National Security

Nunes still hasn’t read unredacted FISA documents he requested: DOJ

Greg Nash

The head of the House Intelligence Committee still has not reviewed the largely unredacted application the FBI used to obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page during the 2016 election, Justice Department (DOJ) officials said Wednesday.

Roughly 30 lawmakers from the House and Senate have viewed the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) documents, which House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) subpoenaed for last year, according to the officials.

They said that instead of viewing the records he himself requested, Nunes instead has had committee member Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) review the documents on his behalf. The DOJ officials added that Nunes’s staff has also been active in examining the materials. {mosads}

Most of the 30 lawmakers who reviewed the FISA documents were members on the House Intelligence Committee, the officials said. They were able to review both the original application and the subsequent renewals of Page’s FISA warrant in private reading rooms set up by the DOJ.

Seven members from the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee have collectively reviewed the material as well.

In February, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee voted along party lines to release a memo claiming the DOJ abused the FISA warrant process in order to hurt President Trump‘s campaign, claiming Page’s surveillance warrant was based essentially on the controversial “Steele dossier.”

The four-page memo, drafted by staff of Nunes, lays out a series of allegations that it says “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.”

The FBI as well as Democrats on the committee fiercely disputed the claims laid out in the GOP-authored memo.

The remarks from the DOJ officials come amid a drawn-out feud between House Republicans and the department over access to documents.

Republicans say the FBI and DOJ have not provided all the documents they are seeking to review as part of the GOP-led investigations into the email server Hillary Clinton used while she was serving as secretary of State, as well as the FBI’s decision to launch the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The DOJ officials, however, say they have largely completed Congress’s document requests, noting they are working with the lawmakers and their staff to give them the information they still want to review.

So far, the DOJ officials say they have given lawmakers access to 880,000 pages they’ve requested, and they continue to accept requests for new information related to House GOP probes. 

One DOJ official said while the requests are historically high, they are working to respond to the lawmakers’ records requests, adding that much of it is done quietly.

And even when they make certain requested information available, the lawmakers do not come to review it, they added.

Over the weekend, the Justice Department released a largely redacted version of the Page warrant application after several groups sought to obtain the records through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

The 412 pages from the original application and renewals, while largely redacted, allowed the public to review some of the information federal authorities used in their request for a FISA warrant.

Information used in surveillance applications usually goes through several rounds of authentication and federal authorities must show probable cause that the target is acting as an agent of a foreign power.

Democrats and some FISA experts say the new information revealed in the redacted Page application clearly reveals that the claims made in GOP-authored memo were misleading. 

Republicans, however, have been quick to claim the new information substantiates their argument that the FBI and DOJ under the Obama administration improperly used FISA authorities to surveil members of the Trump campaign.

“Now that we’ve been totally vindicated with the release of this FISA, just the pieces of the FISA applications over the weekend, you continue to see the media going absolutely crazy,” Nunes told Fox News’s Sean Hannity on Tuesday. 

Nunes’s memo accuses senior DOJ officials of inappropriately using the controversial dossier to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members.

The dossier, which makes a series of salacious allegations about Trump’s ties to Russia, was put together by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and former MI6 officer Christopher Steele. It was later revealed that the Clinton campaign partly funded the dossier. 

David Kris, a FISA expert who has served in both Democratic and Republican administrations, dismissed the claim made in the GOP memo that federal authorities misled intelligence court judges.

“Now we can see that the footnote disclosing Steele’s possible bias takes up more than a full page in the applications, so there is literally no way the FISA Court could have missed it,” Kris wrote on the Lawfare blog. “The FBI gave the court enough information to evaluate Steele’s credibility.”

The Republican memo, however, argues that information from the dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of warrants on Page.

While the dossier was a factor in the Page warrant application, it remains unclear how large a role the dossier played, given all the redactions.

Trump declassified the memo despite fierce and rare public objections from the FBI, which had warned that the document contained “material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

“The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” the FBI said in its statement at the time.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the committee, said he is glad the release of the redacted Page document can finally put these “these conspiracy theories” to rest.

“Even in redacted form, the initial FISA application and three renewals underscore the legitimate concern FBI had about Page’s activities as it was investigating Russia’s interference; DOJ’s transparency with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about a specific source; and that DOJ followed proper procedures in receiving approval from four different judges,” Schiff said in a statement over the weekend.

Tags Adam Schiff Devin Nunes Donald Trump Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Hillary Clinton nunes memo Trey Gowdy trump dossier Trump–Russia dossier United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

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