Americans Need Clear Answers on FISA Abuse

The Department of Justice last week released copies of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant applications that James Comey’s FBI used to begin electronic surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign advisor. While much of the FISA warrants were heavily redacted, it’s clear the FBI used the politically motivated Steele dossier as the primary basis for their applications.

Understand what that means: a piece of partisan propaganda funded by the Democrats, compiled by an ex-British spy, filled with “intelligence” that has never been corroborated, let alone sourced, was used to justify spying on a U.S. citizen, on U.S. soil, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. This behavior has more in common with Communist Russia and KGB tactics than with anything traditionally associated with our constitutional republic—though this shouldn’t be surprising with Commie-lover John Brennan’s fingerprints all over this entire process.

Understand, too, that James Comey admitted under oath that in January 2017, when he was briefing President-elect Trump on the truly sensational parts of the dossier, the FBI director described the document to Trump as salacious and unverified. Yet the Steele dossier was used three more times to justify continued surveillance of Page.

Circular Corroboration
Even more troubling is that the FBI used a letter sent to Comey by then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in August 2016 as further evidence; in that letter, Reid claimed to have been briefed by then-CIA Director John Brennan on intelligence and information that might be crucial to the outcome of the 2016 election. Reid was referring to the Steele dossier, the existence of which Brennan leaked to Reid when he briefed him that August. The FBI further buttressed its case for a FISA warrant using a 
Yahoo News article from Michael Isikoff, of which one Christopher Steele was likely the only source.

You’ve heard of a circular firing squad? Well, this was circular corroboration: the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) may have thought it was reviewing different sources, but in fact, each of those sources was based almost exclusively on a single source: an uncorroborated political hit job.

What’s troubling as well is to see what a rubber stamp the FISC has become: it approves 99 percent of the FISA applications, though it covers itself with the fig leaf of “we demand changes to 24.4 percent of the applications before approval.” The court is supposed to protect “We the People,” not let the deep state abuse our constitutional rights on the basis of a fairytale. Their job is to serve as the barrier between the FBI and a national surveillance program, not give the deep state carte blanche to perform invasive surveillance whenever it feels like it.

Partisanship in the FISA Process
One would think they’re supposed to examine thoroughly FBI applications to establish beyond a shadow of a doubt that law enforcement isn’t violating our constitutional rights. It’s clear the court and the verification process failed, but I’m pretty sure I know why that is. It centers around one person.

James Baker, by all accounts a partisan Democrat, used to run the Justice Department’s FISA office before becoming the FBI’s general counsel under James Comey. I (and others) have theorized that the nexus point for the Steele dossier being knowingly allowed as an integral part of the application was, in fact, James Baker. The surveillance court judges, having worked with Baker for decades, simply took him at his word that all the materials used as supporting evidence were documented and verified. Here it’s worth noting that Baker was removed abruptly from his position as general counsel in December due to revelations surrounding the Russia investigation that he was in contact with left-wing journalist David Corn.

And if that is true, we have a serious problem. Clearly, the FISA process does not have any real authenticating processes in place once an application arrives at the court. In many ways, it appears simply to be built on trust that those running our Justice Department and FBI are unbiased and not partisan hacks, that they have, in fact, followed their own protocols and only used verified and documented sources as evidence.

Little Imagination in the Senate
Yet the FBI used an unsubstantiated document as an integral part of not one, not two, but
four applications to spy. Some, like Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said the entire process was proper because the FBI went to the surveillance court and the judges signed off. Rubio clearly lacks the intellectual curiosity to know how or why the process was abused, as there were clearly lies of omission in providing real clarity as to where the Steele dossier came from and who paid for it.

Rubio also seems blissfully unconcerned about a broken system and the discrepancies about why the FISC approved bringing the awesome might of the U.S. surveillance state on Carter Page’s head and then the disconcerting aftermath of it all. This entire process comes into conflict with common sense: Why isn’t Carter Page even wearing an ankle bracelet? If he is actually a dangerous agent of a foreign government, why on earth is he walking free? What kind of evidence and process justifies this level of spying, but actually doesn’t end up with any serious criminal charges?

People should be asking why the FBI took such drastic measures with Page when there was already a pre-established relationship, especially when he’d helped them prosecute the case against Russian spies a few years before. The FBI didn’t even bother to interview Page before going down the dramatic route of invasive surveillance. You’d think some curious reporters in the media might ask about that, but questions of that sort might lead to an unpleasant truth: surveilling Page was nothing but a backdoor to spy on Trump and his associates.

What Else Are They Hiding?
This entire FISA abuse with the Steele dossier raises other serious questions. If the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can be so easily convinced, yet the FBI provides so little follow up in this case, what other kinds of investigations are the surveillance state conducting using the thinnest of excuses? How many other people has the FBI surveilled without following with criminal charges, much less prosecution?

Frankly, there are just too many questions that many at the Justice Department, FBI, and even the NeverTrump conservative media don’t want to be answered. It’s time for Congress and President Trump to push for full transparency. This FISA report should be fully and completely declassified as soon as possible. While some publications like The Weekly Standard want to defend the FISA and FISC abuses, siding with the deep state as it tramples constitutional rights, in our republic, where power flows from the people to their duly elected representatives, the People’s House especially should be even more empowered to bring the deep state to heel.

Enough of the drip drip drip leaking of reports, let’s have this out in the public sphere. I don’t trust the Justice Department and FBI of their own volition actually to be fully transparent at the moment, so they must be compelled to do what is right. The 2016 election was a clear referendum on the government elites, the ruling class, that want to manage our lives. They lost. We won. And we want answers.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct James Baker’s role. He was in charge of the FISA office at the Justice Department, not the FBI.

Photo credit: iStock/Getty Images

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About Ned Ryun

Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.

Photo: Closeup of politician ripping up & shredding The United States of America Constitution representing political corruption, removing civil rights, unconstitutional executive orders destroying democracy.