The immediate reaction of Reps. Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler to the recent findings by the Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz of FISA court-related misfeasance by the FBI was not unexpected. After many months of claiming to have seen evidence debunking President Trump’s claim that there serious abuses in the FBI’s applications for Carter Page surveillance warrants, they did an about face and said there were, indeed, abuses, but they were the result of negligence and lack of adequate internal checks on the work of agents.
They went on to say that the next step had to be putting better procedures in place. The urgency of their effort to draw attention away from any thought that the abuses were politically motivated, as Trump charged and IG Horowitz had suggested might be the case although he couldn’t be sure, was transparent but understandable. But what was deeply unnerving was the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court – the FISA court – itself in the whole sordid episode.
The FISA court is supposed to pass on FBI requests for warrants that permitted them to spy on American citizens suspected of being foreign agents. The FBI sought several such warrants in order to mount surveillance of Carter Page who worked for the Trump presidential campaign. This was supposedly based on the suspicion that members of the Trump campaign were in league with Russia.
After the Inspector General’s report on FBI abuses was released, the chief FISA judge blasted the FBI for misleading the court by providing “unsupported or contradicted” information and by withholding exculpatory details about Page. The FBI was said to have failed in its “duty of candor” and essentially “duped” the court.
But as Kimberley Strassel pointed out in the Wall Street Journal on February 7, 2018, almost two years before the IG report was made public, the problem is that the then Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee – which has oversight jurisdiction over FISA court activities – sent a long letter to the FISA court chief judge detailing the findings of his committee on abuse by the FBI in the warrant applications that dovetailed with the findings of the IG report requesting that the court investigate the matter. Yet Rep. Nunes’s letter and a follow-up one several months later were simply dismissed out of hand.
Now the FISA court consists of 11 federal judges who apparently sat on explosive information of official wrongdoing involving a bitterly contested presidential campaign for months until their hand was seemingly forced by the IG report. We trust that some government agency will see the urgent need we see to get to the bottom of this.