The FISA application to conduct surveillance on Carter Page released Friday by the Justice Department showed that the FBI firmly believed former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor had been "the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government," confirmed the intelligence community's confidence in findings that Russia interfered in the US presidential election, and dispelled the notion that investigators misled the FISA court about the origins of the infamous Steele dossier when seeking permission to spy on Page.
The FBI's surveillance of Page became a flashpoint early on after the FBI announced it was investigating Russian interference in the US presidential election. President Trump has called the surveillance evidence of unsubstantiated claims that the Obama administration "wiretapped" Trump Tower to spy on his campaign.
The FISA application "actually shows that it was justified," former DNC Chairman Howard Dean said on MSNBC Sunday.
The heavily redacted 412-page document recounted the evidence that investigators had of Page's activities and statements to establish cause for placing him under surveillance and included three renewals signed off by judges appointed by Republican presidents.
Trump proponents have claimed investigators relied heavily on the Steele dossier to obtain the surveillance warrant and did not inform the FISA court that the dossier, which was born from oppositional research on Trump during the primaries and commissioned by a conservative organisation, was eventually paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign.
A memo released in the spring by the embattled House Intelligence Committee, which abruptly ended its own probe into Russian meddling, contended that an anti-Trump bias fueled Steele's research and that the FBI and Justice, with their own biases against the president, knew of Steele's bias, decided to use the research anyway to gain the FISA warrant. The committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, who has been a vocal supporter of the president and who recused himself from the investigation pending an ethics probe, has claimed the surveillance of Page was an abuse of power by investigators.
But the FISA application shows that the FBI did inform the court that an opposition campaign foot the bill for the dossier.
"That the #FISA materials hurt the GOP narrative is not surprising since Rep Devin Nunes admitted he never read the source documents on Carter Page," Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted. "In fact, the first Nunes memo was such a disaster that I can't wait for the second one."
However, that memo's last page acknowledged that the counter-intelligence probe grew out of comments made by former Trump aide George Papadopoulos to an Australian diplomat in the UK, rather than the dossier. During a night at London's Kensington Wine Rooms in May 2016, Papadopoulos, who has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, revealed to Australian Alexander Downer that Russia had damaging information on Trump opponent Hillary Clinton.
Page called allegations that he was a Russian assets "ridiculous," claiming that he wasn't an advisor to Russian interests despite having claimed publicly in the past and in a 2013 letter that he was an "informal advisor" to Russia. When pressed by CNN's Jake Tapper, Page admitted that when he was in Moscow in July 2016, "a few people may have brought" up Russian sanctions "in passing," noting that it was "a major economic issue."
Noting that "Russia has a very active recruitment in the US," former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, said the details in the FISA application "strike me as a very consistent Russian recruitment effort."
Rep. Trey Gowdy, citing the heavy redactions in the document, said it might not be possible to determine how much investigators relied on the Steele dossier, contended on Fox News Sunday that "Carter Page is more like Inspector Gadget than Jason Bourne or James Bond."