President Trump’s public battle Wednesday with Department of Justice Attorney General Jeff Sessions failure to call for a prosecutor to investigate alleged abuses by the FBI in obtaining FISA warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court revealed the deepening divide within the administration and concern that tools used to spy on foreign threats were allegedly weaponized to spy on a political opponent.
Republican’s congressional investigations revealed last month that the FBI did not disclose to the secret court information on the origin of the evidence it used when it obtained a surveillance warrant on short-term campaign advisor Carter Page. The evidence raised significant concern among Republicans and the White House who are calling on Sessions to investigate the full scope of the FBI’s investigation into Page and the Trump campaign. According to a memo released by Republicans with the House Intelligence Committee, the FBI did not disclose that the Democratic National Committee and the then Hillary Clinton Campaign financed former British spy Christopher Steele’s dossier, which was the primary evidence used to obtain the warrant. Democrats released their own redacted memo Saturday saying that a footnote on the application submitted by the FBI stating that the bureau “speculated” the dossier may be politically motivated was enough for the courts.
This week, Sessions authorized DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate the allegations of abuse by the FBI of the secret court. It was not enough for Trump, who noted that Horowitz does not have the authority to prosecute.
On Wednesday Trump lashed out on Twitter:
Why is A.G. Jeff Sessions asking the Inspector General to investigate potentially massive FISA abuse. Will take forever, has no prosecutorial power and already late with reports on Comey etc. Isn’t the I.G. an Obama guy? Why not use Justice Department lawyers? DISGRACEFUL!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 28, 2018
Sessions responded in a statement, obtained by this reporter from the DOJ, to Trump’s accusations. Sessions noted that the DOJ has “initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary.”
“As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution.”
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court presiding Judge Rosemary Collyer told House Intelligence Committee Chairmen Devin Nunes, R-CA and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, in a letter sent Feb. 18, that the documents requested by the committees from the courts can also be obtained from the Department of Justice, with approval from the Executive Branch. Nunes and Goodlatte sent a letter in early February requesting the all the information from the FISC regarding the FBI’s application to obtain the warrant to spy on Page.
Nunes requested “any relevant FISC hearings associated with the initial FISA application or subsequent renewals related to electronic surveillance of Carter Page,” as first reported by Fox News.
Collyer stated that the court would have to review the request from the committees but would not object to the DOJ handing the information over the requested documentation.
Collyer stressed in her response letter the congressional request “present novel and significant questions” which may take time for the courts to review.
“We have previously made clear to the Department, both formally and informally, that we do not object to any decision by the Executive Branch to convey to Congress any such information.”
“The considerations involve not only prerogatives of the Legislative Branch, but also interests of the Executive Branch, including its responsibility for national security and its need to maintain the integrity of any ongoing law enforcement investigations,” said Collyer, who noted that the DOJ could provide the documents more expediently.
“Note that the Department of Justice possesses (or can easily obtain) the same responsive information the Court might possess, and because of separation of powers considerations, is better positioned than the Court to respond quickly,” Collyer said. “We have previously made clear to the Department, both formally and informally, that we do not object to any decision by the Executive Branch to convey to Congress any such information.”
More importantly, Collyer revealed that “in a typical process of considering an application, we make no systematic record of questions we ask or responses the government gives.” The transcripts of the hearing were also requested by the committees and her acknowledgment that they may not have them is concerning to committee members, sources told this reporter.
If the DOJ, however, has the documentation, it has not provided it to the congressional committees, congressional sources said.
Both congressional committees are in the midst of ongoing investigations into the FBI’s investigation into alleged collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election. The FBI obtained a warrant from the secret court to spy on Page on Oct. 19, 2016. Page has been at the center of ongoing partisan investigations into the FBI’s handling of the secret warrant and whether or not the bureau adequately informed the secret court that the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee paid for the unverified dossier it used to obtain the warrant on Page and open an investigation into Trump’s campaign.
Horowitz’s ongoing investigation into the FBI’s handling of Clinton’s use of a private email server is expected to be wrapped up sometime in March but could extend into April. It began last year in January. Session’s recently requested that Horowitz, who was appointed DOJ IG under former President Obama, now investigate alleged FISA abuse by the FBI. It may take a year or longer to complete as did the other investigations.