseph Mifsud’s later claims not to have had advance knowledge of the email release, as cover stories, which is precisely what the FBI team believed them to be in real time.

As part of its investigation, the FBI interviewed Mifsud in February 2017, after Renewal Application No. 1 was filed but before Renewal Application No. 2. According to the FD-302 documenting the interview, Mifsud admitted to having met with Papadopoulos but denied having told him about any suggestion or offer from Russia.403 Additionally, according to the FD-302, Mifsud told the FBI that “he had no advance knowledge Russia was in possession of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and, therefore, did not make any offers or proffer any information to Papadopoulos.”

[snip]

Evans told us that he could not say definitively whether QI would have included this information in subsequent renewal applications without discussing the issue with the team (the FBI and QI), but Evans also said that Mifsud’s denial as described by the QIG sounded like something “potentially factually similarly situated” to the denials made by Papadopoulos that QI determined should have been included. 405

In other words, Evans would have treated both of these denials (correctly, as subsequent investigation would prove) as lies, and dealt with them however such lies are treated in FISA applications. Probably, they would be used to suggest that the individuals in question were trying to keep any interactions secret, therefore supporting rather than undermining a claim that clandestine intelligence cooperation was happening.

But there’s a detail that Papadopoulos has claimed he also included in his comments to Halper that doesn’t show up in the ellipsis-filled excerpts of Papadopoulos’ conversations with Halper. Along with admitting that he likened optimizing the WikiLeaks releases to “treason,” Papadopoulos claimed he pushed back by saying, “I really have nothing to do with Russia.” If Papadopoulos did, in fact, say anything like that, it would have amounted to proof he was lying, especially since the FBI was tracking his ongoing interactions with Sergei Millian at the time, whom they would soon open a counterintelligence investigation into. The IG’s office could not tell me whether such language appeared in the full transcript. But if such language was excluded, then it would amount to an exclusion of a material detail of the sort that the IG Report complains about FBI excluding in Page’s applications.

What makes it into a 302 or not

One of the Woods procedure errors the IG Report rightly describes is that the FBI 302 that purportedly included a discussion of Carter Page being picked up in a limo in Moscow in July 2016 does not actually include the reference.

A June 2017 interview by the FBI of an individual closely tied to the President of the New Economic School in Moscow who stated that Carter Page was selected to give a commencement speech in July 2016 because he was candidate Trump’s “Russia-guy.” This individual also told the FBI that while in Russia in July 2016, Carter Page was picked up in a chauffeured car and it was rumored he met with Igor Sechin. However, the FD-302 documenting this interview, which was included in the Woods File for Renewal Application No. 3, does not contain any reference to a chauffeured car picking up Carter Page. We were unable to locate any document or information in the Woods File that supported this assertion.

371 We asked both agents that interviewed this individual, Case Agent 6 and Case Agent 7, if this individual stated during the interview that Page was picked up in a chauffeured car. Case Agent 6 told us he did recall the individual making this statement; Case Agent 7 did not recall and stated he may have made the statement during a telephone interview that occurred later.

Confusingly, in the appendix where it lists this, it attributes the comment to US person 1, which is presumably how DOJ referred to the source in the application. This is not a reference to Sergei Millian, though he is referred to as Person 1 in the IG Report.

Rather, this was a reference to Yuval Weber, the son of the Schlomo Weber, the rector of the New Economic School in Moscow who invited Page to Moscow in 2016. Per the Mueller Report, Yuval Weber was interviewed on June 1, 2017 (his father was interviewed on July 28, 2017).

This is absolutely a fair complaint.

But the IG Report does not, similarly, complain about or fully incorporate something else that didn’t make an FBI 302. As it describes, the notes from at least one of the attendees at the November 21, 2016 meeting where Bruce Ohr provided context about the Steele dossier included background to Ohr’s description that Steele was “desperate” Trump not be elected.

Steele was “desperate” that Trump not be elected, but was providing reports for ideological reasons, specifically that “Russia [was] bad;”

That is, Ohr’s observation was not about a political view on the part of Steele, but was instead a comment about his concerns about Russia.

This accords with what Steele told the IG’s investigators.

When we interviewed Steele, he told us that he did not state that he was “desperate” that Trump not be elected and thought Ohr might have been paraphrasing his sentiments. Steele told us that based on what he learned during his research he was concerned that Trump was a national security risk and he had no particular animus against Trump otherwise.

Mind you, Steele’s concerns about Trump’s election should have been included in the Carter Page applications in any case. But the context of why Steele was so concerned doesn’t appear in the balance of the IG Report’s discussion of this reference, which thereby treats what the investigation showed was a concern about national security as, instead, political bias.

