If the FBI had already convinced a federal court to issue a warrant to surveil Carter Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 2013 or 2014, it could add an important data point for discussions of the propriety of the FISA surveillance of Page approved in Oct. 2016 and renewed through to mid-2017. Most news stories and commentaries, however, do not even refer to the possible existence of a 2013 or 2014 FISA warrant. What has been overlooked are the reports, especially by CNN and others, that state such a warrant existed.
Carter Page came to the attention of the FBI long before he joined the Trump campaign, as the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets have reported. In 2013, Russian spies tried to recruit Page as an intelligence source, and Page passed documents to an agent of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service. In discussing the Oct. 2016 FISA warrant, the WSJ says, “It isn’t clear whether the department had previously requested a FISA warrant on Mr. Page.”
I have always recalled a nugget buried deep in a CNN report published in Aug. 4, 2017. The 61st paragraph of the report reads:
“Page had been the subject of a secret intelligence surveillance warrant since 2014, earlier than had been previously reported, US officials briefed on the probe told CNN.”
I long thought that CNN report was the only reference to such a warrant. But there’s more.
[Update: On Feb. 2, 2018, the New York Times’ annotation of the Nunes memo states, “In accusing the F.B.I. of omitting important information, this memo’s critics say the memo itself omits crucial context: other evidence that did not come from Mr. Steele, much of which remains classified. For example, it makes no note of the fact that Mr. Page attracted the F.B.I.’s interest in 2013, when agents came to believe that Russian spies were trying to recruit him. The F.B.I. obtained a FISA wiretap order then, as well, according to a person familiar with the matter” (emphasis added).]
On Feb. 2, 2018, FOX News’ Dana Perino said, “if Carter Page is under a FISA warrant starting in 2013. You have to go to the FISA court every 90 days in order to keep up that warrant. We don’t know if there was a lapse in the warrant between 2013 and 2015.”
In Feb. 4, 2018, TIME published a piece on Carter Page’s 2013 letter to an academic press declaring, “Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.” The TIME story also said, “According to published reports, the FBI obtained a first FISA warrant to eavesdrop on Page’s electronic communications during 2013.” Note: that line in the TIME story linked to a Washington Post report, at least the current version of which does not say Page was subject to a 2013 FISA warrant.
On Feb. 4 2018, Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Union stated, “In 2013, 2014, Carter Page was spied on by the FBI in a different FISA warrant.”
On Feb. 5, 2018, CNN’s Justice Correspondent, Jessica Schneider said, “In 2014, the FBI began surveilling Page’s communications under a FISA warrant.”).
In a piece published on Feb. 25, 2018, Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass) told World Net Daily. “The first warrant on Carter Page went back to 2013. He had been surveilled back then as a possible Russian agent. FBI had the evidence. That may have had some influence on the court.” (The WND is generally not a reliable source, but this news story included direct quotes from WND interviews with several congressional representatives.)
Finally, not as explicitly stated or clear cut but Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) said in Feb. 2018, “The Nunes Memo specifically focuses on the most recent warrants for surveillance of Carter Page, who has reportedly been under watch for his potentially illicit relationship with the Russian government since 2013” (emphasis added).
If a FISA warrant was issued to surveil Page back in 2013 or 2014, it would add a meaningful piece to analyses of the FBI and courts’ actions in 2016 and 2017. Such an earlier successful FISA application would provide additional evidence that the FBI lacked any political bias in its concerns about Page’s suspicious connections to the Kremlin, and would mean that the Justice Department had persuasive evidence to convince a court even back then that Page met the standards for FISA surveillance.