I am trying to make sense of your latest article titled, “FISA Applications Confirm: The FBI Relied on the Unverified Steele Dossier” and I have a few questions for you.
My inquiry is sincere(ish). I am baffled by what you are trying to do because I believe you are an intelligent guy who can surely see through the concocted Trump narrative on the FISA application and the Mueller investigation as a whole.
Therefore, I’m wondering what your motivations are to present this in the way you have. People respect you and pay attention to your opinions and analysis of these things. They use you as an expert in developing their own arguments and rely on you to be completely accurate and honest about what’s going on. We are dealing with some very serious issues and turning people against our institutions of intelligence gathering and law enforcement under anything other than complete integrity is a very dangerous thing to play with.
I don’t want to speculate on your motivations, but rather would like some clarification on a few things:
First, your title,
“FISA Applications Confirm: The FBI Relied on the Unverified Steele Dossier”
Sure, the FBI did rely on the Steele Dossier. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, no matter how dramatic you make the headline. First, they did not rely only on the dossier as you and many others are suggesting. The FBI has a history with Page and his associations with Russia. It has been an issue before that they have had to deal with. So this didn’t just pop up with some random person out of the blue. They also had plenty of other information about Page’s activities with the Russians aside from the dossier. In fact, the first 15 pages of the application discuss that, without mentioning Source #1 (Steele) of the dossier. Let me repeat that…Source #1 is not even mentioned in the application until Page 15. So, please, stop with the erroneous implication that the FBI used only the dossier for the application.
Your article begins with a highly emotional, hyperbolic statement,
“A salacious Clinton-campaign product was the driving force behind the Trump–Russia investigation.”
Why do you feel the need to approach the situation like this? Tainting the issue by using such hyperbole does not help. For those who are prone to view such a statement and take you completely at your word, it foments outrage. And for those who may approach your position with skepticism, it immediately leads one to question your sincerity and credibility on the remainder of your arguments.
“On a sleepy summer Saturday, after months of stonewalling, the FBI dumped 412 pages of documents related to the Carter Page FISA surveillance warrants — the applications, the certifications, and the warrants themselves. Now that we can see it all in black and white — mostly black, as they are heavily redacted — it is crystal clear that the Steele dossier, an unverified Clinton-campaign product, was the driving force behind the Trump–Russia investigation.”
“The FISA court was not told that the Clinton campaign was behind Steele’s work.”
Why is that even pertinent? Serious question. Steele himself was not told that the Clinton campaign was behind his work. The FISA application makes this very clear on Page 16. Therefore, the information that Steele gathered was obtained without the knowledge of the Clinton campaign’s involvement, so why would it then be pertinent in evaluating Steele’s and the information’s credibility? Furthermore, by keeping specific names out of such documents, it enables those considering it to be more objective. If a judge has a personal bias against Hillary, for example, then knowing she paid for the investigation may very well affect decisions being made, even though it had nothing to do with the integrity and credibility of the information. Keeping such information out keeps it less political, not more. Lastly, they do indeed make it quite clear that this information was gathered “to be used to discredit Candidate #1’s campaign”.
“Nor did the FBI and Justice Department inform the court that Steele’s allegations had never been verified.”
On Page 16 of the application, they specifically state that they based their belief on the credibility of Source #1’s information on Source #1’s previous reporting history with the FBI. This hardly lends to the charge that the FBI was not informing the court. Also, after the statement about why they found Source #1’s information credible, there is a lot of redaction that we (including you) have no idea of what is included to further those statements. We simply do not have enough information for you to claim this charge as fact.
“To the contrary, each FISA application — the original one in October 2016, and the three renewals at 90-day intervals — is labeled “VERIFIED APPLICATION” (bold caps in original). And each one makes this breathtaking representation:
The FBI has reviewed this verified application for accuracy in accordance with its April 5, 2001 procedures, which include sending a copy of the draft to the appropriate field office(s).
In reality, the applications were never verified for accuracy.”
All that statement is saying is that the information they provide in the application was verified for accuracy. They did not state that all of the information that Steele provided in the dossier was verified. They are only stating that they verified that Source #1 did provide the information that the application says he provided. You are twisting that statement into something that it is clearly not suggesting. Furthermore, your appearance on Fox & Friends increased this misrepresentation and allowed the host (without sufficient clarification) to put forth the impression that the FBI agent actually lied and submitted to the judges that all of the information in the dossier had been verified. The viewer was left to believe that the agent should be brought up on charges of perjury. Highly irresponsible.
“In each Carter Page FISA warrant application, the FBI represented that it had “reviewed this verified application for accuracy.” But did the bureau truly ensure that the information had been “thoroughly vetted and confirmed”? Remember, we are talking here about serious, traitorous allegations against an American citizen and, derivatively, an American presidential campaign.”
Your wonderful hypothetical and your expertise in this area notwithstanding, the FBI never represented to the FISA judges that all of the information that Steele provided had been verified, vetted and confirmed. Attempting to twist this in a way that makes it appear so is disingenuous at best and devious at worst.
