For the first time since the FISA law was passed in 1978, the DOJ has released the applications for surveillance on Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, though heavily redacted. I suspect they did so on purpose, in order to debunk the ridiculous arguments made by Trump and Devin Nunes about that warrant. Because that’s exactly what it does.
First, let’s lay out some basic facts you need to understand. This warrant was issued under Title I of FISA, which governs the surveillance of intelligence officers and other officials of foreign governments. Page was not actually the target of the surveillance, the Russian intelligence agents who were building a relationship with him and grooming him to be an asset were the targets. There are many problems with the FISA statute and it is prone to abuse, but this is FISA at its most legitimate and serious. And the same standard applies as in a normal 4th Amendment warrant, the government has to show probable cause that the target of the surveillance is a foreign agent and is engaged in activities that might be criminal. And even then, the warrant only lasts for 90 days, at which time the government has to reapply for a continuation and demonstrate that the surveillance is proving fruitful and is gathering important evidence.
The application has to be sworn to by a counter-intelligence agent and approved by either the Director or Deputy Director of the FBI. It’s then sent to the DOJ, where it must be approved by the Attorney General, Deputy Attorney General or Assistant Attorney General for National Security. If all of those officials sign off on it, it goes to a FISA judge, who evaluates it and decides whether to issue a warrant based on the evidence presented. So there are many layers of protection here, far beyond what is require for a normal search warrant in a criminal case.
One of the key points in Devin Nunes’ infamous memo on this subject was his claim that the entire application was based on the Steele dossier, but the release of those FISA applications proves that to be false. Yes, they did use the Steele dossier (he is referred to as Source #1 in the applications), but they also used other evidence and they only used what they could verify from Steele’s work. He also claimed that the FBI did not disclose that Steele was working for a company that had been hired by the Clinton campaign, but in fact they did say that in the original application. And if Steele had been wrong about Page being groomed as a Russian intelligence asset, the surveillance would not have found anything. The fact that it was reauthorized three times shows that it was finding useful information on that very subject.
If you want a more detailed look at the specifics of the FISA applications and the Nunes memo, go here or here. They break down the minutiae of both documents. And as the second link says, “It’s honestly kind of amazing that *every single one* of the assertions about inadequacies about the FISA application by Nunes are just directly refuted by the FISA application. Utterly dishonest in its entirety.” But Nunes has been lying for Trump from the start.