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
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.
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.