Information on President Donald Trump contained in the so-called Steele dossier was biased and unverified, but that didn’t stop the FBI from using it in a special classified federal court to get surveillance warrants to spy on two American citizens in 2016.
A four-page summary memo released by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence indicates the FBI would never have sought even an initial surveillance warrant on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page, let alone four subsequent renewals, without the questionable dossier in hand.
The dossier was prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele and funded by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, using a Washington, D.C., law firm as a payment intermediary in the summer and fall of 2016.
This latest revelation about the Trump-Russia investigation is a bombshell, though not an unexpected one. Before Friday’s noon release of the intelligence panel memo on alleged abuses in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, Trump supporters had long suspected that FBI agents had used the dubious dossier to wiretap Trump associates.
The memo details how the research firm Fusion GPS and Steele had compiled the research, then peddled it to the Department of Justice, the FBI, and selected media outlets, including Yahoo News.
One Justice Department attorney, Bruce Ohr, met with Fusion GPS about the dossier during the 2016 presidential campaign. Ohr’s wife was working at Fusion GPS at the time, and the attorney was demoted late last year as a result of the conflict of interest.
But when it came to keeping tabs on Trump associates such as Page, the dossier was essential to getting surveillance warrants in the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. The court is empowered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows federal officials to track foreign actors and powers.
Intelligence panel Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has long said that the FISA warrants were actually used to track Americans illegally. Their identities were later “unmasked,” an extra step in the FISA process and an unusual one.
Information about Page was leaked to media outlets more than a year ago. Indeed, leaks in general have contained much classified information related to the Mueller probe of allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with shadowy people linked to the Russian government. The leaks have been designed to play up allegations that Russians may have helped the Trump campaign.
But Democrats fought furiously against the memo’s lawful release. It is perhaps clear now why: The memo claims that Andrew McCabe, former FBI deputy director, admitted that without the dossier, no warrants would have been issued.
The problem now for Trump critics is that the president and his allies can say warrants in the Trump-Russia investigation were issued based on opposition research paid for by Clinton and judged by FBI experts to be minimally credible.
The FBI did not inform the FISA court of the dossier’s lack of credibility.
Trump told reporters Friday he thinks “it’s a disgrace. What’s going on in this country, I think it’s a disgrace. The memo was sent to Congress … When you look at that and see that … A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that.”