Orwell Warned Us About This

Outraged by Helsinki? Please be equally outraged by what has happened this weekend with the Carter Page FISA warrants. And spread the word.

Here’s the threat: “If you repeat a falsehood enough times, many people will believe it. Especially if you have 53.2 million Twitter followers, the bully pulpit of the presidency and some media outlets that uncritically repeat your false claims.” WAPO 202  And, if you control the timing of the release of important information, people will miss its significance.

The government chose this last Saturday afternoon as the moment to release 412 pages of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants related to FBI surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign operative who was under suspicion by the FBI of being engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. After the Saturday release, Trump then spent Sunday and much of this morning tweeting falsehoods about the information. Congressional Republicans are also tweeting and releasing statements condemning the redactions in the released warrants.

(The FISA documents were released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act requests filed by media outlets as early as April 2017.)

Background: The controversy about these FISA applications first arose in February when House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R) released a memo claiming that the FBI misled the FISA Court about Christopher Steele, the former British secret agent who compiled the “dossier” on Trump-Russia ties and who was a source of information in the FISA applications on Page. The main complaint in the Nunes memo was that FBI whitewashed Steele—that the FISA applications did not “disclose or reference the role of the DNC, Clinton campaign, or any party/campaign in funding Steele’s efforts, even though the political origins of the Steele dossier were then known to senior and FBI officials.” Nunes later admitted that he had never read the FISA applications himself.

What’s Happening Now: The government’s Saturday release included redacted copies of the initial warrant application from October 2016 and three 90-day extensions of the warrant that were approved by judges under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They clearly disprove the February Nunes’ memo and support the Democrats counter memo released shortly after Nunes’ release. The Saturday disclosures show that the FBI was developing evidence from its surveillance of Carter Page. The redactions are likely to protect valuable sources and methods — calling for their release is irresponsible and unpatriotic.

Fact: FISA warrants require judicial review every 90 days. This warrant was renewed three times by a panel of four judges appointed by Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush I and Bush II). The length of the warrant applications increased each time as the Justice Department revealed to these judges the information the FBI was getting as a result of the warrant.

Fact: The Nunes memo accused the FBI of dishonesty in failing to disclose information about Christopher Steele — one of the sources named in the warrant, but the Nunes memo itself was dishonest in failing to disclose what the Justice Department disclosed to the FISA court. With the Saturday disclosures, the Nunes memo looks even worse in its mischaracterization of the FBI/Justice Department applications. (Read more in the sources cited below.)

Fact: Trump and other Republicans outcry about the redactions in Saturday’s release is part of their continuing attempt at a coverup.

The Bigger Picture: There is an intense effort to turn standard law enforcement practices into scandalous controversies for the purpose of undermining the Russia espionage investigations.

Further reading:

What to Make of the Carter Page FISA Applications, Lawfare.

With the release of new documents, Devin Nunes’s memo on Carter Page has gotten even less credible, Washington Post

How a Trump Decision Revealed a G.O.P. Memo’s Shaky Foundation, New York Times

The Daily 202: Carter Page FISA warrants underscore the difficulty of disproving presidential falsehoods, Washington Post

Author: Ann Heitland

Ann Heitland is a writer, living in Flagstaff, AZ. She's also a golfer, ex-lawyer, retired real estate broker, and active Democrat.

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