“When the FBI averred that it had verified for accuracy the application that posited these allegations, it was, at best, being hyper-technical, and thus misleading. What the bureau meant was that its application correctly stated the allegations as Steele had related them. But that is not what “verification” means. The issue is not whether Steele’s allegations were accurately described; it is whether they were accurate, period. Were the allegations thoroughly vetted and confirmed by proof independent of Steele before being presented to the FISA court — which is what common sense and the FBI’s own manual mean by “verified”?”
This has no bearing on the decision from the judges, as nothing was presented to the judges as though all of Steele’s information had been verified. The judges were certainly well aware of this, unless you are suggesting they are idiots (which I am sure you are not suggesting).
“There Is No Reason to Believe the Redactions Corroborate Steele”
These is no reason to believe that they don’t. Only pure speculation. Speculating on such things is irresponsible and dangerous to our Republic.
“The senators went on to recount the concession by former FBI director James Comey that the bureau had relied on the credibility of Steele (who had previously assisted the bureau in another investigation), not the verification of Steele’s sources. In June 2017 testimony, Comey described information in the Steele dossier as “salacious and unverified.”
There is no question that they relied on the credibility of Steele, but there is also no evidence that they were wrong in doing so. On the contrary, they have a history of receiving reliable information from Steele. Information that presumably has been used to keep America safe. They would be irresponsible and negligent if they did not rely on the credibility of Steele, having no information to suggest they should not. Comey described a certain part of the dossier (specifically the pee tapes story) as being “salacious and unverified”, not the entire dossier, like so many are now continuously and erroneously (if not maliciously) stating. Be that as it may, being “salacious and unverified” does not equate to it being not credible, fake, or completely fabricated, as the Trump narrative (which you are supporting) wants us all to believe.
“I freely acknowledge that we do not know what the redactions say.”
Thank you for that.
“But we have been very well informed about what they do not say. They do not verify the allegations in the Steele dossier. I have no doubt that they have a great deal to say about Russia and its nefarious anti-American operations. But the FBI has been taking incoming fire for months about failing to corroborate Steele. No institution in America guards its reputation more zealously than does the FBI. If Steele had been corroborated, rest assured that the bureau would not be suffering in silence.”
I just don’t understand this line of reasoning. If everything Steele provided was verified and corroborated, why would there even be a need for the FISA warrant? If everything was already known and verified in a nice, tidy little package, then they could have simply arrested Page and brought up charges. Why bother with a FISA warrant in that case? Admittedly, I am no expert on these things, but it seems to me that obtaining the FISA warrant is part of the investigation that would be used precisely to corroborate the information that Steele brought them (which they found credible for previously stated reasons) along with the information they already had on Page. They were not using Steele’s information to convict Page, but rather, simply to further the investigation.
“Plus, do you really think the FBI and Justice Department wanted to use the Steele dossier? Of course they didn’t. They undoubtedly believed Steele’s allegations (the applications say as much). That is no surprise given how much their top echelons loathed Donald Trump.”
Your comment about the loathing of Donald Trump and casting aspersions gives away your own bias in this analysis. It does not bode well for your credibility in these arguments.
“But they were also well aware of the dossier’s significant legal problems — the suspect sourcing, the multiple hearsay. If they had solid evidence that verified Steele’s allegations, they would have used that evidence as their probable cause showing against Page. Instead, they used the dossier because, as McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee, without it they would have had no chance of persuading a judge that Page was a clandestine agent.”
Again, if they had “solid evidence that verified Steele’s allegations” they would simply arrest Page and not bother with a FISA warrant at all. This lacks logic.
“When the government seeks a warrant, it is supposed to show the court that the actual sources of information are reliable — i.e., they were in a position to see or hear the relevant facts, and they are worthy of belief. It is not sufficient to show that the agent who assembles the source information is credible.”
It seems that the four judges (all of whom were appointed by Republicans, by the way), who independently signed off on these, disagree with you on that. They found that the information the FBI provided them was indeed sufficient. And they were most assuredly well aware of the type of information they were provided, unless you believe them all to be rubes and incompetent fools, which would indicate a completely different problem.
“The judge’s main task is not to determine if the agent is credible. It is to weigh the reliability of the agent’s sources. Are the sources’ claims supported by enough evidence that the court should approve a highly intrusive warrant against an American citizen?”
There is no information or evidence that suggests the judges did not sufficiently meet this standard.
I won’t get into your comments about the judges, other than to say all of your reasoning on it is pure speculation. You have not seen all that they have seen. You have no idea what questions or further vetting they did prior to signing the warrants. We simply do not have enough information to have an informed opinion on it, so it’s irresponsible to posit one.
I’m concerned about all of this because, again, people trust you. They take your word as golden. They’ll read my comments on this and simply brush it off, saying, “who the hell is this guy compared to Andrew McCarthy?”
Your words matter. I wish you would be more measured with them and fully acknowledge the level of speculation that you are using. The fact is, none of us know exactly what’s what yet. Hopefully we will, sooner rather than later, so we can move on from this.
In the meantime, let’s not get more people riled up over pure speculation and what appears to me to be misrepresentations. I sincerely hope that you will seriously evaluate what many are now claiming based on your analysis., and consider making some much needed clarifications.