The FBI began monitoring Carter Page shortly after he joined the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and months before the bureau opened a formal investigation of the campaign, according to details from a report released on Dec. 9 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General (OIG).
One week after the Trump campaign named Page as one of its foreign policy advisers on March 24, the FBI headquarters instructed the New York field office to open a counterintelligence investigation into Page.
After receiving the instructions from headquarters, the New York field office opened the investigation of Page on April 6, 2016. The New York field office told the inspector general they opened the investigation because of Page’s contacts with Russian intelligence officers and because Page told Russian officials that he was one of the unnamed witnesses in a U.S. indictment of Russian intelligence officers.
After opening the investigation, the New York field office monitored Page to see if Russian intelligence officers would contact him again, according to the report. An FBI counterintelligence officer told the IG that she drafted national security letters to obtain Page’s cellphone numbers and residence information. The officer said she conducted “limited investigative activity” in the case before transferring it in August 2016 to the team running the investigation of the Trump campaign.
The monitoring of Page’s contacts began around the time that FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe briefed Attorney General Loretta Lynch about intelligence linking Russian intelligence to Page. Lynch told DOJ Inspector General (IG) Michael Horowitz that in spring 2016, Comey and McCabe pulled her aside after a weekly meeting at FBI headquarters and shared information about Page that Lynch believed they learned from a member of the intelligence community.
“According to Lynch, Comey and McCabe provided her with information indicating that Russian intelligence reportedly planned to use Page for information and to develop other contacts in the United States, and that they were interested in his affiliation with the campaign,” the Dec. 9 report states.
The inspector general’s finding about the FBI’s April investigation of Page substantiates the claims long lodged by House Intelligence Committee ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who told The Epoch Times in October that there is evidence the Trump campaign was being investigated long before the FBI opened a formal probe in late July 2016.
“There are many indications that surveillance was being conducted against the Trump campaign before the official opening of the investigation,” Jack Langer, spokesman for Nunes, told The Epoch Times. “If this is the case, we want to know what exactly happened, why it happened, and who ordered it. This is an issue of continuing concern to Intelligence Committee Republicans.”
The timing of the encounter between Lynch, Comey, and McCabe raises questions about what actions the nation’s law enforcement and intelligence agencies took in connection to the Trump campaign before formally opening a counterintelligence investigation—code-named Crossfire Hurricane—on July 31, 2016.
Comey and McCabe both told the inspector general they don’t remember briefing Lynch about Page in spring 2016. Comey said he didn’t become aware of Page until mid-2016; McCabe said he wasn’t aware that the New York field office was investigating Page, according to the report.
Comey’s lack of recollection is notable because the New York field office provided information to the FBI headquarters to be used for a “Director’s note” and a separate “Director’s brief” to be held on April 27, 2016, according to a footnote in the IG report. The inspector general noted that investigators were unable to question Comey on the matter because he declined to have his security clearance reinstated.
Comey and McCabe told Lynch they were considering providing a defensive briefing to the Trump campaign, but Lynch believed the possibility was “preliminary” and “something that might happen down the road,” the report states. The FBI never provided the defensive briefing, according to the report.
The FBI opened the investigation into Page’s contacts with Russians in April 2016 despite being aware, since as early as 2009, that Page regularly provided information about his contacts with Russians to the another government agency. Page has identified that agency as the CIA.
The bureau also didn’t label the Page probe a “sensitive investigative matter,” a designation usually given to investigations of persons tied to political parties and campaigns.
FBI officials told the inspector general that the announcement that Page joined the Trump campaign didn’t influence their decision to open the investigation. According to the report, “their concerns about Page, particularly his disclosure to the Russians about his role in the indictment, predated the announcement.”
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Within days of taking over the case from the New York field office, the Crossfire Hurricane team sought to obtain a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant on Page, according to the IG report. On Aug. 15, 2016, a Crossfire Hurricane case agent submitted a request to the FBI’s general counsel for a FISA warrant on Page. The effort fizzled on Aug. 22, 2016, when the general counsel determined that there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant surveillance.
The Crossfire Hurricane team renewed its efforts to surveil Page immediately after receiving several reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele on Sept. 19, 2016. The FBI obtained the FISA warrant on Page on Oct. 21, 2016.
Horowitz concluded that the FISA warrant applications on Page contained 17 “significant errors.” Among the stated errors, the FBI concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) its knowledge that Page was reporting his contacts with Russian intelligence officers to another U.S. government agency.
The FISC presiding judge, Rosemary Collyer, issued a rare order (pdf) on Dec. 17 in response to the DOJ OIG’s findings. Collyer ordered the Justice Department to submit a formal explanation of what will be done to prevent the court from being misled again.
“The FBI’ s handling of the Carter Page applications, as portrayed in the OIG report, was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor described above,” Collyer wrote. “The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.”
Horowitz concluded that the failures implicated the entire chain of command at the FBI. The inspector general said he didn’t find evidence to suggest that bias against then-candidate Donald Trump contributed to the FBI’s failures.
According to Horowitz, Lynch’s recollection about the spring 2016 conversation with Comey and McCabe is “consistent” with the information related to the New York field office’s investigation and subsequent indictment of Russian intelligence officers.
It is unclear who, if anyone, Lynch identified as the member of the intelligence community who she believed was the source of information on Page from Comey and McCabe. Notably, then-CIA Director John Brennan and then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper began receiving foreign intelligence about alleged links between the Trump campaign and Russia in spring 2016, concurrent with the conversation of Comey, McCabe, and Lynch. Brennan has testified that he forwarded the intelligence to the FBI. That intelligence “served as the basis for the FBI investigation,” Brennan said.
Attorney General William Barr appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham earlier this year to investigate the origins of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign, among other issues. Brennan said in October that “I am supposedly going to be interviewed by Mr. Durham as part of this non-investigation.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and couldn’t find evidence to substantiate the claims.