Partisan Dispute Continues With Release Of Carter Page FISA Document
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We are following a number of stories unfolding today here in Washington. There's the recent release of previously classified documents related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser.
But first we're going to dive into news out of the White House this afternoon that the president is considering revoking the security clearances of former national security officials. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here in the studio to tell us about these developments. Hey there, Ryan.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi there.
CORNISH: I'm going to start with the security clearances. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders came out today to say the president is exploring ways to take away clearances for several senior officials. Who are they?
LUCAS: Well, these are some of the top national security officials of the past several years. You have former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, the former FBI deputy director, Andrew McCabe. You have the former national security adviser for President Obama, Susan Rice, then two former CIA directors, Michael Hayden and John Brennan. Here's a bit of Sanders explaining why.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they politicize and in some cases monetize their public service and security clearances.
LUCAS: Now, Sanders also accused them of making baseless accusations about improper contacts with Russia. And maybe the most recent example of that sort of criticism came from Brennan, who was Obama's CIA director. Brennan called Trump's performance at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, quote, "nothing short of treasonous."
CORNISH: Let's talk more about the release of those documents related to the surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Exactly what was in them?
LUCAS: Well, these are applications that the FBI and Justice Department presented to a federal judge to get approval to conduct surveillance on Page. Now, the FBI and Justice Department had to present a detailed enough case to convince the court that there was probable cause to believe that Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia.
Now, these sorts of documents are normally some of the most highly classified and guarded things in the U.S. government. There's no memory that I have of another instance in which a foreign intelligence surveillance application has been made public. In this case, it was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request that was submitted by a number of news organizations.
CORNISH: So why does this matter - because House Republicans months ago claimed that the FBI had abused its surveillance powers to target Page. Put - I mean, put this release in perspective.
LUCAS: So this surveillance really was at the heart of that nasty political fight that you're talking about. That was, Republicans led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes alleged in their memo back at the beginning of the year that the FBI and Justice Department had cut corners and misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in their application. They said that the feds relied heavily on that now-infamous Trump-Russia dossier that we've talked a lot about to get court approval for its surveillance. That dossier was compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Republicans also alleged that the FBI did not tell the court that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign were paying for the dossier. House Democrats of course rejected all of those allegations. They said that procedures were followed, that the Court was informed. And they say that Republicans are simply trying to tarnish the FBI and, by extension, undermine special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
CORNISH: So what more did we learn from the release of these applications?
LUCAS: Well, these documents are very heavily redacted, so there's really a lot that we cannot see in them. But what we can see is that the target of the surveillance was indeed Carter Page. The headline here is that the FBI says it believes that Page was, quote, "collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government." But there are several other important points that we need to bear in mind.
One, the applications do cite information from the dossier, but it's not the sole information that's in there. Large chunks of the section in which the FBI justifies its belief that Page was a Russian agent are blacked out, so we don't know all of the information that the FBI presents.
The other thing is that the application does not disclose by name who Steele was working for, but it does make clear that the FBI believes he was hired by an individual looking for information that would discredit the Trump campaign. That's important because one of the main Republican allegations is that the FBI did not tell the court that the DNC and the Clinton campaign were behind the dossier.
And one final thing - it's important to say that the surveillance was renewed three times. Some of those renewals were signed off on by Trump-appointed officials. And in order to get the court to get - to agree to a renewal, you have to prove that the surveillance is producing intelligence. It turns out that in the case of Carter Page, it was.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you.
LUCAS: Thank you.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.