I have been unable to locate any condemnation by the FBI of the leaks to the New York Times of the “highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government,” in connection with the Mar-a-Lago raid. That’s strange because only a day earlier the Justice Department told a federal judge that releasing the names of these witnesses would, “jeopardize the integrity of this national security investigation.” The silence is deafening.
On Monday, the Department of Justice filed an opposition to the release of the affidavit the FBI used to justify its “panty raid” on Mar-a-Lago.“Disclosure at this juncture of the affidavit supporting probable cause would, by contrast, cause significant and irreparable damage to this ongoing criminal investigation,” the government argued. “As the Court is aware from its review of the affidavit, it contains, among other critically important and detailed investigative facts: highly sensitive information about witnesses, including witnesses interviewed by the government.”
The very next day, within 24 hours, the Times published an article exposing “Pat A. Cipollone and Patrick F. Philbin, the White House counsel and his deputy under President Donald J. Trump,” as the very witnesses whose identity the Department of Justice said it wanted to protect. If this were a real investigation, the target would now be warned to be careful talking to these two witnesses.
The source for the Times article? “Three people familiar with the matter.” It’s conceivable that at the very moment a Justice Department lawyer wrote the warning to the court about revealing witness identities, three of the involved FBI agents were doing just that.
Of course, there will be no condemnation of the leaks of the identity of these witnesses because it’s part of the FBI’s public relations campaign and election interference strategy. In spite of the FBI constantly seeking secrecy to protect its “sources and methods,” it’s more than happy to leak its sources as one of its very dirty methods.
If all of this seems vaguely familiar, it’s probably because of the many developing parallels between the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago panty raid and its Russian collusion hoax perpetrated to obtain a FISA warrant. Then, as now, the FBI leaked supposedly secret details of its investigation to mount a politically inspired public relations campaign against Trump. The election-year leaks accusing Trump campaign figure Carter Page of being a Russian spy became so flagrant that Page wrote an open letter to the FBI demanding an opportunity to clear his name. He wrote,
I am writing to request the FBI’s prompt end of the reported inquiry regarding my personal trip to Russia in July 2016—an investigation which has been widely mentioned in the media . . . Although I have not been contacted by any member of your team in recent months, I would eagerly await their call to discuss any final questions they might possibly have in the interest of helping them put these outrageous allegations to rest while allowing each of us to shift our attention to relevant matters.
In the case of the Carter Page FISA warrants, the FBI fought a vigorous battle to protect the supporting affidavits from public view. No wonder. While it claimed then that it was merely protecting “sources and methods,” it turned out that its sources included the debunked Steele dossier procured by Hillary Clinton and its “methods” included lying to the FISA court to get the warrant.
The FBI’s most flagrant lie to the FISA court was its certification that intrusive electronic surveillance was the only way the FBI could gather information about Page’s Russia-related activities. Worse yet, when the Justice Department finally did cough up a sacrificial lamb, Kevin Clinesmith, he revealed during a court hearing that he had informed his unidentified and still uncharged superiors of the fabricated FISA court evidence and they chose to file it anyway.
As the New York Times reported, “Mr. Clinesmith’s lawyers also argued that their client did not try to hide the C.I.A. email from other law enforcement officials as they sought the final renewal of the Page wiretap. Mr. Clinesmith had provided the unchanged C.I.A. email to Crossfire Hurricane agents and the Justice Department lawyer drafting the original wiretap application.”
That forged email helped conceal Page’s history of voluntarily giving the U.S. government accurate intelligence about his trips to Russia. The FBI could have asked Page anything without spying on him. That’s why the search was illegal and that’s why the FBI lied to the court.
Clinesmith, of course, never served a day in jail and has had his law license reinstated despite facilitating a fraudulent warrant application. So if the FBI has a proven history of lying in four FISA warrant applications to spy on Trump through Page and, further, does not punish the wrongdoers when they’re caught, we have ample reason not to take the FBI’s good intentions as a given in this case.
Since the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago panty raid, it has embarked on an orgy of leaking to shore up the public relations nightmare. It has argued, implausibly, that national security interests demanded the raid to retrieve sensitive nuclear secrets. Yet somehow the FBI vacuum cleaner scooped up Donald Trump’s passports, which clearly were not the property of the government nor “classified” in any way.
Speaking of sources, the FBI appears to have activated its many allies, including some Republicans, to come to its defense. Former Vice President Mike Pence, according to the Times, “called on Republicans to stop attacking the nation’s top law enforcement agencies over the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago.” Other “moderates,” says the Times, “chastised their colleagues for the broadsides against law enforcement.” That’s absurd.
The FBI must feel the hot sting of public condemnation or the abuses will continue to escalate. There are many peaceful and legal avenues the public can and should take to push back against the FBI. Further, we should pay close attention to the names of Republicans who feel a mysterious compulsion to defend this clearly indefensible raid. It might be worth asking whether any FBI personnel contacted any public official to lobby for public relations support and whether anything was said to help motivate these public figures.
We now know the Justice Department likely has lost its bid to continue concealing the affidavit. As of Thursday, the same magistrate who signed the warrant has now ordered the Justice Department to make redactions to the affidavit in anticipation of a potential ruling releasing at least a partial copy of the warrant. It is unclear whether the magistrate considered the FBI’s strategic leaking as a sort of waiver of the government’s interest in secrecy. But the government has already signaled that it will redact aggressively. The magistrate promised to rule on those redactions next Thursday.
This isn’t 2016 anymore. The public is getting wise to the FBI’s dirty tricks. If the FBI can selectively leak portions of the affidavit used to justify the search of Mar-a-Lago, then why should it be allowed to conceal the rest of the affidavit? Let’s see what the FBI told the judge and fact check those claims. To paraphrase so many FBI agents, why not tell us if you have nothing to hide?