As the nation patiently awaits the Justice Department Inspector General report on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court abuses that occurred in 2016 when President Donald Trump and his campaign were falsely accused of being Russian agents by the Obama administration’s intelligence agencies and Justice Department, the American people now know that at least some of those abuses continued well after Obama left office through 2018, according to now-declassified court documents.
Per Judge James Boasberg’s opinion, “the Court finds that the FBI’s querying procedures do not comply with the requirement at Section 702(f)(1)(B) to keep records of U.S.-person query terms used to conduct queries of information acquired under Section 702.”
And, “The Court next examines the prevalence of non-compliant queries conducted by FBI personnel to return information about U.S. persons from Section 702-acquired data. It ultimately finds the FBI’s querying and minimization procedures, as implemented, to be inconsistent with statutory minimization requirements and the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”
Meaning, during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the false conspiracy theory that Trump was a Russian agent, the FBI was failing to properly minimize the identities of American citizens, with 3.1 million queries “against raw FISA-acquired information … including section 702-acquired information” in 2017 alone.
And that was under the leadership of FBI Director Christopher Wray, who replaced James Comey in 2017 after Comey was fired by the President for lying to him about the extent of the agency’s investigation into the Russia collusion fiction.
These are the things that have shattered at least half of the country’s faith in the nation’s intelligence services and law enforcement. If you’re a Trump supporter, you probably think the system is rigged and corrupt, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong.
Boasberg does not say if the abuses related to the FBI’s probe into Trump, but the findings must certainly factor into the Attorney General William Barr’s ongoing review of FISA implementation. In 2016, the FISA court granted permission to the Justice Department to engage in surveillance of the Trump campaign, subsequently being renewed three times with the final authorization occurring in June 2017.
What we do know is that the investigation ultimately did not pan out when Special Counsel Mueller submitted his final report. After three years (or more) of investigating Trump it turned out there was no criminal conspiracy between Trump or his campaign and Russia to steal emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and John Podesta and have them put on Wikileaks.
The Mueller report stated, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” and “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”
Given the breadth of the FBI’s surveillance during these years, plus the fact that the FISA court says these authorities were being abused at the same time, the question is when the agency knew that the allegations against the President were false? And when they knew, why didn’t the investigation stop right there and then?
This was an unbelievable abuse of power. The allegations against Trump were paid for by his opponent, the Hillary Clinton campaign and the DNC, who hired Fusion GPS, who hired former British spy Christopher Steele to produce them. It was all made up, either by Steele’s sources or those who conducted opposition research, and then the allegations were fed to the FBI who elevated it through the Justice Department and brought it to the FISA court.
These abuses, if they are not overturned and lead to serious punishments for those who perpetrated them, will undoubtedly happen again. Whether the abuses occur under Section 702 of FISA or any other provision of our intelligence gathering apparatus, if these laws are so essential to national security, then they can never be allowed to be used to destroy a political party and presidency ever again. This has interfered in our political system far more than anything Russia was accused of.
Ultimately, responsibility for these FBI abuses fall at the feet of Director Wray, and it is up to Attorney General Barr to determine what Wray did to mitigate and correct them — and if he did enough. Because if he didn’t, we’re going to need some more FBI guys — a new director committed to real FISA reform and who will clean house.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government.