The Dallas Morning News

FBI got warrant on Trump adviser

Agents had to convince judge of probable cause to think Page was working with a foreign power

- Ellen Nakashima, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous, The Washington Post

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communicat­ions of an adviser to presidenti­al candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigat­ion into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcemen­t and other U.S. officials say.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communicat­ions after convincing a Foreign Intelligen­ce Surveillan­ce Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidenti­al campaign that a Trump

campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are at the center of an investigat­ion into whether the campaign coordinate­d with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidenti­al election. The counterint­elligence investigat­ion into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigat­ions don’t result in criminal charges.

The officials spoke about the court order on condition of anonymity.

During an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial page staff in March 2016, Trump identified Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign. Campaign spokeswoma­n Hope Hicks later described Page’s role as “informal.”

Page has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his dealings with the Trump campaign or Russia.

“This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustifie­d, politicall­y motivated government surveillan­ce,” Page said in an interview Tuesday. “I have nothing to hide.”

He compared surveillan­ce of him to the eavesdropp­ing that the FBI and Justice Department conducted against civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The White House, FBI and Justice Department declined to comment.

Cause for concern

FBI Director James Comey disclosed in public testimony to the House Intelligen­ce Committee last month that the bureau is investigat­ing efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 presidenti­al election.

Comey said that includes investigat­ing the “nature of any links between individual­s associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordinati­on between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

Comey declined to comment during the hearing about any individual­s, including Page, who worked in Moscow for Merrill Lynch a decade ago and who has said he invested in Russian energy giant Gazprom. In a letter to Comey in September, Page said he had sold his Gazprom investment.

During the hearing last month, Democratic lawmakers repeatedly singled out Page’s contacts in Russia as a cause for concern.

The judges who rule on Foreign Intelligen­ce Surveillan­ce Act requests oversee the nation’s most sensitive national security cases, and their warrants are some of the most closely guarded secrets in the world of U.S. law enforcemen­t and intelligen­ce gathering. Any FISA applicatio­n has to be approved at the highest levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

Applicatio­ns for FISA warrants, Comey said, are often thicker than his wrists, and that thickness represents all the work Justice Department attorneys and FBI agents have to do to convince a judge that such surveillan­ce is appropriat­e in an investigat­ion.

The government’s applicatio­n for the surveillan­ce order targeting Page included a lengthy declaratio­n that laid out investigat­ors’ basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestin­e intelligen­ce activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said.

Among other things, the applicatio­n cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligen­ce operative in New York City in 2013, officials said. Those contacts had earlier surfaced in a federal espionage case brought by the Justice Department against another Russian agent. In addition, the applicatio­n said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.

Warrant renewed

An applicatio­n for electronic surveillan­ce under the Foreign Intelligen­ce Surveillan­ce Act need not show evidence of a crime. But the informatio­n obtained through the intercepts can be used to open a criminal investigat­ion and may be used in a prosecutio­n.

The applicatio­n also showed that the FBI and the Justice Department’s national security division have been seeking since July to determine how broad a network of accomplice­s Russia enlisted in attempting to influence the 2016 presidenti­al election, the officials said.

Since the 90-day warrant was first issued, it has been renewed more than once by the FISA court, the officials said.

Page’s role as an adviser to the Trump campaign drew alarm last year from more establishe­d foreign policy experts in part because of Page’s effusive praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his criticism of U.S. sanctions over Moscow’s military interventi­on in Ukraine.

In July, Page traveled to Moscow, where he delivered a speech harshly critical of the U.S. policy toward Russia.

Comey has declined to discuss the details of the Russia probe, but in an appearance last month, he cited the process for getting FISA warrants as proof that the government’s surveillan­ce powers are very carefully used, with significan­t oversight.

“It is a pain in the neck to get permission to conduct electronic surveillan­ce in the United States. And that’s good,” he told an audience at the University of Texas in Austin.

Officials have said the FBI and the Justice Department were particular­ly reluctant to seek FISA warrants of campaign figures during the 2016 presidenti­al race because of concerns that agents would inadverten­tly eavesdrop on political talk. To obtain a FISA warrant, prosecutor­s must show that a significan­t purpose of the warrant is to obtain foreign intelligen­ce informatio­n.

Only American target

Page is the only American to have had his communicat­ions directly targeted with a FISA warrant in 2016 as part of the Russia probe, officials said.

The FBI routinely obtains FISA warrants to monitor the communicat­ions of foreign diplomats in the United States, including the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. The conversati­ons between Kislyak and Michael Flynn, who became Trump’s first national security adviser, were recorded in December. In February, The Washington Post reported that Flynn misled Vice Presidente­lect Mike Pence and others about his discussion­s with Kislyak, prompting Trump’s decision to fire him.

In March, Trump made unsubstant­iated claims about U.S. surveillan­ce of Trump Tower in New York. Later that month, Rep. Devin Nunes, RCalif., chairman of the House Intelligen­ce Committee and a Trump transition official, charged that details about people “associated with the incoming administra­tion, details with little apparent foreign intelligen­ce value” were “widely disseminat­ed” in intelligen­ce community reporting. He said none of the surveillan­ce was related to Russia. The FISA order on Page is unrelated to either charge.

Three years before Page became an adviser to the Trump campaign, he came to the attention of FBI counterint­elligence agents, who learned that Russian spy suspects had sought to use Page as a source for informatio­n.

 ?? Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press ?? Carter Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether charges against him might be sought in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press Carter Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether charges against him might be sought in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

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