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Starr, Dershowitz Say FBI, DOJ Must Show ‘Honesty and Transparency’ on FISA

Former independent counsel and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz said there was 'a breakdown of process' in how the executive branch obtained warrants to spy on Trump officials

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr said “there always should be honesty and transparency” when the executive branch requests a surveillance warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. He spoke during an interview Thursday on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”

“There always should be honesty and transparency with the court. There’s no excuse for anything short of that,” Starr said. “But it’s all the more sensitive when you’re talking about the power of the executive branch to spy on Americans.”

A four-page summary memo compiled by staff members for House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) described how officials with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and FBI used the unverified dossier compiled by Christopher Steele to justify surveillance warrants against private citizens supporting Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign.

But the DOJ and FBI officials did not tell the FISA court that Steele is a former British spy who was being paid by the Democratic National Committee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign committee.

Starr, whose investigation led to former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998, said the memo raised “serious” concerns that required further answers.

“It’s serious. Let’s not rush to judgment. Let’s be consistent and say we need to know how that FISA application for the renewal was in fact prepared,” Starr said. “Who prepared it? What did they know? When did they know it?”

Starr noted that FISA was designed “to provide a judicial check on what might otherwise be untrammeled executive excess, potential abuses.”

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A criminal referral against Steele by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) revealed that Clinton associates and appointees of President Barack Obama at the Department of State fed anti-Trump dirt to Steele as he compiled the dossier. He also used unverified information in the dossier obtained from Russian sources.

Harvard Law School Professor Emeritus Alan Dershowitz agreed with Starr, saying there was a “breakdown of the process” when the FBI and DOJ omitted key information in their FISA surveillance warrant requests.

“We don’t know how much weight was given by the FISA court to any particular aspect,” Dershowitz said. “What we do know is that people who file an application … in front of a court have a special obligation to present all sides and to make sure that if they’re relying on something — and they know there are questions about its credibility because of its source — they have an obligation to present it … to the court.”

Related: Clinton Aides, Obama Appointees Fed Anti-Trump Dirt to Dossier Author

Democrats on the intelligence panel are pushing for the declassification of their alternative memo to the Nunes document, claiming the first fails to provide needed context to DOJ and FBI presented to the FISA court in seeking the surveillance warrants.

“Apparently in the application it does say that it came from a partisan source. That’s not good enough,” Dershowitz said. “You need to act as if the defense is presenting their side because you have an obligation to present both sides of the issue.”

“And again, as Ken said, it’s all about process. Process is the way in which we achieve fairness. And I think there were real problems with the process here,” Dershowitz said, adding that he awaits the Democratic memo’s release.

“I want to see both sides of the issue,” Dershowitz said. “But at the moment, I think there was a breakdown of process.”

PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter.

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PoliZette writer Kathryn Blackhurst can be reached at [email protected].