The battle lines are drawn — and freedom is the prize
Senate documents show FBI trying to suppress release of new Trump dossier info
Republican senators Charles Grassley (Iowa) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) on Monday released a letter they sent to the FBI asking that ex-British spy Christopher Steele be investigated for possible criminal violations. Steele authored the anti-Trump "dossier" that was full of false or unverified information, provided to the FBI and leaked to the press in 2016.
The FBI secretly used the Steele dossier to convince a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to permit one of the most sensitive invasions of privacy against a U.S. citizen: electronic surveillance by the government. Top Obama and Trump officials signed four wiretap applications against Trump adviser Carter Page starting in fall of 2016 - a month before the presidential election - relying, in part, on the dossier. That's according to House Republicans who, on Friday, released a summary of classified documents they reviewed.
The FBI's reliance on the anti-Trump dossier is questionable because while the judge was reportedly told the author had political motivations, the FBI allegedly did not disclose who funded it: Donald Trump's chief opponent in the presidential race - the Hillary Clinton campaign - and the Democratic National Committee.
Not only that, the newly-released criminal referral says Steele actually incorporated information that was funneled to him through Clinton associates and the U.S. State Department where Clinton had served as Secretary of State from 2009 to early 2013. In a memo dated Oct. 19, 2016, Steele wrote that a foreign source who was in touch with "a friend of the Clintons" passed him material through a U.S. State Department connection.
Even more problematic, the FBI may have violated strict rules - Woods Procedures - that forbid it from presenting even a single unverified fact to the special court, let alone a lengthy dossier full of them.
The criminal referral unveiled today says Steele's possible violations involve claims he reportedly made about his dealings with the media. Conflicting accounts arose as part of a lawsuit in Great Britain where Steele is defending a libel claim made by a Russian businessman. Steele publicly accused him of hacking the Democratic Party. The criminal referral is not a formal accusation of wrongdoing against Steele, but a request for an investigation.
Conflicts of interest?
In the bigger picture, the criminal referral highlights conflicts of interest questions emerging in the wide-ranging investigations:
The Steele criminal referral in essence asks the FBI to investigate a source with whom FBI officials collaborated, and whose evidence they used in a fashion that's under congressional investigation.
The referral was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who himself signed at least one of the questionable wiretap applications using the Steele dossier.
It was also addressed to FBI Director Christopher Wray whose choice for general counsel, Dana Boente, also signed at least one of the wiretap applications. Boente replaced James Baker, a confidante of former FBI Director James Comey, who signed three of the wiretap applications. (Baker was reassigned in December after questions arose about leaks promoting the anti-Trump material in the dossier. Last June, Comey admitted that he secretly orchestrated a leak to the press to prompt a special counsel investigation of any Trump-Russia ties. Robert Mueller was appointed two days later.)
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Other potential conflicts of interest became apparent when senators Grassley and Graham asked the FBI for permission to release the Steele criminal referral last month. Grassley says the FBI stonewalled - then claimed that unclassified information was actually classified and said it could not be released.
Unlike the House of Representatives, which has processes allowing members to release formerly classified material without FBI approval, the Senate requires the FBI's permission.
That's why the documents released today still contain significant blacked out or redacted portions. The FBI's explanation for that is also partly redacted. FBI Assistant Director for Congressional Affairs Gregory Bower stated "the FBI cannot and will not weaken its commitment to protecting [redacted]. Public reporting about [redacted] does not affect the FBI's policy with respect to classification [redacted] nor does it diminish our obligations [redacted]."
Page, the target of at least four secret government wiretaps, has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers "The Smear" and "Stonewalled," and host of Sinclair's Sunday TV program "Full Measure."