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Justice Department Announces FISA Reforms To Prevent Another Carter Page Debacle

  • Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday announced new measures aimed at preventing abuse of the FISA system that occurred during the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign. 
  • Barr placed more stringent requirements on the FBI to obtain FISA orders against elected federal officials, federal candidates, and their advisers. 
  • Barr also announced the formation of the FBI Office of Internal Auditing. 

The Justice Department announced a series of reforms to its procedures for obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders on Tuesday aimed at preventing abuses that the FBI committed during its investigation of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

Attorney General William Barr issued two memos laying out the reforms Tuesday. One memo announced the creation of an FBI Office of Internal Auditing, which will review all factual allegations submitted in FISA applications. The other memo deals with surveillance of elected federal officials and candidates seeking federal office.

The protocols also lay out new rules for the handling of FISA orders for officials’ and candidates’ staff members and advisers.

The reforms include “any person who has been publicly announced by a campaign as a staff member or member of an official campaign advisory committee or group, or any person who is an informal advisor to the campaign,” Barr’s memo says.

Barr implemented the changes in response to the FBI’s abuse of the FISA system during a counterintelligence investigation of Page, a former Navy officer who was a national security adviser on the Trump campaign.

“FISA is a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism,” Barr said in a statement. “However, the American people must have confidence that the United States Government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

“What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again,” he added.

The FBI applied for the first of four FISA applications against Page on Oct. 21, 2016, a month after he severed ties with the Trump campaign.

The Justice Department’s office of the inspector general found that the FBI committed at least 17 “significant” errors and omissions in FISA applications granted against Page in April 2017 and June 2017.

The Justice Department deemed the two FISAs to be invalid because of all of the errors in the FBI applications.

The IG said that the FBI withheld evidence that undercut the FBI’s theory that Page was acting as an agent of Russia. A report from the IG also said that investigators failed to disclose evidence that undermined the credibility of the Steele dossier. The IG report said that the dossier was “central and essential” to the FBI’s decision to seek FISA orders against Page.

Though Page was not technically on the Trump campaign when he was subject to FISA coverage, a Justice Department official said the new protocols are intended to cover individuals in positions similar to Page’s in 2016.

“The memo covers anyone ‘who is an informal advisor to the campaign,’ which was intended to capture individuals like Carter Page who were no longer staff members or formal advisors but were nonetheless connected to the campaign informally,” Marc Raimondi, a Justice Department spokesman, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Barr’s memo requires FBI and Justice Department officials to go to greater lengths to verify information included in all FISA applications.

The reforms also require the FBI director to consider first briefing candidates and officeholders about counterintelligence concerns before seeking FISA orders.

Republican lawmakers have criticized the FBI over its handling of defensive briefings for the Trump campaign. In August 2016, FBI officials tasked an agent, Joseph Pientka, to collect evidence during a briefing for then-candidate Donald Trump and Michael Flynn that would potentially be using for the ongoing counterintelligence probe.

Barr’s policy says that FISA applications shall not be made “unless the Director of the FBI first considers conducting a defensive briefing of the target and either the FBI conducts such a briefing or, if the Director determines that such a briefing is not appropriate, the Director documents this determination in writing.”

In the Page case, the FBI relied on unverified allegations from Christopher Steele, the dossier author. Steele alleged that Page was part of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and Russian government aimed at influencing the 2016 election. Steele also alleged that Page met with two Kremlin insiders in Moscow in July 2016 to discuss the exchange of election-related information.

Page has vehemently denied meeting with the Kremlin officials. The special counsel’s office also determined that there was no evidence that Page or anyone else on the Trump team conspired with Russia or acted as an agent of Russia in 2016.

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