House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said that he warned the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC or FISA court) twice last year of problems about the warrants it granted to the FBI to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, but the court “did absolutely nothing about it.”
“The way that the court has conducted themselves is totally inappropriate, they ignored clear evidence that we’d presented to them … they did absolutely nothing about it,” Nunes told Fox News host Martha McCallum late Tuesday. “They’ve left Congress no choice but to have to step in and fix this process.”
The FBI had in late October 2016 secured a FISA warrant and renewed it three times to surveil Page for a total of twelve months.
Nunes’s remarks Tuesday come after Judge Rosemary Collyer, the presiding judge of the FISA court, sent a letter (pdf) to the FBI criticizing it for misleading the court over its surveillance-application process. The letter also told the FBI that it has until Jan. 10 to come up with a solution.
That same day, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said he would make FISA court reform the top priority for the committee in 2020.
Nunes added to Fox News: “I’m glad that the FISC court [has] come out and [made] a statement but your viewers need to know that the FISC is also culpable in this madness.”
The FISA court is made up of 11 judges who sign off on warrants related to national security and intelligence gathering. It “entertains applications submitted by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and other investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes,” according to a description on the court’s website.
The FISA court had been warned twice in 2018 about the FBI’s FISA application (pdf) to surveil Page, but took no action, Nunes said. One of the letters was sent in February 2018 which warned the court “of very serious matters” regarding the FISA applications.
Nunes added that he also told the FISA court about “source #2,” which he said the FBI used alongside the Steele dossier and “fake news stories” to obtain the FISA warrant to surveil Page.
“Source #2” was mentioned in the report (pdf) released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Dec. 9 that found 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in the FBI’s application and renewals for the FISA warrant to spy on Page.
Nunes said, “What we assumed when we wrote the original memo was that source two was legitimate. But later, Trey Gowdy, myself and John Ratcliffe and our investigative team, we began to look at source #2, and we discovered: number one, that they had actually begun spying before they even got the warrant, [and] number two, [that] they left all the exculpatory evidence—evidence that [the FBI] should have put forward on both Page and [another former Trump campaign aide George] Papadopoulos.
“I think Papadopoulos is really key because he’s the reason that they started the entire investigation and he denied it clearly. So at that point, when you have a full-blown [counterintelligence] investigation going on, you should do something. But the point here is that the court knew about all this,” Nunes added.
The FBI’s warrant applications relied almost entirely on an uncorroborated dossier compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele, who was hired by opposition research firm Fusion GPS and funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Steele compiled the dossier by using second- and third-hand sources with ties to the Kremlin.
Top FBI and DOJ officials signed off on the FISA warrants despite evidence that the dossier was unverified and that Steele was biased against then-candidate Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential elections. The FISA application also omitted the fact that the Clinton campaign funded the dossier, as well as exculpatory details of Page’s assistance to the FBI.
The Steele dossier claims eventually became the foundation of the Trump-Russia narrative spread by some media outlets, politicians, and Obama administration officials. But none of the 103 key allegations contained in the Steele dossier were verified during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-months-long investigation.