What the heck happened to Carter Page?

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12, 2019

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.

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 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.

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.

33 comments:

  1. Drum and Somerby say that Page had no effect on the Trump campaign.

    At the time the FBI pursued a warrant to wiretap Page, they were concerned about his activities because he was suspected of being a traitor to the USA. They were concerned he was being recruited by Russia to spy on the US. It wasn't that they were trying to spy on the Trump campaign.

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  2. "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."

    This is another example of Somerby promoting Republican talking points. The only point of comfort in the IGs report is that the FBI was a little sloppy renewing the FISA warrants against Page. But Republicans have been using that small point to try to hang their entire deep state conspiracy theory on, and to undermine the credibility of the FBI witnesses against Trump and his minions."

    And that is exactly what Trump says today -- the echo of the conservative talking points in every respect.

    No liberal thinks that this minor criticism of FBI procedure amounts to discrediting Comey or Mueller or undermines our faith in the FBI's effectiveness.

    Steele didn't even work for the FBI. He is a former member of MI-6 who was working as a contractor to Fusion GPS to do opposition research. The FBI investigated the content of his report and found as much as they could verify, to be credible and supported. They could not verify things like the pee tape because the prostitutes in question were no longer available to be interviewed by Steele or the FBI. But others were and his report was largely verified. But we're supposed to think Steele was a bad investigator because someone at the FBI was sloppy about a FISA warrant?

    Somerby appears to be helping Republicans clear the way for their own theories by trying to discredit legitimate investigators. In this, he does Trump's work and helps the Republicans keep Trump in office. He helps support the spread of disinformation by undermining public trust in those whose job is to uncover truth.

    There might be some doubt about Somerby's ongoing support for and defense of Republicans, were it not that he is so completely consistent. Every day he writes something to embodies conservative talking points. Every day. So this is not a coincidence or a misunderstanding. I have to agree with Centrist that Somerby is a Trumptard.

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  3. "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."

    Well, to be precise, it helps us learn about the way a liberal banana republic really works.

    It's simple: to a liberal zombie, the ends justify the means, always, because their ends are, by definition, absolutely superior. Therefore, they must, by any and all means, defeat the 'deplorables' and seize power. That's all.

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    Replies
    1. Of course all lives matter.

      Delete
    2. Waterboard Trump to get to the bottom of all this.
      Unless that too, isn't PC enough for the for the Right-wing snowflakes.

      Delete
    3. No lives matter.

      Delete
    4. Somerby is out to lunch.

      What is clear from the report is that it was not liberals investigating Page; regardless, we are supposed to need a fainting couch because some FISA paperwork was not filled out properly. Brother please, none of us will ever encounter anyone under a FISA warrant. Watch in slow motion as my eyes roll back and to the left.

      Meanwhile, Trump and the republicans continue their push to pollute our water and air - talk about the ends justify the means:

      "I have Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Donald Trump said in a recent speech to a far-right-wing campus organization."

      The 40-Year War William Barr’s long struggle against congressional oversight

      Delete
  4. “Carter Page likely played zero role within the Trump campaign.”

    “Likely”: based on what? Kevin Drum’s instincts?

    Somerby says:
    “the FBI was likely spying on someone who was playing no role in the game.”

    Is that why Trump claimed he didn’t know Page when it was no longer convenient to know him? Trump frequently makes this kind of claim despite evidence to the contrary.

    According to the Mueller Report:

    “The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election” however, “Page's activities in Russia – as described in his emails with the [Trump campaign] – were not fully explained."

    And it might be noted that the second and third extensions of the the Page warrant occurred under the Trump DOJ.

    Now, all that said: let’s see if the Republicans are truly committed to correcting abuses with FISA, or are using this one instance for a narrow partisan purpose. Perhaps they would be willing to join Sen Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), who has been working for years to try to reform the FISA system.

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  5. “The inspector general's report starts to remind us about the way human institutions actually tend to work.”

    Well, yes. No “human institution” is perfect. That’s not exactly an insight for the ages. But that doesn’t mean you call an entire institution into question because humans aren’t perfect, or because screw-ups were found.

    The only way we as a society have to investigate and adjudicate wrongdoing or to govern ourselves is through our institutions, as flawed as they might be.

    When you find problems, you attempt to correct them. You don’t label the entire institution and its employees “scum”, as Trump did.

    Of course, what Somerby fails to note is that the Inspector General’s report found flaws, but no evidence of anti-Trump bias, a major contention of the GOP.

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  6. “But the revelations of the IG Report are not merely a massive FBI scandal. They are also a massive media scandal, because they reveal that so much of what the U.S. media has authoritatively claimed about all of these matters for more than two years is completely false.”

    Page worked for the CIA at some point on Russia, perhaps that’s why he was a former Trump advisor. But the above, accurate quote, comes from the redoubtable Glenn Greenwald.

    LINK

    Leroy

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    Replies
    1. Errors in a single FISA warrant application show that “so much of what the media claimed” is “completely false?” Seems a bit hyperbolic. And by “media”, Greenwald is of course not referring to Fox News and other similar gigantic, influential media outlets, one supposes.

      Delete
    2. Multiple FISA warrants. Re-read, re-read read at least.


      Leroy

      Delete
    3. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/fbi-lawyer-under-criminal-investigation-altered-document-to-say-carter-page-was-not-a-source-for-another-agency%3f_amp=true

      An FBI agent altered a document that revealed that Page was a CIA asset. That info might have affected the decision to grant the warrant in the first place.

