“There’s a lot of talk about FISA applications,” then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said during a May 1, 2018 “Law Day” event at the Newseum, a Washington D.C. museum of the news. “And many people I see talking about it seem not to recognize what a FISA application is,” he continued with his answer to a softball question lobbed by a CNN reporter.
“Just like a search warrant, in order to get a FISA search warrant, you need an affidavit signed by a career federal law enforcement officer who swears [Rosenstein raised his right hand for effect] that the information in the affidavit is true and correct to the best of his knowledge and belief. And if it’s wrong . . . that person is going to face consequences . . . you can face discipline or even prosecution.”
Oh, what a relief that assurance must have been to Americans worried that the Justice Department and its subordinate FBI had slipped free of any effective check on their power! The FISA applications require oaths! FBI agents and lawyers who lie to spy on Americans will be held accountable—even prosecuted! Don’t you feel better now?
So is Rod Rosenstein willing to be held accountable for false statements made under his signature on a FISA warrant application? Turns out, there’s a signature at the bottom of one of the FISA applications for Carter Page (see p. 101 of the June 2017 application) that is troubling. None other than Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein certified that the application “satisfies the criteria and requirement of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978…”
Page, we now know, had a history of providing complete and truthful answers to the CIA about the matters that caused the FBI to seek a surveillance warrant. As noted on page iv of the inspector general’s report, “The AG Guidelines and the DIOG require that the ‘least intrusive’ means or method be ‘considered’ when selecting investigative techniques and, ‘if reasonable based upon the circumstances of the investigation,’ be used to obtain information instead of a more intrusive method.”
From the outset, Page’s cooperation with the government made the entire FISA warrant totally unnecessary and therefore illegal. The FBI could have just asked him to recount his contacts with the Russians and he would have told them everything. As noted on page viii of the Horowitz report, the FISA applications “[o]mitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, including that Page had been approved as an ‘operational contact’ for the other agency from 2008 to 2013, and that Page had provided information to the other agency concerning his prior contacts with certain Russian intelligence officers, one of which overlapped with facts asserted in the FISA application.”
In fact, the great unsolved mystery of this scandal is why the FBI lied to spy on Page even after he left the Trump campaign in September 2016. A lot of people invested a lot of time and risk into keeping that warrant going until June of 2017. Why?
Among the other false statements made in that June 2017 FISA application is one on page 17. Rosenstein certified to the court, “Source 1 [Christopher Steele] has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings . . .” That wasn’t true. Horowitz found that Steele did little to help with a prior criminal proceedings noting that the FBI bolstered Steele’s credibility with a history of cooperation that was “overstated and had not been approved by Steele’s handling agent, as required by the Woods Procedures.”
The FBI also falsely claimed that, “the FBI assesses Source #1 [Steele] to be reliable . . . and the FBI is unaware of any derogatory information pertaining to Source #1.” In fact, the FBI knew by January 2017 that Steele’s source disavowed everything.
We find on page 188 of Horowitz’s report that Steele’s primary source explained that his information came from “word of mouth and hearsay . . . conversation that [he/she] had with friends over beers” and that some of the information, such as allegations about Trump’s sexual activities, were statements the source heard made in “jest.”
Worse yet, the FBI had reason to believe “that the other sub-sources exaggerated their access to information and the relevance of that information to his/her requests.”
Steele’s primary sub-source told the FBI that he/she “takes what [sub-sources] tell [him/her] with ‘a grain of salt.’” In other words, at the time Rosenstein certified the final Carter Page warrant renewal, the FBI knew Steele was unreliable. And after talking to Steele’s primary sub-source in January 2017, FBI officials knew that the next layer of sources was also unreliable.
Rosenstein also certified to the court, “Source #1 [Steele] tasked his sub-source(s) to collect the requisite information. After Source #1 received information from the sub-source(s), described herein, Source #1 provided the information to the identified U.S. person who had hired Source #1 and to the FBI.”
It is true that Steele tasked his sub-source to collect information. But, according to page 188 of the OIG report, “the corroboration was ‘zero.’” And furthermore, “the Primary Sub-source had reported the same conclusion to the Crossfire Hurricane team members who interviewed him/ her in January 2017.”
Among the explanations for why Steele’s reporting to the FBI conflicted with the results of the FBI’s interview with Steele’s source (see page 189 of Horowitz’s report), “miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.”
On page 227 of Horowitz’s report, we learned that Rosenstein raised a question “about whether continued FISA coverage was going to produce useful information given that the FISA coverage targeting Carter Page had been leaked to the media.” Rosenstein was simply told that this renewal application was the last one “unless new evidence was uncovered.”
So Rosenstein signed the application in spite of the fact that he was absolutely right to doubt whether spying on Carter Page for another three months would develop any evidence. Indeed, Page has never been charged with a crime, leading one to wonder how Rosenstein could have justified continuing to spy on Page after the previous nine months of surveillance yielded nothing.
As indicated on page 229 of Horowitz’s report, Rosenstein claimed he first learned of the DNC funding of the Steele dossier from news media accounts but, “did not recall whether he knew it at the time he approved the third renewal.”
Horowitz’s report reflects that Rosenstein claimed ignorance of the many misstatements in the FISA application. But he clearly participated in the subsequent coverup.
On page 302 of the report, Rosenstein learned that Bruce Ohr, a member of his own staff, had been acting as an intermediary between the FBI and Steele, making Ohr a fact witness. Then, “On November 28, 2017, the Department [of Justice] received a letter from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) requesting a closed interview of Ohr as part of its inquiry into Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election. SSCI’s request was forwarded to Ohr and Crowell the next day, and the FBI subsequently provided ODAG with the Ohr FD-302s, which Crowell and Schools reviewed.”
It appears Rosenstein delayed that interview until August 2018. Further, in January 2018, Rosenstein reportedly threatened to use the Department of Justice to investigate congressional staffers to deter them from probing the Crossfire Hurricane malfeasance.
At the time he gave the Newseum interview, a movement was underway to impeach Rosenstein for obstructing congressional oversight of the Justice Department’s spying and interference in the 2016 election.
“I can tell you that there have been people who have been making threats privately and publicly against me for quite some time now,” Rosenstein said. “And I think they should understand by now that the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law. And any kind of threats that anybody makes are not going to affect the way we do our job . . . You raise your right hand and you swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution . . . you promise to bear true faith and allegiance to the same . . . and everybody in the department takes that oath and if they violate it, they know they’re going to be held accountable.”
But we now know that the FBI violated its oath to uphold the Constitution to gain and maintain a warrant to spy on Carter Page. Swearing to a false affidavit to obtain a search warrant violates the Fourth Amendment. Defying and threatening Congress violates Article I.
To date, no person has been held accountable for the many false statements made to the FISA court under Rosenstein’s signature. In the absence of consequences, there’s nothing to deter continued lying to courts to spy on Americans and interfere in elections. Rosenstein’s unmolested freedom proves his promises of accountability were as false as the FISA application he signed.
If Democrats think they can control an FBI that has slipped free of its constitutional safeguards, they’re fooling themselves. If nobody makes good on Rosenstein’s promises of accountability, elections will become a quaint ceremonial exercise as the real power of government remains in the hands of the FBI.