The chairmen of two U.S. Senate committees are disputing claims made by an FBI official to the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG), saying the claims are contradicted by four classified footnotes in a recent OIG report that delved into FBI’s surveillance of Trump 2016 presidential campaign aides.
The report, released Dec. 9, 2019, found “17 significant errors or omissions” in a surveillance warrant and its three renewals the FBI took out on one of the aides, Carter Page, under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2016 and 2017 (pdf).
The senators, Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) of the Senate Finance Committee and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, asked Attorney General William Barr to declassify the footnotes, which have been mostly redacted in the public version of the OIG report.
The senators have access to the unredacted version.
“This classified information is significant not only because it contradicts key statements in a section of the report, but also because it provides insight essential for an accurate evaluation of the entire investigation,” Grassley and Johnson said in a Jan. 28 letter to Barr (pdf).
The letter didn’t disclose which footnotes the senators were talking about or what information they believe they contradict.
A congressional staffer familiar with the situation told The Epoch Times that the footnotes pertain to what an FBI official told the OIG and that they aren’t all completely redacted.
There are 37 footnotes in the report at least partially redacted, four of them entirely, and of those, two seem to relate to a statement that an FBI official made to the OIG. Two more partially redacted footnotes seem to be related to the same topic.
The footnotes in question are numbered 339, 342, 347, and 350 in the report. All are in a section that discusses the Steele dossier, a collection of unsubstantiated claims about collusion between Donald Trump, his campaign associates, and Russia.
The dossier, created by former British spy and former FBI informant Christopher Steele, was the cornerstone of the FBI’s FISA application against Page. But the bureau failed to inform the FISA court, which approved the warrant, of a litany of information that undermined the allegation that Page was an “agent of a foreign power.”
As the OIG report discussed in the section relevant to the footnotes, the FBI and later the OIG learned that Steele used for the dossier only one source, a “Primary Sub-Source,” who had several sub-sources.
When the FBI talked to some of the sources, they had reservations about what Steele put in the dossier. The Primary Sub-Source said the information was “word of mouth and hearsay” and chat “with friends over beers”—some of it he or she heard made in “jest.”
One of the sub-sub-sources told the FBI that “whatever information in the Steele reports that was attributable to him/her had been ‘exaggerated’ and that he/she did not recognize anything as originating specifically from him/her,” the OIG report said.
One of the fully redacted footnotes (No. 347) is attached to that statement.
Another fully redacted footnote (No. 342) is attached to a statement by an FBI supervisory intel analyst (SIA) who worked on the counterintelligence investigation against Page and other Trump aides, which was dubbed “Crossfire Hurricane.”
He told the OIG that “the cause for the discrepancies between the [Steele] election reporting and explanations later provided to the FBI by Steele’s Primary Sub-source and sub-sources about the reporting was difficult to discern and could be attributed to a number of factors,” the OIG report stated.
“These included miscommunications between Steele and the Primary Sub-source, exaggerations or misrepresentations by Steele about the information he obtained, or misrepresentations by the Primary Sub-source and/or sub-sources when questioned by the FBI about the information they conveyed to Steele or the Primary Sub-source.”
Oligarchs and Disinformation
One of the partially redacted footnotes talks about Steele’s connections to Russian oligarchs.
Steele did some work for Oleg Deripaska, a Russian industrial magnate who was sanctioned by the Trump administration in 2018. The Crossfire Hurricane team members told the OIG they didn’t know about that connection.
The OIG found that Steele communicated in 2015 with representatives of multiple oligarchs with “connections to Russian Intelligence Services (RIS) and senior Kremlin officials.”
Steele’s FBI handler “did not recall if he told the Crossfire Hurricane team about Steele’s connection to” Deripaska, but “he said he did inform the team that Steele collected intelligence on Russian oligarchs and had tried to arrange meetings between the FBI and Russian oligarchs.”
As the OIG noted, the FBI was aware that Steele was potentially spreading disinformation.
“Counterintelligence investigations are complex, and often involve as I said, you know, double-dealing, and people playing all sides,” said Stuart Evans, head of the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence, which oversees the FISA application process.
He continued by saying that had his office known of Steele’s connection to Deripaska, it “would have been yet another thing we would have wanted to dive into.”
Footnote No. 350 was attached to his statements.
“In addition to the information in Steele’s Delta file documenting Steele’s frequent contacts with representatives for multiple Russian oligarchs, we identified reporting the [redacted],” the footnote says.
Delta files store information the bureau keeps on its informants.
By May 2017, the FBI “did not assess it likely that the [Steele] [election reporting] was generated in connection to a Russian disinformation campaign,” the OIG wrote, citing a December 2017 FBI memo.
The OIG concluded, “that more should have been done to examine Steele’s contacts with intermediaries of Russian oligarchs in order to assess those contacts as potential sources of disinformation.”
Another partially redacted footnote is related to one of Steele’s claims that Page, during a July 2016 trip to Moscow, met secretly with Igor Sechin, head of Russian energy conglomerate Rosneft.
There’s no evidence the meeting occurred, and Page denied ever talking to Sechin.
The dossier alleged that Sechin offered billions in Rosneft stock in exchange for the lifting of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia.
When the FBI interviewed Steele’s Primary Sub-Source in 2017, the source said that the information was sent to him or her by another sub-source in a text message and that “the sub-source never stated that Sechin had offered a brokerage interest to Page,” the OIG said.
Footnote No. 339 is attached to that statement.
“The Primary Sub-source also told the FBI at these interviews that the sub-source who provided the information about the Carter Page-Sechin meeting [redacted],” the footnote says.