Spy Court Sidelines FBI Agents Who Wiretapped Carter Page
Chuck Ross on March 5, 2020
FBI and Justice Department employees involved in the process of wiretapping Carter Page were barred Wednesday from taking part in other investigations involving surveillance warrants while they are under disciplinary or criminal review.
The order, from Judge James Boasberg, who presides over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is the latest fallout from a Justice Department watchdog’s report on FBI and Justice Department abuses of the surveillance process against Page.
“There is thus little doubt that the government breached its duty of candor to the Court with respect to those applications,” Boasberg wrote.
The Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report released Dec. 9, 2019, that the FBI made 17 “significant” errors and omissions in applications to conduct electronic surveillance against Page.
On Dec. 17, 2019, the FISC ordered the FBI to develop reforms to how the bureau handles and verifies information included in surveillance orders, saying the bureau’s handling of the Page case called into question the validity of surveillance orders in other investigations. In January, the Justice Department conceded that the most recent two FISA orders against Page were invalid.
Most of the errors in the Page investigation involved the FBI withholding information from the FISC that undercut the bureau’s theory that Page was a Russian agent. FBI agents and Justice Department lawyers also failed to tell the FISC about flaws in the Steele dossier, which the FBI cited extensively in its four spy applications against Page.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified on Feb. 5 that all FBI employees discussed in the IG report have been referred for disciplinary review to the bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility. At least one former FBI attorney, Kevin Clinesmith, was referred for potential criminal prosecution.
Boasberg’s order suggests that those employees still working for the FBI and Justice Department are effectively banned from handling surveillance cases until the disciplinary reviews are resolved.
“FBI personnel under disciplinary review in relation to their work on FISA applications accordingly should not participate in drafting, verifying, reviewing, or submitting such applications to the Court while the review is pending,” Boasberg said.
“The same prohibition applies to any DOJ attorney under disciplinary review, as well as any DOJ or FBI personnel who are the subject of a criminal referral related to their work on FISA applications.”
That group would seemingly include Stephen Somma, an FBI counterintelligence investigator who has been identified as “Case Agent 1” in the IG report. The report said that the agent was “primarily responsible” for at least six significant errors and omissions in the surveillance process.
Somma failed to disclose in the FISA applications that Page had a prior connection to the CIA. He also withheld potentially exculpatory information that Page and fellow Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos told Stefan Halper, who was working as an undercover FBI informant.
Somma also met in January 2017 with Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier. The IG report said that the source disputed much of what was in the dossier, including information about Page, but that the information was not disclosed in wiretap applications presented to the FISC.
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