      Former CIA Director John Brennan now works for MSNBC as a commentator. I’m assuming that by now someone there has managed to ask him if he knew.

      Delete
    4. Glenn Greenwald is a hack, his referenced quote is not accurate beyond being an accurate accounting of his opinion, which is flat wrong.

      Trump's campaign did collude with Russia, evidence points to much more than this limited list:

      the Trump campaign met with Russians to get dirt on Clinton

      the Trump campaign shared polling data with Russia

      the Trump campaign discussed with Russia lifting sanctions on Russia

      the Trump campaign asked Russia to hack Clinton's emails, Russia proceeded to do that

      Furthermore, Trump did obstruct justice on at least 10 occasions, according to Mueller, a lifelong Republican.

      Trump did bribe the Ukraine president, leveraging US tax dollars for his personal benefit.

      Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Jimmy Dore, Kyle Kulinski, Krystal Ball, Aaron Mate - these are all hacks with known ties to foreign (Russian) funding and Republican funding, which is why they pose as progressives while spouting Republican talking points.

      Page never worked for the CIA. Page did help facilitate the sale of Rosneft. Trump continues to not enforce sanctions on Russia.

      Delete
    5. Trump is the most corrupt president in modern times, if not all times. The scandal is the blase attitude people take with Trump's massive corruption because it serves their own interests or finances.

      Delete
    6. Right-wingers waiving away treason against the United States of America is the least surprising thing to happen in my lifetime. I saw it coming, when they called me a "traitor" for not supporting W's Great Iraq Clusterfuck.

      Every Right-wing accusation is a confession.

      Delete
  7. When the FBI started wiretapping Page, they had access to all his e-mails. They did review these old e-mails, which included stuff when he had been working for the Trump campaign. So, they were spying on the Trump campaign, to some degree. For the Administration to misuse the FBI to spy on the other party's Presidential campaign is a big deal. Democrats should join Republicans in condemning the FBI and demanding reform.

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    Replies
    1. The FISA warrant empowers the feds to not only listen in on their target, but to listen in on those communicating with the target. Then they can listen in on the people the target’s friends communicated with as well.

      It’s called a “two hop”. There used to be a three hop, but it was done away with under Pres. Obama.

      It’s conceivable that Page talked with others in the Trump campaign. You can take it from there.

      Delete
    2. Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are two liberals who agree that the IG report showed a big problem, requiring major reforms. See https://theintercept.com/2019/12/12/the-inspector-generals-report-on-2016-fb-i-spying-reveals-a-scandal-of-historic-magnitude-not-only-for-the-fbi-but-also-the-u-s-media/

      Delete
    3. So, will you guys demand those reforms? Just as soon as the GOP does, I suppose. You see, they don’t actually care about reforming FISA; they will continue to make use of it when it suits their purposes. They only care about it in this one instance because the poor mf’er being investigated, Carter Page, was at one time associated with Trump, and they are crying these crocodile tears to protect Trump. Meanwhile, how many FISA requests have been issued under Trump’s DOJ? Do you know or wonder or care?

      Delete
    4. The reforms required are based on errors made by Republicans, who are currently involved in an amusing game of Twister. I like honey mustard with my pretzel.

      Delete
    5. David, you may find this interesting.

      https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/security/nsa-can-legally-access-metadata-of-25000-callers-based-on-a-single-suspects-phone-analysis-suggests

      Delete
    6. mmmm Republicans pretending to get all worked up over.....

      .....things Republicans do or instituted, hilarious!!!

      Delete
    7. Thanks for the link, Cecilia. Very interesting.

      @1:16 AM - yes, I would expect Barr and Wray to make significant reforms in how the FBI operates. I will be disappointed if they don't do so.

      Delete
    8. I will be disappointed if Barr, the thug, isn't impeached and disbarred.

      Delete
    9. "I would expect Barr and Wray to make significant reforms in how the FBI operates."

      By the nature of this thing, when the police want to spy on you, they go to a judge, FISA or any other kind, and tell their story. You don't get a chance to contest it.

      The cops can tell the judge anything they want, and present any kind of 'evidence'; social media, for example. This puts the judge in the situation where it's difficult to refuse: it's all in the name of 'national security' and stuff.

      The only "significant reforms" here, it seems to me, would be mandating a strict punishment in a situation like this, when it's discovered by an internal investigation, or a leak of some sort.

      But this is exactly what this IG probe didn't do. Dirty cops were exposed, and yet they didn't suffer any consequences.

      Which means they're emboldened to do it again.

      So, I wouldn't be too optimistic. Quite the opposite.

      Delete
    10. Mao,
      The quote you copied at the top of your post was sarcasm.

      For Conservatives, crooked cops are a feature, not a bug.

      Delete
  8. GOP: The FISA system is a travesty of justice.

    Interested bystander: FISA is used to monitor and protect against terrorism.

    GOP: The FISA system is an important and effective tool for protecting our country.

    Interested bystander: FISA is also used to monitor people engaging in clandestine intelligence activities, like, say, Carter Page was suspected of doing in the context of foreign interference in our election.

    GOP: The FISA system is a travesty of justice.

    Interested bystander: So, have you proposed or supported reforms, such as the ones proposed by Democrats Blumenthal and Schiff? Or have you always voted en masse to renew the system?

    GOP: The FISA system is an important and effective tool for protecting our country.

    ReplyDelete
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