The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) held no hearings about the application requesting to spy on Carter Page, a U.S. citizen and former Trump campaign volunteer, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department relating to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The lawsuit, filed by government transparency watchdog Judicial Watch, requested documents related to hearings held by the FISC regarding an FBI application for a warrant to surveil Page. When the Department of Justice (DOJ) responded that no records exist that are responsive to the request, Judicial Watch took the matter to court.
Forced to explain the absence of records, the DOJ filed a court memorandum explaining that no records exist because no hearings were held. In the court documents filed on Aug. 30, Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler wrote that “the FISC typically considers FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant applications based on written submissions and may decide matters without holding a hearing.”
“In light of recent public disclosures about Carter Page, NSD [National Security Division] confirms that it has conducted a reasonable search and that no such hearings were held with respect to the acknowledged FISA applications,” Readler added.
Secret court judges aren’t required to hold hearings on FISC applications, but the lack of a hearing is likely to be questioned by supporters of President Donald Trump, since the request to spy on Page was filed in October 2016, shortly before the presidential election.
The timing of the warrant and the lack of a hearing are just the latest in a string of troubling revelations about the surveillance operation. Senior FBI and DOJ officials also failed to tell the court that the core of the evidence in the application is based on a dossier of unverified claims funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The officials also failed to disclose that the dossier’s author, former UK spy Christopher Steele, had an intense bias against Trump, according to senior DOJ official Bruce Ohr, who told the FBI that Steele “was passionate about him not being president.”
A copy of Steele’s dossier made it into the FBI’s possession through Ohr, who received it from his wife, Nellie Ohr, who herself was being paid by the same firm that commissioned Steele.
“You have a Fake Dossier, gathered by Steele, paid by the Clinton team to get information on Trump,” said former Secret Service member and political commentator Dan Bongino, as quoted by Trump on Twitter on Sept. 1.
“The Dossier is Fake, nothing in it has been verified. It then filters into our American court system in order to spy on Barrack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s political opponent, Donald Trump, and now we find out that there wasn’t even a hearing—that Donald Trump’s 4th Amendment right to privacy was signed away… and someone in there is swearing that this stuff is true, when it wasn’t? This is the scandal here—a police state,” Bongino said.
The FBI applied for and was granted an initial warrant and three renewal warrants to spy on Page, stretching over the course of a year. The DOJ response suggests that no hearings were held in all four instances.
FISA, which allows for some of the most intrusive surveillance under U.S. law, is meant to target agents of foreign powers. Page was labeled as an agent of Russia in the applications, with Steele’s unverified dossier making up the core of the probable cause. The officials involved in signing the applications have been referred for criminal investigation for allegedly depriving Page of his rights.
“It is astonishing that the FISA courts couldn’t hold hearings on Spy Warrants targeting Donald Trump,” Tom Fitton, the director of Judicial Watch said, as quoted by Trump on Twitter.
“It isn’t about Carter Page, it’s about the Trump Campaign,” Fitton added. “You’ve got corruption at the DOJ & FBI. The leadership of the DOJ & FBI are completely out to lunch in terms of exposing and holding those accountable who are responsible for that corruption.”
Despite a year of intense surveillance and claims that he is a Russian agent, Page was never charged with a crime.
“It’s not about me, it’s about us,” Page wrote on Twitter on Sept. 1, in response to news that no hearings were held before the FBI received approval to spy on him. “We must repair damages by those who paid millions to turn cheap rhetoric into false court filings.”
Page stepped down from the Trump campaign in late September 2016 after an article by Yahoo News alleged that he was engaging in private talks with top Russian officials. Page dismissed the claims in the article but resigned to avoid becoming a distraction. Steele was eventually determined to have been the source for the article.
The following month, October 2016, the FBI and DOJ used the Yahoo News article as evidence in the FISA application, without mentioning that Steele was also the source of that story.