The FBI released a cache of previously top-secret redacted documents Saturday night having to do with the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The documents included a redacted version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court wiretap application as well as several renewals. “The F.B.I. believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” reads one document. The purpose of this recruitment was to “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law.”
Page, who has repeatedly denied he was a Russian agent, had left the Trump campaign shortly before the FBI sought to monitor him. But in the more than 400 pages of documents that were released Saturday night, the government made its case for monitoring Page, starting in October 2016. Although much of what was in the documents was already known, the release itself is significant as the New York Times explains:
The spectacle of the release was itself noteworthy, given that wiretapping under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, is normally one of the government’s closest-guarded secrets. No such application materials had apparently become public in the 40 years since Congress enacted that law to regulate the interception of phone calls and other communications on domestic soil in search of spies and terrorists, as opposed to wiretapping for ordinary criminal investigations.
Although heavily redacted, the documents make clear that the FBI was clearly concerned about Page, saying he “has established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.” In addition, the FBI believed Page “has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government.”
Whether the FBI was justified in its concerns over Page had been the subject of dueling classified memos from Republicans and Democrats earlier this year. And while Rep. Devin Nunes’ effort to question the surveillance had already been seen as a weak, these documents seem to highlight just how misleading the arguments laid out in what became known as the “Nunes memo” actually were. The Washington Post explains:
Even based on what was known then, the hype surrounding Nunes’s memo seemed to oversell the point. In short order, other revelations about the warrant application made it clear that the contents of the memo were iffy. It was the second time in two years that Nunes had gone to bat in defense of one of Trump’s pet theories, and neither time worked out that well.
As it turns out though, Nunes’s efforts to raise questions about the surveillance warrant, granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, were even less robust than they seemed at the time. With the release on Friday of a redacted copy of both the initial warrant application targeting Page in October 2016 and the three 90-day extensions of the warrant, we can get a better sense of just how far from the mark the Nunes memo actually was.
Trump though saw things rather differently and took to Twitter on Sunday to say that the documents “confirm with little doubt” that the department of Justice and the FBI “misled the court.” He makes the broad claim without citing any evidence and seemingly ignoring all that the documents do reveal about why there was concern about his connections to Russia. In a second tweet, Trump said that it was “looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC.”
Speaking on CNN Sunday, Carter Page characterized the declassified documents as “so ridiculous.” The former Trump campaign adviser said the documents were “so misleading” and added that “it’s literally a complete joke.” Page vehemently denied he had ever “been an agent of a foreign power by an y stretch of the imagination.”