The FBI is always wrong and DOJ is always right

The IG Report shows remarkable consistency for treating similar behavior from people at FBI as damning while brushing off similar behavior from DOJ lawyers or managers. As I noted in this post, for example, it suggests Jim Comey should have demanded to learn more details about Bruce Ohr’s interactions with Christopher Steele in a November 2016 briefing where Ohr was mentioned, but doesn’t ask why no one in DOJ’s chain of command who got briefed in February 2017 on Ohr’s role didn’t demand more information. Effectively Comey gets held accountable for something mentioned in a briefing, but DOJ lawyers are not. The IG Report admits this explicitly, saying that because FBI would have access to more information, they should be held accountable for more.

Thus, while we believe the opportunities for learning investigative details were greater for FBI leadership than for Department leadership, we were unable to conclusively determine whether FBI leadership was provided with sufficient information, or sufficiently probed the investigative team, to enable them to effectively assess the evidence as the case progressed.

The IG Report applies the same standard to more junior people as well. For example, an Office of Intelligence lawyer excuses himself from including Carter Page’s (truthful) denials in the FISA application because the FBI agent did not flag statements for him, including in a 163-page transcript.

We found that information about the August 2016 meeting was first shared with the 01 Attorney on or about June 20, 2017, when Case Agent 6 sent the 01 Attorney a 163-page document containing the statements made by Page during the meeting. As described in Chapter Seven, Case Agent 6, to bolster probable cause, had added to the draft of FISA Renewal Application No. 3 statements that Page made during this meeting about an “October Surprise” involving an “email dump” of “33 thousand” emails. The OI Attorney told us that he used the 163-page document to accurately quote in the final renewal application Page’s statements concerning the “October Surprise,” but that he did not read the other aspects of the document and that the case agent did not flag for him the statements Page made about Manafort. The OI Attorney told us that these statements, which were available to the FBI before the first application, should have been flagged by the FBI for inclusion in all of the FISA applications because they were relevant to the court’s assessment of the allegations concerning Manafort’s use of Page as an intermediary with Russia. Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion of that topic.

Regarding the similar statement Page made during one of his March 2017 interviews with the FBI, the 01 Attorney told us that Case Agent 6 also did not flag this statement for him, but added that he (OI Attorney) should have noticed the statement himself in the interview summary Case Agent 6 forwarded to him on March 24, 2017, since it was only five pages, and the 01 Attorney had read the entire document.

[snip]

Case Agent 6 told us that he did not know that Page made the statement about Manafort because the August 2016 meeting took place before he was assigned to the investigation. He said that the reason he knew about the “October Surprise” statements in the document was that he had heard about them from Case Agent 1 and did a word search to find the specific discussion on that topic. Case Agent 6 further told us that he added the “October Surprise” statements in consultation with the 01 Attorney after the 01 Attorney asked him if there was other information in the case file that would help support probable cause.

In reality, both the FBI Agent and the OI lawyer should be held to the standard of reading the materials in question.

A more remarkable example comes in a passage where the IG Report claims NSD had “no indication” of seven problems it found in the first Carter Page application, but then describes that the FBI Agent had included details on one of them in an email to the OI lawyer in support of the application.

3. Omitted information relevant to the reliability of Person 1, a key Steele sub-source (who, as previously noted, was attributed with providing the information in Report 95 and some of the information in Reports 80 and 102 relied upon in the application), namely that (1) Steele himself told members of the Crossfire Hurricane team that Person 1 was a “boaster” and an “egoist” and “may engage in some embellishment” and (2) the FBI had opened a counterintelligence investigation on Person 1 a few days before the FISA application was filed;

[snip]

We found no indication that NSD officials were aware of these issues at the time they prepared or reviewed the first FISA application. Regarding the third listed item above, the OI Attorney who drafted the application had received an email from Case Agent 1 before the first application was filed containing the information about Steele’s “boaster” and “embellishment” characterization of Person 1, whom the FBI believed to be Source E in Report 95 and the source of other allegations in the application derived from Reports 80 and 102. This information was part of a lengthy email that included descriptions of various individuals in Steele’s source network and other information Steele provided to the Crossfire Hurricane team in early October 2016. The OI Attorney told us that he did not recall the Crossfire Hurricane team flagging this issue for him or that he independently made the connection between this sub-source and Steele’s characterization of Person 1 as an embellisher. We believe Case Agent 1 should have specifically discussed with the OI Attorney the FBI’s assessment that this subsource was Person 1, that Steele had provided derogatory information regarding Person 1, and that [redacted], so that OI could have assessed how these facts might impact the FISA application.

Later, the IG Report explicitly admits that it is doing this, holding the FBI responsible because the DOJ lawyers didn’t read what the FBI provided them.

While we found isolated instances where a case agent forwarded documentation to the OI Attorney that included, among other things, information omitted from the FISA applications, we noted that, in those instances, the Crossfire Hurricane team did not alert the OI Attorney to the information.

It then claims that FBI did not give OI a chance to consider information it shared with OI.

We do not speculate as to whether or how this additional information might have influenced the decisions of senior leaders who supported the applications, if they had known all of the relevant information. Nevertheless, we believe it was the obligation of the agents who were aware of the information to ensure that OI and the decision makers had the opportunity to consider it, both to decide whether to proceed with the applications and, if so, how to present this information to the court.

