The Washington Post reports that a foreign policy adviser of Donald Trump, Carter Page, was the subject of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) surveillance in 2016. In mid-summer of 2016, the FBI went to a judge in charge of issuing warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and presented their case to begin surveilling Page.
The judge granted the order and the FBI began surveillance of his communications, both electronic and telephone. The application for the warrant said Page had contact with a known Russian foreign intelligence operative in 2013, and he has had further contact with other known Russian agents since then. This revelation is the latest indication that the FBI is following up on the growing amount of substantial evidence there were communications between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
The surveillance is part of a larger, almost-year-long investigation into allegations the Russian government influenced the U.S. presidential election and was supported by the Donald Trump campaign. Despite growing revelations about contact between members of his campaign and the Russians, Donald Trump and his staff repeatedly deny any wrongdoing or collusion. Carter Page is the only American in the investigation to be targeted with a FISA warrant.
Carter Page was a member of the campaign team, acting as a foreign analyst for Russian matters. President Trump mentioned Page in an interview with the Washington Post and introduced him as a member of the Trump foreign policy team. After Page’s close connection to Russia had been made public, the Trump campaign said Carter had an “informal” position in the campaign and never had a personal audience with President Trump.
The downgrading of the importance of Page is typical of Trump camp tactics. As some of the Trump team have become liabilities to the administration, they were described by Sean Spicer as “hangers-on,” with little to no influence on the campaign or President Trump.
Page is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, and he served as a Marine intelligence officer. He worked for Merrill Lynch in Russia for several years and visited the country on a regular basis. In the summer of 2016, he delivered a speech in which he was critical of the United States approach to Russia.
Obtaining a FISA warrant is no easy task and requires the investigating agents to present substantial evidence of probable cause that a person is acting as an agent of a foreign government. FBI Director Comey said in an address at the University of Austin, Texas, “It is a pain in the neck to get permission to conduct electronic surveillance in the United States. And that’s good.”
The judges on the FISA court rule on these warrants in a closed court and the warrants are only good for 90 days. There are extensions for the warrants and the one for Carter Page was extended at least once.
Before the warrant is taken before a judge, investigators have to compile their evidence, and it has to be approved through several layers of bureaucracy. The final step before going to court is the approval of a high-ranking intelligence official of the organization seeking the warrant. In the case of the FBI, it typically is the director who certifies the paperwork for the warrant. Part of the certification is the declaration that the intended surveillance is the only way to obtain the information and part of the investigation is to obtain foreign intelligence information.
Page has not been charged with any crime, and he vehemently denies all allegations. Carter Page refers to the collection of FBI evidence as a “dodgy dossier,” and said all of his visits to Russia were as a private citizen.
[Featured Image by Pavel Golovkin/AP Images]