FBI Director James Comey (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)
The FBI last year used the controversial "Trump/Russia dossier" as part of its justification to obtain a FISA warrant on Carter Page, CNN reported on Tuesday. The unverified dodgy dossier is the work of former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, who was working for Trump's political opponents. According to CNN, the dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks to "bolster" the FBI's investigation.
This includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor the communications of Carter Page, two of the officials said. Last year, Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security.
Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation. The officials would not say what or how much was corroborated.
The dossier first came to light when CNN reported that a summary of it had been presented to President Obama and President-elect Trump back in December by top US Intelligence officials.
Comey's briefings to lawmakers stand in contrast to efforts in recent months by the bureau and US intelligence agencies to try to distance themselves from the dossier.
US law enforcement and intelligence officials have said US investigators did their own work, separate from the dossier, to support their findings that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump.
The dossier alleges that Page met senior Russian officials as an emissary of the Trump campaign, and discussed quid-pro-quo deals relating to sanctions, business opportunities and Russia's interference in the election. Page has denied meeting the officials named in the dossier and says he never cut any political deals with the Kremlin.
During the campaign, he traveled to Russia in July, where he gave a lecture critical of US policy toward Russia. That trip drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns about Page's contacts with suspected Russian operatives, according to US officials briefed on the matter. Page has said he made the trip independent of the Trump campaign and his speech reflected his own views.
Carter Page, an investment banker, lecturer, and foreign policy analyst, was an unpaid national security adviser to the Trump campaign for about six months in 2016. He has vigorously denied engaging in any improper interactions with Russian officials, calling any contact he might have had with "Russian operatives" during his tenure as a Trump adviser "less than incidental." Page said on The O'Reilly Factor last week that there were "no negotiations" whatsoever with any Russians he met during that time period.
He told the Washington Post regarding the surveillance: “This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance. I have nothing to hide.”
In a statement to CNN Page said, "I look forward to the Privacy Act of 1974 lawsuit that I plan to file in response to the civil rights violations by Obama administration appointees last year. The discovery process will be of great value to the United States, as our nation hears testimony from them under oath, and we receive disclosure of the documents which show what exactly was done in 2016."
Unnamed U.S. investigators cited in the media say they have corroborated at least some parts of the allegations in the dossier, but intel vets who have reviewed the 35-page document have called it "a complete fraud." Multiple intelligence community sources interviewed by The Daily Caller in January said the dossier is almost certainly a faked-up hatchet-job.
“From my personal standpoint and my thorough review of this document, I have deemed it a complete and total fabricated fraud,” said Col. James Waurishuk (Ret.), a 30-year veteran who worked for the CIA’s Assymmetric Warfare Task Force. He also served on the White House National Security Council.
“For me, it is hard to believe how anyone who claims to know anything about intelligence operations, propaganda and disinformation would believe anything in it,” Waurishuk said.
“The devil is in the content and the content is just garbage. I don’t believe a word of it,” said Fred Rustmann, a 24-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine ranks and the agency’s Senior Intelligence Service.
The dossier doesn’t describe the access and reliability of its sources, a key element that “any reasonable agent would spell that out. I don’t see that here. I think it’s a fabrication. If this guy is who he is reported to be, this is just too sloppy for even a low-level type of officer,” Rustmann said.
D.W. Wilber, a former intelligence officer with the CIA and Department of Defense, and a founder of OPSEC — which represents military and intelligence officials — said “at first glance to me it appears to be a rather ham-handed attempt at fabricating a document.”
Wilber doubted the Russians would release such embarrassing information.
“If indeed the Russians possessed sexually compromising information on Trump, that information would be extremely ‘close-hold,’ with perhaps only a handful or fewer of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s inner circle aware of it, and it would never be given up. It would be kept locked up tightly in the Kremlin’s safe and kept for possible later use” Wilber said.
Another American intel source who lives in St. Petersburg, Russia, told The Daily Caller that the dossier lacks credibility because it alternately uses British English and American English.
Both “programme” and “program,” and “organise” and “organize” are used in the document.
Similarly, “the tone of the language is not the way someone from the U.K. would write. The bottom line is I don’t believe these documents were written by a British person,” he said.
Wilber said he believes the dossier was “written by an American, not a Brit. Brits simply talk and write differently.”
It was widely reported in January that both then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump were briefed on the dossier's existence so that Trump could understand what was circulating among intelligence agencies investigating the document.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) contacted the FBI last month after it was revealed in the Washington Post that the bureau had agreed to pay Steele. Although the Washington Post reported that the payments were never made, Grassley still found the agreement to be troubling.
Steele was hired by Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm with "a sordid history" that is tied to the Democratic Party. As Mark Hemingway noted at The Weekly Standard, Fusion GPS has an institutional reputation for doing shoddy and underhanded political work, and nearly all of it has been at the behest of Democrats looking to attack Republicans."
In his letter, Grassley asked a series of questions about arrangements between Fusion and its clients, including questions regarding the company's contacts with the FBI.
Among the questions: Whether any of Fusion's clients suggested that the dossier be supplied to the FBI.
"When political opposition research becomes the basis for law enforcement or intelligence efforts, it raises substantial questions about the independence of law enforcement and intelligence from politics. The Committee requires additional information to evaluate this situation," Grassley wrote in the letter. He asked for a reply by April 7.
Grassley asked Fusion GPS to identify its client and reveal details of its arrangement with Steele, who heads the London-based firm, Orbis Business Intelligence. The Republican also pressed Fusion on its interactions with the FBI, which was said to have made an informal agreement in October to pay Steele for future research on Trump.
Fusion GPS refused to answer the questions posed to it, saying in a letter to the Judiciary Committee that it "is protected by attorney-client privilege and the First Amendment."
Cause of Action Institute, a 501(c)(3) oversight group "advocating for economic freedom and individual opportunity," on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking records regarding the relationship between the FBI and Christopher Steele.
CoA Institute President and CEO John Vecchione: “If a former spy who was being paid to do opposition research on a U.S. presidential nominee was also on the FBI’s payroll, there are serious concerns about the agency’s independence. We need to better understand this financial relationship to ensure the FBI was not misusing taxpayer money to interfere in a presidential election on behalf of one of the candidates.”
On March 7, 2017, CoA Institute sent a FOIA request to the FBI seeking access to records into whether the FBI paid money, or had plans to pay, Mr. Steele for any purpose. To date, the FBI has failed to produce any responsive records within the applicable FOIA timeframe.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that the Russians meddled in the election and had a preference for Trump, but James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, said the dossier did not contribute to its conclusion.
As the FBI and DoJ continue their investigations, they have yet to accuse any Trump officials of any wrongdoing. It's unclear whether any charges will ever be brought.