Surveillance Court Slams FBI Over Trump Campaign Warrants

WASHINGTON (CN) – The secretive federal court that authorized FBI investigators to wiretap a Trump campaign aide accused the agency Tuesday of intentionally misleading it to obtains warrants, based on the Justice Department’s internal watchdog report.

Traffic on Pennsylvania Avenue streaks past the FBI headquarters building in November 2017. (AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

Inspector General Michael Horowitz found no evidence that indicated political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to launch an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

But he also uncovered alarming incidents of FBI agents tailoring applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for warrants to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, with a total of 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” across four applications.

In a strongly worded order issued Tuesday, the presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Rosemary Collyer, directed the FBI to respond by Jan. 10 with a proposal to ensure future warrant applications to the court are accurate.

Collyer said false information in the FBI’s applications to surveil Page was antithetical to the candor expected from the intelligence agency.

“The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable,” Collyer wrote.

Horowitz’s report found that three separate, hand-picked investigative teams provided information to the Justice Department’s National Security Division, or NSD, which then passed it to the FISA court, presented as evidence for probable cause that was stronger than was the case.

“It also describes several instances in which FBI personnel withheld from NSD information in their possession which was detrimental to their case for believing that Mr. Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power,” Collyer wrote.

Testifying in a full-day hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Horowitz said his team was “deeply concerned” by the failure of FBI officials to ensure accurate FISA applications.

“We believe that in the FBI’s most sensitive and high priority matters, and especially when seeking court permission to use an intrusive tool such as a FISA order, it’s incumbent upon the entire chain of command at the organization, including senior officials, to take the necessary steps to ensure that they are sufficiently familiar with the facts and circumstances supporting, and potentially undermining, a FISA application in order to provide effective oversight consistent with their level of supervisory responsibility,” Horowitz testified.

The inspector general’s report outlines how information in the salacious Steele dossier played a central role in the FBI seeking a FISA order to target Page, but makes clear it in no way impacted the investigation’s launch.

“In terms of the initiation of the investigation it had no impact,” Horowitz testified last week. “It was not known to the team that opened the investigation when they opened it.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray ordered more than 40 corrective actions to address the inspector general’s recommendations, Horowitz stated in his opening remarks, to effectively utilize national security authorities like FISA while also safeguarding civil liberties.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said during Horowitz’s testimony that the FISA system has to be reformed to survive and then addressed the court directly.

“To the FISA court: we are looking to you to take corrective action. If you take corrective action that will give us some confidence that you should stick around. If you don’t, it’s going to be hurtful to the future of the court,” Graham said.

Collyer indicated the court will want to weigh in on proposed reforms to the FBI’s process for filing FISA applications and said she expects “minimal if any redactions” in the report to be submitted next month.

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