Trump Administration Releases Former Trump Aide Surveillance Records
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We're starting again today with news about the U.S. investigation into Russian interference with the U.S. election. Last night, the Department of Justice released documents about the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. One detail that stood out - investigators argue that Carter Page was a Russian agent. This morning on CNN, Page said he was never that close to the Russian government.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")
CARTER PAGE: I've never been an agent of the foreign power in any - by any stretch of the imagination.
MARTIN: Joining us now to tell us more about this is Philip Ewing. He is NPR's national security editor.
Philip, thanks so much for joining us once again.
PHILIP EWING, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: Can you tell us what the documents were that were released yesterday?
EWING: Sure. This is an application prepared by the FBI and the Justice Department for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. And when law enforcement investigators think that an American is involved with a foreign intelligence power, they go to this court and say, here's the evidence that we have. May we please begin surveilling this person's electronic activities - their phone calls, their text messages, their emails and so forth? And, if a judge agrees, the FBI can then begin going on and doing that.
MARTIN: How unusual is it for these documents, these FISA documents, to be released?
EWING: It's very unusual. They're some of the most secret things in official Washington. This has to do with people's lives, their relationships, their contacts with people overseas. I'm not aware of any other example in which a FISA warrant has ever been released in this way. But we're living through extraordinary circumstances.
MARTIN: Well, you've had a chance to review it, so what stands out to you?
EWING: It is something that confirms a lot of aspects of the story that have come out before in other forms. This document will not settle any substantive questions, and it certainly will not resolve any of the partisan disputes about this story. This is a piece of paper that a Republican can look at and come to one conclusion and a Democrat can look at and come to a different conclusion. Republicans do not want any of this evidence to be in the public discussion. They say it should all be thrown out because it's partisan agitprop in their view. The Justice Department denies that, and Democrats are siding with the Justice Department and the FBI saying the requisite notifications were made here. This was all fair game. The surveillance was turned on.
And the other thing that's important to remember is this surveillance was renewed through the Obama administration and into the Trump administration. Then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente and the current deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, both signed subsequent FISA warrant applications for this Carter Page surveillance. That's important because, to keep these things going, they must produce something. So the feds just can't keep listening to somebody because they want to. They have to go back to the court and say, here's what we overheard on this phone conversation. Here's what we learned in these text messages. And that's why we want you to continue to lead us to do this surveillance.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, can you help us understand how this fits into the larger Russia investigation? How should we think about this?
EWING: One of the things that it tells us is that very early on in the Russian investigation in October of 2016, the FBI was already suspicious about a number of people in President - now President Trump's orbit. There's a number of names in the document that are blacked out, whose names we cannot read that the FBI believed in 2016 were associated with this attack by the Russians on the United States. So, even at that stage of the investigation, this thesis about conspiracy or collusion was taking root.
Publicly, the FBI was not letting on about this. There was a famous story that year in The New York Times that said no link believed between Trump and Russia when, in fact, what this information suggests is the FBI did think there were these links. We just don't know the rest of the story. The real important lessons, the substantive lessons we won't be able to learn until this full, unredacted document is released - if that ever happens.
MARTIN: That's NPR's Philip Ewing.
Philip, thanks so much.
EWING: Thank you.
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