Justice Department releases FISA warrant applications on Carter Page

My quick analysis:
400-something pages, mostly redactions, and the rest mostly boilerplate that gets repeated from application to application.
Still, what’s left is interesting. And, naturally, the documents make complete nonsense of the conspiracy theory Devin Nunes and his House Intelligence Committee Republican colleagues have been pushing.
Everything about the Steele Dossier – including Steele’s decision to talk to the press just before the election – was fully revealed to the court, and there was plenty of non-Dossier support for the idea that Page was acting as a Russian agent. Moreover, the extension applications continue to recite that the Bureau believes “Source 1’s” (that is, Steele’s) “reporting herein to be credible.” If the wiretaps conducted under the warrant had in any way disconfirmed Steele’s material, the Bureau could hardly continue to recite that Steele’s reporting was credible.
First application in October 2016, extended January, April, July. (90 days is the limit for a FISA warrant; an extension requires a new application.
Each application is signed by the FBI Director and the Attorney General (or substitute after the Sessions recusal). October and January applications are signed by Sally Yates as AG.
Last two are signed by Boente (April) and Rosenstein (July). Comey signs as FBI Director the first three times; Wray signs in July.
[Footnote: I was close to the parallel process for wiretap applications, requiring sign-off by an Assistant Attorney General. That was taken enormously seriously, the signature was not a rubber stamp. Each application was read in detail by someone on the AAG’s personal staff, and more than one application was sent back or refused outright. Hard to believe FISA applications aren’t taken comparably seriously.]
Presumably much of the redaction is about the product; every extension has to show that the previous 90 days were productive. The Times counted pages: 66 pages  in the original, while the extensions counted 79 pages, 91 pages and 101 pages, suggesting that there was significant product. But that was already clear from the fact that the extensions were requested and granted. Courts frown on continuing to drill dry holes.
Basis of the first application was the FBI belief that Page was “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government” and that “the Russian Government’s efforts [to mess with the campaign] were coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate 1 [Trump]
Can you say “No collusion”? I was sure that you could.
Update: Leah McElrath points out that this assertion – like the assertion of the reliability of Steele’s reporting – is repeated verbatim in the three extension applications, which it couldn’t be if the wiretaps had failed to confirm it. More detail from Twitter account @PwnAllTheThings.
The application recites that Carter was a knowing intelligence agent, recruited by three named SVR officers acting under Non-Official Cover, one of whom, Buryakov, was arrested in January 2015 and pleaded guilty to a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by acting as an unregistered foreign agent in May 2016, getting 30 months.
Page’s mission is said to have been “clandestine intelligence activities (other than intelligence gathering activities).” If that applied to Buryakov, that might explain why he was charged with a FARA violation rather than the more serious charge of espionage.
Comic relief: In February, 2017, Page asks the Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division to investigate whether the Clinton campaign had engaged in “severe election fraud”  involving “disinformation, suppression of dissent, hate crimes, and other extensive abuses” by saying mean things about Page.
Conclusion: The warrant was issued on the basis of the FBI’s belief that Carter Page, a Trump adviser, was knowingly working for the Russians, and that other Trump campaign personnel might be doing the same. It was then extended three times, strongly suggesting that the taps yielded, and continued to yield, valuable counterintelligence. And the terms of those extension applications strongly suggest that the Steele Dossier, and the claim that Page was conspiring with Russia to help Trump, kept looking good.
It gets harder and harder to credit the good faith of anyone who still insists that there is doubt that Russia, as a matter of national policy, interfered with the 2016 election to secure victory for its favored candidate, and that at least one Trump campaign official knowingly helped.

Trump’s Kremlin connection: the other shoe(s) drop

Mike Isikoff is about as far from being a Clinton-lover as it’s possible to be on an outpatient basis: he was last seen chasing down a semen-stained dress. But today he broke a blockbuster story: tracing the activities in Moscow of Carter Page, an otherwise utterly obscure person who was nonetheless one of the five people Donald Trump listed as “foreign policy advisers” to his campaign.

It appears that, after Trump named him as an adviser and just before the Republican convention, Page met in Moscow not only with an oligarch on the sanctions list but also with the official apparently in charge of Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections, including both the activities of the RT and Sputnik News and the hackers who broke into the DNC emails and released the results to WikiLeaks timed to create maximum heartache for Clinton.

Also today, ABC blew a major hole in Trump’s denial of major economic ties to Russia: his estimated take was in the “hundreds of millions of dollars,” some of it from the Russian mafia. His proposal to put his assets in a “blind trust” run by his children doesn’t pass the giggle test:  that trust wouldn’t even need glasses.

Add these to the list: Trump’s threat to renege on our NATO treaty commitments and not support our allies in the face of Russian aggression; Trump’s expressed admiration for Putin as “a stronger leader” than Obama;  hiring Paul Manafort, who worked to elect Putin’s puppet Yanukovych as President of Ukraine; his having foreign policy advisers like Gen. Michael Flynn, who takes money to go on Russian propaganda channel RT and compares it to CNN; Trump’s invitation to Putin to hack Clinton’s emails; and Trump’s astounding assurance that Putin wasn’t “going into Ukraine” two years after Russia had annexed Crimea and while Russian troops (under thin disguise as “volunteers”) were still shooting up the Donbass; and Trump’s promise to “look at” lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

Since the United States is not at war with Russia, what Trump is up to does not meet the Constitutional definition of “treason.” But since U.S. and Russian interests directly conflict, and since the Russian military has engaged in risky provocations such as buzzing U.S. Navy vessels in the Baltic, there is no reason not to call what Trump is doing – most of all, his invitation to an adversary to intervene on his behalf in our elections – disloyal. That’s the first time in U.S. history (unless you want to count George McClellan in 1864) that such a word could be  accurately used about a major-party candidate for President of the United States.

And yet the Republican Party – including legitimate war heroes such as Bob Dole and John McCain – is unifying behind a man not just obviously unfit to lead this country but not even loyal to it. That should give you some idea how deep the rot goes.

Footnotes

  1. With his usual impeccable timing, Ted Cruz chose today to endorse the man he previously said was unfit to be President.
  2. In related news, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reports that former KGB Col. Putin plans to reanimate his old outfit by recombining foreign and domestic intelligence agencies. Instead of doing so under the KGB name, however, Putin proposes to revert to name the outfit carried when Lavrenti Beria ran it for Stalin: the Ministry of State Security, or MGB. No word yet on plans to re-open “mental hospitals” in which to torture dissidents. But have patience.