- One aspect of the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation that will hopefully be explained by the forthcoming DOJ watchdog’s report is the massive gulf between the FBI’s allegations against Carter Page and the findings of the special counsel’s investigation.
- FBI officials asserted in FISA applications that Page was a Russian agent involved in a Kremlin conspiracy.
- But that bold allegations, which was based on the Steele dossier, was all but debunked by the special counsel’s report, which said that no Trump associates conspired with the Kremlin.
Lost in the debate over the forthcoming Justice Department watchdog report on the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation is an under-appreciated fact: the special counsel’s report severely undermined the FBI’s rationale to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
In their four FISA applications against Page, FBI officials asserted that there was probable cause to believe that the former Trump aide was acting as an agent of Russia, and that he had either committed a crime or was about to commit one as part of a conspiracy with Russians.
FBI officials made the claim based on unverified information from Christopher Steele, the former British spy hired to investigate Trump associates on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC. Allegations that Page was a Russian agent have dogged the former Naval officer since September 2016, when Yahoo! News published a story now known to be based on information directly from Steele.
Page was all but cleared of wrongdoing by the special counsel’s investigation, which said that there was no evidence that any Trump associates (a group that includes Page) acted as Russian agents, or conspired with Kremlin operatives, or aided in the hacking and dissemination of Democrats’ emails.
Page’s exoneration is an under-appreciated aspect of the special counsel’s investigation. Democrats and former FBI officials have defended the bureau’s use of the dossier in the FISA applications against Page. But virtually none of those officials have acknowledged the flimsiness of the FBI’s premise that Page was a Russian agent who conspired with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.
On page 2 of the application, FBI officials asserted that Page was “an agent of a foreign power.” On page 4, the FBI said that Page was planning to “knowingly engage in clandestine intelligence activities…for or on behalf of” Russia.
The applications also refer to “Russia’s coordination with Carter Page” and allege that he sought “to undermine and improperly and illegally influence” the 2016 election.
“The FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associates with Candidate #1’s campaign,” reads page 9 of the application.
“FBI believes Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” reads page 32.
The Justice Department’s inspector general will release a report on Monday of the FBI’s handling of the FISA applications against Page. The report is also expected to detail how the FBI sought to verify information from Steele.
In his dossier, Steele alleged that Page was part of the Trump campaign’s “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Russian government in 2016. Steele also identified Page as the mastermind behind the idea to release hacked DNC emails through WikiLeaks in order to stoke a divide between supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
The applications refer to Steele’s claims that Page met in Moscow in July 2016 with two Kremlin insiders, Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin.
On page 15 of the applications, the FBI touted the information about Sechin and Diveykin as it was established fact that Page met with the pair.
“The FBI has learned that Page met with at least two Russian officials during this trip. First, according to information provided by an FBI confidential human source…reported that Page had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin,” the application says.
Steele’s sources alleged that Page negotiated for a stake in the sale of oil giant Rosneft in exchange for securing concessions on sanctions against Ukraine. Page is also accused in the dossier of discussing with Divekyin the handling of compromising materials involving both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Page has vehemently denied meeting with either Sechin or Diveykin. The special counsel’s report said investigators could not establish whether the meetings occurred.
According to leaks about what is in the report, the inspector general will say that the FBI had proper grounds to apply for FISA applications against Page.
But that’s far different than saying that the FBI’s or Steele’s initial claims about Page were accurate. Indeed, they appear to have been far off base.
The special counsel’s team indicted or obtained guilty pleas from multiple Trump associates. Page was not among them. FBI agents interviewed Page five times in March 2017, and he testified before the special counsel’s grand jury on Nov. 17, 2017. He testified to the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 2, 2017.
He was neither charged with conspiracy, computer-related crimes, or of making any false statements to law enforcement officials or Congress.
According to the special counsel’s report, the investigation “did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.”
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report said.
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