From a policy perspective, the IG Report provides a more useful observation about the FBI-OI relationship that explains and should be fixed to address the problem of OI not integrating information FBI provided them: that the lawyers in OI aren’t involved in an investigative role like prosecutors who would file a criminal warrant application.

As described in Chapter Five, NSD officials told us that the nature of FISA practice requires that 01 rely on the FBI agents who are familiar with the investigation to provide accurate and complete information. Unlike federal prosecutors, OI attorneys are usually not involved in an investigation, or even aware of a case’s existence, unless and until OI receives a request to initiate a FISA application. Once OI receives a FISA request, OI attorneys generally interact with field offices remotely and do not have broad access to FBI case files or sensitive source files. NSD officials cautioned that even if OI received broader access to FBI case and source files, they still believe that the case agents and source handling agents are better positioned to identify all relevant information in the files. In addition, NSD officials told us that OI attorneys often do not have enough time to go through the files themselves, as it is not unusual for OI to receive requests for emergency authorizations with only a few hours to evaluate the request.

Rather than incorporating this important observation into its findings, thereby identifying a process failure with FISA that likely applies to all FISA applications, the IG Report instead just blames the FBI. This is equivalent to downplaying honest explanations for Carter Page’s enthusiasm for sharing non-public information with Russian intelligence officers — that CIA said it was okay (which would not explain all of his interactions with Russian spies in any case).

Again, I’m not knocking the report as a whole. In much the same way that there was a lot of evidence against Carter Page even given the problems with his FISA applications, the IG Report is important and valuable in spite of these problems.

But the problems probably provide a far better answer to the question posed by the IG Report as a whole: what explains the errors or missing information in the Carter Page FISA applications. In a really worthwhile podcast on the report, Stewart Baker suggests the disproportionate blame on FBI may arise from the scope of DOJ IG’s authority; it is not permitted to criticize the work of prosecutors. Assessed along with DOJ IG’s past reports on Trump targets, these errors may raise questions of bias, whether that bias stems from a failure to reframe investigative missions the IG receives to eliminate the assumptions who assign them (as almost certainly happened in the IG Report’s treatment of Bruce Ohr), or a more general willingness to serve as Trump’s hatchetman (I’ll return to this in a post on Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit).

But the explanation could be and — for many of these errors — likely is more simple. As Julian Sanchez argued convincingly, the better explanation is probably confirmation bias. Once DOJ IG came to believe FBI fucked up (possibly as early as the report on the Hillary investigation), everything it found seemed to confirm that conclusion. That’s natural and not something I am immune to either (and I’m sure I’ll have my share of embarrassing errors in this post!). But particularly with FISA — which disproportionately is used with people with Chinese or Islamic ties — that kind of confirmation bias can end up being discriminatory.

That, again, provides perhaps the most important lesson this report offers about FISA. DOJ IG was able to fix several of its errors because making the report public subjected its work to scrutiny that identified the errors; I’ve been able to point to others simply by an extended deep dive or consulting other public records on these matters, like a Judicial Watch FOIA or the Mueller Report. The problem with FISA applications, however, is they never get exposed to such scrutiny, so that errors that might be addressed in criminal affidavits aren’t for FISA applications. In that Baker podcast, David Kris argued that one way to fix these problems is to let any defendants against whom FISA is used in a prosecution access their application (something that could be done under the CIPA process).

Committing the same kinds of errors it criticizes doesn’t make this IG Report useless or wrong about its key findings on the problems with the Carter Page application (though it does make the recommendations that the FBI and Bruce Ohr be disciplined far weaker). But it does make a meta point about the value of transparency for counteracting confirmation bias.

OTHER POSTS ON THE DOJ IG REPORT

Overview and ancillary posts

DOJ IG Report on Carter Page and Related Issues: Mega Summary Post

The DOJ IG Report on Carter Page: Policy Considerations

Timeline of Key Events in DOJ IG Carter Page Report

Crossfire Hurricane Glossary (by bmaz)

Facts appearing in the Carter Page FISA applications

Nunes Memo v Schiff Memo: Neither Were Entirely Right

Rosemary Collyer Responds to the DOJ IG Report in Fairly Blasé Fashion

Report shortcomings

The Inspector General Report on Carter Page Fails to Meet the Standard It Applies to the FBI

“Fact Witness:” How Rod Rosenstein Got DOJ IG To Land a Plane on Bruce Ohr

Eleven Days after Releasing Their Report, DOJ IG Clarified What Crimes FBI Investigated

Factual revelations in the report

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Damning Revelations about George Papadopoulos in a DOJ IG Report Claiming Exculpatory Evidence

A Biased FBI Agent Was Running an Informant on an Oppo-Research Predicated Investigation–into Hillary–in 2016

The Carter Page IG Report Debunks a Key [Impeachment-Related] Conspiracy about Paul Manafort

The Flynn Predication

Sam Clovis Responded to a Question about Russia Interfering in the Election by Raising Voter ID