Information about the real world: As Kevin Drum noted three days ago, Carter Page likely played zero role within the Trump campaign.
As such, when Page was surveilled through the use of four FISA warrants, that surveillance wasn't being directed at an active part of the Trump campaign.
In Drum's formulation, "The FBI could have ordered a mob hit on Page and it would have had zero effect on Trump and his presidential campaign." If you want to think of that surveillance of Page as "spying," the FBI was likely spying on someone who was playing no role in the game.
Page was not a big deal. That said, the inspector general's damning report about the way those FISA warrants were obtained helps us learn about the way the real world really works.
Yesterday, Julian Sanchez summarized the way those FISA warrants were obtained in a report at Slate. The basic facts are ugly, as you can see by reviewing his piece. We were especially struck by this overview passage:
SANCHEZ (12/11/19): The heart of the Horowitz report deals with the Carter Page FISA application, and documents a progression that ought to sound familiar to anyone who’s studied the history of the intelligence community: An investigation begins with a kernel of reasonable suspicion, and facts are marshaled to support a theory. As it gathers momentum, those initial suspicions congeal into assumptions. New information that fits the original theory is added to pile of evidence—while a growing body of contradictory of information is overlooked. It’s possible to read the Horowitz report and think that the initial 90-day wiretap of Page was justified, but far harder to rationalize intrusive surveillance that carried on for nearly a year, through three separate renewals, even as evidence mounted that should have undermined the basis for the warrant.In this formulation, we start with a kernel of a suspicion. Over time, the suspicion generates a theory, then turns into an assumption.
As the assumption is taken to heart, information is selected and discarded in order to sustain the prevailing theory. This is a description of so-called "motivated thinking." This is a description of the way true believers "think."
The inspector general's report lets us review our assumptions about certain figures in this long-running story. In one example, Christopher Steele seems a bit shakier than our tribe was led to believe. Then too, we seem to have learned that Carter Page, among other things, had apparently worked with the CIA in some way over the years:
SANCHEZ: [The initial FISA] application failed to mention Page’s relationship with the CIA (“another government agency” in the report), which had designated him an “operational contact,” and the fact that Page had provided the Agency with information about his previous contacts with Russian intelligence officers—contacts that were part of the basis for suspecting Page had been recruited to act as an “agent of a foreign power.”Say what? Page "had provided the Agency with information about his previous contacts with Russian intelligence officers?" Sometimes the things you want to believe, and have perhaps been urged to believe, may turn out in ways you hadn't suspected.
For ourselves, we still don't understand the facts behind this unfortunate if inconsequential side trip, nor are we going to try to puzzle them out. That said, the inspector general's portrait of the way the FBI obtained those warrants reminds us that we humans are strongly inclined to cut corners, and play fast and loose with the truth, in almost all our activities.
We've been thinking back to the hundred ways Rachel Maddow tried to hang Page high during these exciting few years. We've tried to search back through the transcripts, but here is one example of her work, marinated in true belief:
MADDOW (2/1/18): FISA warrants have to be renewed every 90 days. In order to renew them, U.S. investigators, law enforcement—they have to show a judge that there has been continued production of useful intelligence from the existing warrant. They have to show that there's been continuing or even fresh indications that the target of the warrant is, in fact, acting as a knowing agent of a foreign power.On that occasion, Maddow viewers were being urged to believe that there had to be some very good reasons for that continuing surveillance. The inspector general's report tells a quite different tale.
So that FISA warrant for Carter Page was initially granted in either the summer or the fall [of 2016]. It's hard for us to tell. We know that it was renewed multiple times. We think probably one of the times it was renewed was in January, right after Carter Page took his post-election trip to Moscow and Sean Spicer walked up to that podium and said Donald Trump definitely doesn't know him.
And we now know that in the spring of 2017, after the inauguration, once the Trump administration was sworn in, the FBI went back to the judge, went back to the FISA court judge again, with whatever evidence they had, that this warrant was continuing to be productive, there was reason to renew it again. And the judge okayed it. The judge signed off on that warrant in the spring. It was either the third time or the fourth time that a judge had looked at the evidence about Carter Page and signed off on continuing surveillance of him as a potential foreign agent.
On that occasion, Maddow went on to ridicule the notion that there could be anything wrong with those FISA warrants. In part, she ranted like this:
MADDOW (ironically): [Only] Clinton stooges would support a third or fourth renewal of a foreign agent surveillance warrant on the guy who's been on the FBI's counter intelligence radar since at least 2013 when he played a starring role as the enthusiastic idiot in a convicted Russian spy ring in New York who then later turned up multiple times in Moscow denouncing the United States, praising Vladimir Putin and trying to get Russian business deals for himself with Russian state-run companies, while meeting with Russian government officials.Rachel was trying to hang the other high, as she frequently does.
For the record, Page never "turned up multiple times in Moscow denouncing the United States." But Maddow tried to get him locked up for years.
In our view, Maddow has an unbalanced desire to get the others locked up. In this case, it led her to relentlessly pimp for the obvious reliability of the FISA process.
The inspector general's report starts to remind us about the way human institutions actually tend to work. Dissembling and extremely bad judgment may exist wherever we humans go, even on cable news.
What was the full story with Page? We'll leave that to the historians. The actual story with the FISA process seems to differ from the reassuring story we were told.
So too with Comey and Mueller and Steele and all those in whom we were instructed to place our true belief. Viewers get propagandized on Fox, but we liberals have been getting propagandized on our own cable channels too.