The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Saturday released documents related to the surveillance warrants on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of the federal investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
The documents have been at the heart of a controversy over alleged bias at the FBI.
The heavily redacted application materials – 412 pages, including an initial application and several applications to renew the surveillance – indicate that the FBI “believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government … to undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”
Conservatives have sought to cast doubt on the information used as the basis for acquiring the warrants on Page and are eager to review details of the FISA warrants. Page himself has also reportedly called for the release of the FISA application that he calls “illegitimate.”
“I’m having trouble finding any small bit of this document that rises above complete ignorance and/or insanity,” Page told The Hill on Saturday following the release of the documents.
The DOJ in April said it was “processing for potential redaction and release certain [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] materials related to Carter Page,” after the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking the release of such records. The Justice Department set the deadline for Friday, July 20, 2018, according to court documents.
Judicial Watch, however, is not the only group vying for these highly sought-after documents.
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 Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), 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.”
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.
The memo accuses senior DOJ officials of inappropriately using the controversial Trump dossier to obtain surveillance warrants on transition team members.
“The Committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said in a statement at the time.
Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, however, blasted the memo for mischaracterizing “highly sensitive classified information that few Members of Congress have seen” and which “fails to provide vital context and information contained in DOJ’s FISA application and renewals.”
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.
The Republican memo, however, argues this is not the case and that information from dossier was “essential” to the acquisition of warrants on Carter Page.
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 funded, in part, the dossier.
Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, said his first read of the documents released by the DOJ on Saturday seemed to “confirm the FBI and DoJ misled the courts in withholding info about Clinton-DNC being behind the info used to get the FISA warrant.”
“Given this corruption, President Trump should intervene and declassify the heavily redacted material,” he continued in a statement.
The GOP, in their memo, largely portrayed the Justice Department as harboring anti-Trump bias, an issue that has continued to grow as a flashpoint among House Republicans who are leading a joint investigation into FBI decision-making during the 2016 election as well as potential bias against Trump by top DOJ and FBI officials.
The documents released Saturday are likely to add kindling to the fire, with the GOP now investigating multiple allegations of bias at root in the Russia investigation.
Just last week, the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees publicly interviewed FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok about the text messages he sent to Lisa Page disparaging Trump during the election. Page, now a former FBI lawyer, met with the committee for a closed-door interview one day after Strzok’s fiery hearing that devolved quickly into partisan fighting and personal attacks.
The hearings come after a June DOJ Inspector General report heavily criticized Strzok, saying he displayed a “biased state of mind” during a critical phase of the investigation of Hillary Clinton‘s use of a private email server while secretary of State, but that no decision made during the course of the probe was a result of bias or improper influence.
The report found that Strzok, who served as the No. 2 on the federal Clinton probe as well as the beginnings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, did not influence the Clinton investigation. But the report found that his actions cast a cloud over the DOJ.
BY OLIVIA BEAVERS – 07/21/18
-Jacqueline Thomsen contributed to this report, which was updated on July 22 at 7:16 a.m.