“If this is the way the FISA courts are going to behave, if you can take political dirt, open up investigations into political campaigns, this is how a democratic republic falls apart. It’s just unacceptable...If the shoe was on the other foot, you would have protests in the street, cars being blocked, fires in the street, tires being burned, and I guarantee you, all the heads would have rolled already at the FBI and DOJ. You’d have all the major newspapers, all the media saying what a crime this was that this happened.”
RELATED READING: Blacked-out document dump of FISA applications confirms suspicions
So said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes on the air with FOX News host Laura Ingraham Monday night. And we all know he’s right. Just imagine if the intelligence agencies had pulled something like this to sabotage, say, the Obama campaign and it had been discovered. We would hear about nothing else EVER AGAIN. (The outrage would be justified, by the way.) Heads would roll? Oh, yes, and perhaps literally. Compared to Democrats’ explosive reaction, that volcano in Hawaii would look like a tealight.
But since the weekend dumping of the 412-page stack of heavily redacted FISA court applications for warrants to surveil former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, Trump’s political opponents and most major media have gone into complete denial mode, trying to minimize the damage by maintaining that the one intentionally cryptic and convoluted footnote about the origins of the Steele “dossier” indicated honesty and transparency on the part of the FBI and DOJ. But they’re wasting their breath; the footnote obviously was added as a “CYA” –- something agents could point to if the application were ever questioned (like NOW). In no way was it made clear to the court that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC paid for the material as “opposition research.”
And certainly the FISA judges were never told that the material was unverified. Just the opposite, for as Andrew C. McCarthy points out, each FISA application --- the first one, and all three renewals --- carried the label “VERIFIED APPLICATION.” (For the first one, it was in bold type, total caps.) This was done even though the application was never verified for accuracy.
According to the DIOG (the FBI’s Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide), FISA applications are to be sent to “appropriate field offices” so that the Bureau can “ensure that information appearing in a FISA application that is presented to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] has been thoroughly vetted and confirmed.” The way this is supposed to work in practice is that the field office gathers supporting information, perhaps by debriefing witnesses or searching for official records, to verify allegations made in the application.
This never happened with the Steele dossier. Remember, Steele wasn’t actually the source for any of the allegations; he was simply the conduit for hearsay from unidentified Russian sources. You might be surprised (I was) to learn that Christopher Steele hasn’t been to Russia for 20 years. So the FBI needed to look into the veracity of what his sources had to say –- to VERIFY that there was anything to them –- before passing their FISA application to the court.
“Verification” doesn’t just mean that the FBI accurately communicated Steele’s claims. It means they confirmed the accuracy of those claims. Those are two different things. Perhaps they did the former, but they did not do the latter. In fact, when former deputy FBI Director Andrew “Andy’s office” McCabe testified before Congress, he said the only part of Steele’s information they could verify was that Carter Page traveled to Russia in 2016. (It was well known that he had made the trip, as he had done this openly to give a school commencement address.)
Even Steele, in British legal proceedings, described the information as “raw intelligence” that was “unverified.” It should never have been included in a FISA application without being VERIFIED.
If you think this should have been enough to discredit the dossier and, by extension, the FISA application, you’re right –- but McCarthy brings up even more issues with it. He also admits he was embarrassed after offering assurance on TV that the FBI would never take an unverified dossier and present it to a court as evidence. Wrong!! He says his mistake was thinking this FBI was like the FBI he knew from working with them as a federal prosecutor for 20 years.