Black Lines Matter

We now have a side-by-side comparison of two FBI-redacted versions of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s criminal referral of Christopher Steele for lying to the FBI. After releasing a heavy-redacted memo on Monday, committee chairman  Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) put out  an updated version late Tuesday after the FBI removed several of its earlier redactions. It offers a glimpse into what the Bureau initially considered to be classified information, and seems to justify what Grassley called his “loss of faith in the ability of the Justice Department and the FBI to do their job free of partisan, political bias.” (You can read my initial take on the memo here.)

The memo also supports many of the key findings by the House Intelligence committee, including Steele’s secret dealings with the press and the failure of the Justice Department and the FBI to inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about the political funding and source of the so-called dossier.

Written by Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on January 4, the memo presents disturbing evidence about how the FBI, DOJ, Steele, and Fusion GPS, with the help from one well-known reporter, colluded to convince the FISA court to surveil Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page. The original redactions were not made to protect national security or safeguard a valuable source: They were made to cover-up the way the FBI manipulated the FISA warrant process and relied mostly—if not solely—on a dishonest, politically-funded foreign operative to gain approval to spy on a U.S. citizen.

The Bureau repeatedly blacked-out references to the FBI’s “relationship” with Steele. It redacted nearly two entire pages that showed what kind of dubious information was included in the initial FISA application, and how the FBI continued to cite Steele’s work in FISA renewals even after the agency fired him for divulging his work to a reporter.

Here are some of the key redactions that were reversed yesterday. Now, keep in mind, this is information the FBI did not want the public to see. Ask yourself why as you read along:

  • Former FBI director James Comey told the committee in March 2017 that the “FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work with the Bureau.” The FBI also told FISC that “based on [Steele’s] previous reporting history with the FBI, the FBI believes [Steele’s] reporting to be credible.”
  • The October 21, 2016 FISA warrant application “consists of allegations against Page that were disclosed to the FBI by Mr. Steele and are also outlined in the dossier. The application appears to contain no additional information [emphasis added] corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page. Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims.”
  • Just as House Intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes said, the FISA applications did not inform the court that Steele was being paid by a rival presidential campaign and major political party: “The application failed to disclose that the identities of Mr. Simpson’s [Fusion GPS principle Glenn Simpson] ultimate clients were the Clinton campaign and the DNC. It appears the FBI relied on admittedly uncorroborated information, funded by and obtained for Secretary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in order to conduct surveillance of an associated of the opposing presidential candidate.”
  • The FBI did its own version of double-dipping by citing the dossier and a Yahoo News article that also relied on Steele and the dossier. The Bureau told the court that the article, written by Michael Isikoff who just confirmed he met with Simpson and Steele in September 2016, corroborated Steele’s dossier: “Given that the information contained in the September 23rd news article generally matches the information about Page that [Steele] discovered doing his/her research [redacted]. The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.” We now know he did, and it’s kind of amazing to think that no one in the FBI was the least bit concerned that Isikoff’s piece was sourced from Steele.
  • Steele went rogue weeks before the election because he was “bothered by the FBI’s notification to Congress in October 2016 about the reopening of the Clinton investigation.” He was bothered or his boss—Hillary Clinton—was bothered? At Simpson’s direction, Steele “independently and against the prior admonishment from the FBI to speak only with the FBI on this matter, released the reporting [on the dossier] to an identified news organization.”

But here’s the biggest allegation the FBI did not want you to see: “This FISA applications are either materially false in claiming that Mr. Steele said he did not provide dossier information to the press prior to October 2016, or Mr. Steele made materially false statements to the FBI when he claimed he only provided the dossier information to his business partner and the FBI. Mr. Steele’s apparent deception seems to have posed significant, material consequences on the FBI’s investigative decisions and representations to the court.” Even after the FBI knew Steele was dishonest, was aware he was a paid agent of a presidential candidate, and could not corroborate the dossier’s claims, the Bureau continued to use him as the primary—if not the only—source to authorize spying on Carter Page. (I hope the lawyers are lining up to represent him.)

Here, Grassley and Graham sum up the whole thing perfectly (this was also originally redacted): “Thus, the basis for the warrant authorizing surveillance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility.”

Now, we await the minority response memo authored by Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). What could they possibly say? That this whole Trump-Russia collusion scheme began with a drunken dialogue between 20-something volunteer George Papadopoulos in the spring of 2016? That a footnote in the application claiming, as Grassley wrote, “to a vaguely limited extent the political origins of the dossier” as proof the FISA court knew Hillary Clinton and the DNC paid for Steele’s work? That surely the FISC judges read Yahoo News and Buzzfeed, so they would be well aware of this?

But an even more pressing question is why the FBI not only sought to stonewall Nunes’ investigation and prevent supporting documents from being released, but insisted on shielding the now-exposed information in the Grassley memo to begin with? This is a question that should be answered in public, preferably in a hearing, so we can finally hear their excuses out in the open. No more hiding behind black lines.

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