Fact-Checking President Trump’s Tweets About Carter Page’s FISA Warrant Applications

The newly released FISA documents contradict President Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes' talking points.
President Donald Trump speaks to the media at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, on Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Fla. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

President Donald Trump speaks to the media at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, on Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Fla. Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017 (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

This weekend, the redacted FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) application for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, and its three subsequent renewals, were released. This is the first time the Justice Department has released a FISA application to the public. President Trump and House Republicans, led by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA-22), have long argued that the surveillance of Carter Page was politically motivated, that the FISA court was misled, and the warrant was based on the Christopher Steele dossier.

In February of this year, Nunes, who is the House Intelligence Committee Chairman, released a memo that made those arguments about the FISA applications. It was later revealed that Nunes didn’t read the underlying intelligence the memo was summarizing.

After the release of these 412 pages of documents this past weekend, which proves these claims to be false, President Trump, House Republicans, and conservative media continue to push this false narrative.

Here’s how their claims stack up to the facts:

The FISA Warrants Were Not Wrongfully Obtained Or Politically Motivated

The FISA application, and its subsequent renewals, were approved by four Republican-appointed judges. In order to successfully obtain a FISA warrant for FBI surveillance, one needs to demonstrate probable cause that a crime was committed. The application notes: “[T]here is probable cause that such activities involve or are about to involve violations of the criminal statutes of the United States.”

Carter Page had been a subject of FISA surveillance as far back as 2014 (before the Trump campaign) and was the subject of repeated FBI questioning, and over 10 hours of questioning by congressional investigators last year. The FISA applications detail why, outlining suspicions that Carter Page was an asset of the Russian government. Carter Page came under surveillance again after Page already left the campaign, so that contradicts Trump’s claim about his campaign being spied on. The October 2016 FISA application notes that “The F.B.I. believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government” and “that the Russian government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” the Trump campaign (the applications refer to Trump as Candidate #1). Page’s conduct demonstrated the warrant’s approval, and subsequent renewals, were not politically motivated, but rather due to real concerns.

Background: Carter Page was a former adviser to candidate Trump until the Trump campaign distanced themselves from him after his Russia ties were reported on. Page is the founder of Global Energy Capital, an investment firm in New York, where he partnered with Sergei Yatsenk. Yatsenk is a former Gazprom executive, a Kremlin-owned energy company Page did business with during the time he lived in Russia from 2004–2007.

Carter Page became a subject of the Trump-Russia probe due to his campaign-approved trip to Moscow in July of 2016 to meet with Igor Sechinthe chairman of the Russia State-owned oil company Rosneft, and may have discussed the prospect of lifting sanctions on Russia. Page also met with Russian spy Victor Podobnyy in 2013, Russians have reportedly attempted to cultivate Page as a way to infiltrate the Trump campaign, and Page has admitted to communications with Russians during the campaign.

The FISA Court Was Not Misled, And The Dossier Did Not Trigger The Russia Investigation

The central claim of Nunes’ memo was that the FISA courts were misled about British spy Christopher Steele’s role, and that the courts were not aware that the Trump-Russia dossier was political research. There’s an entire page in the initial FISA application that discusses this, countering Nunes’ claim. In it, the DNC isn’t specifically named just like Trump wasn’t explicitly named. This is called masking, which is the proper way classified intelligence is conducted. Nunes and Trump once raised a scandal around the “unmasking” of names last year. Now, it appears they’re arguing for the contrary.

Trump’s tweet claiming that the Christopher Steele Dossier is what sparked the Russia investigation is a repeated talking point of Republicans and conservative media. As has been widely reported, George Papadopolous bragging about the fact Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton to an Australian diplomat is what triggered the investigation. And Nunes’ own memo outlines that:

To Rep. Jim Jordan’s (R-OH-4) tweet about the dossier not being credible, Nunes’ memo mentions that the dossier was partially corroborated by the FBI (full memo text here.)

In summary, President Trump, the Republican Party, and conservative media are claiming these FISA documents bolster their claims, when in reality it undercuts all of their claims.

As The New York Times’ Charlie Savage put it:

Mr. Trump’s portrayal, which came as the administration is trying to repair the damage from his widely criticized meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, revived the claims put forward in February by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. But in respect after respect, the newly disclosed documents instead corroborated rebuttals by Democrats on the panel who had seen the top-secret materials and accused Republicans of mischaracterizing them to protect the president.

You can read all 412 pages of the FISA application and renewals here or you can check out this excellent comprehensive breakdown:

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