A new Senate document on Russia probe spying explained
WASHINGTON (AP) — Two influential Republican senators have injected new information into the partisan dispute over the government’s secret surveillance of a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, revealing more details about how the FBI and Justice Department used research compiled by a former British spy whose work was funded by Democrats.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina late Tuesday released a criminal referral they had sent to the Justice Department earlier this year asking for an investigation into the former spy, Christopher Steele.
The senators say they’ve found evidence that either Steele lied to the FBI or classified documents supporting the surveillance contain false statements.
They also appear to agree with their House GOP colleagues, who have accused the FBI and Justice Department of not telling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court enough about Steele’s anti-Trump sentiments or that his work was funded in part by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
Here are a few key takeaways.
WHY ARE THEY SPECIFICALLY AFTER STEELE?
Grassley and Graham are scrutinizing Steele’s contacts with the press in the fall of 2016 and what the FBI knew about them. They want the FBI to investigate whether Steele lied to federal agents.
Specifically, they point to a British court filing in which Steele says he briefed several news outlets in September 2016 on a collection of memos he wrote detailing allegations, including some salacious claims, of ties between Russia, Trump and Trump associates. The memos have become known as the Trump-Russia “dossier” after they were published by Buzzfeed last year.
According to the senators, the media contact in September wasn’t disclosed by the FBI and the Justice Department in its application to obtain a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to spy on former Trump adviser Carter Page.
The senators say they believe Steele may have misled the FBI about his media contacts, which should have led the FBI to question his credibility and disclose concerns about it to the court.
The FBI did cut ties with Steele after they learned he had provided information to news outlets in October 2016, a matter which was disclosed to the court. But it’s unclear from the documents made public to date what exactly the FBI asked Steele about his contact with media outlets and what he told agents.
A KEY FOOTNOTE
Since the release of the GOP memo from the House intelligence committee, the burning question has been: Did the FBI and Justice Department tell a federal judge enough about Steele’s political bias and Democratic funding?
Republicans say no. Democrats say yes. According to Grassley and Graham, the answer will likely come down to the footnotes, and possibly one in particular, No. 8 on the Oct. 21, 2016, FISA application for Page.
“The FBI noted to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier,” they say in the Steele criminal referral. The senators cite “footnote 8″ as saying that the dossier was compiled at the “direction of a law firm who had hired an ‘identified U.S. person.’” The senators identify the person as Glenn Simpson of Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Steele.
It’s unclear what else was disclosed. The FBI redacted the rest of the sentence.
A RARE WINDOW INTO A SECRETIVE PROCESS
Politics aside, Congress is prying loose — and making public — highly secretive information about how the government uses its surveillance powers.
Last week, the Republican memo from the House intelligence committee provided the first formal government confirmation of a secret FISA warrant on Page and several other key details.
Namely, the memo revealed that Page, a U.S. citizen, was monitored for nearly a year after a judge four times over found probable cause that he likely was acting as an agent of a foreign power. It also confirmed that the Russia investigation didn’t start with the Steele dossier. Instead, an FBI counterintelligence investigation was “triggered” in July 2016 by information the FBI received about another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos.
The newly released document from Grassley and Graham provides further details including comments made in a classified briefing by former FBI Director James Comey, quotes from the secret FISA documents and even descriptions of several footnotes in the applications, including the hotly debated political affiliation one .
It also reveals that the FBI is having to reassess what information it can withhold from the public after Trump declassified the House GOP memo last week.
The criminal referral on Steele had previously been classified. But after the senators pressed the FBI, it is now allowing the senators to release significant portions.
STILL NOT THE FULL PICTURE
Even with these disclosures, it’s still difficult to judge the accuracy and completeness of what Republicans are releasing. And the same will likely be true of a Democratic memo drafted by members of the House intelligence committee if Trump allows its release later this week.
Why? None of the underlying materials have been made public. That includes the initial FISA application for Page and the three renewals as well as other materials used to support them.
There are several efforts to pry loose these materials through the Freedom of Information Act, including requests by The Associated Press and other news outlets. The New York Times also filed a motion this week before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court asking that the Page FISA materials be unsealed in light of Trump’s declassification decision.
Read Grassley and Graham’s referral: http://apne.ws/jRknckg