Politics & Policy

The FISA Scandal Is about Corruption, Not ‘Sloppiness’

(Jim Bourg/Reuters)
When 96 percent of spy warrants reviewed contain serious errors or omissions — that’s wholescale fraud, not a few little slip-ups.

Consider this scenario: A federal lawyer is filling out applications requesting FISA warrants to spy on American citizens who work for a major presidential campaign to determine whether the campaign staffers are collaborating with a foreign power to steal the presidency of the United States.

They must know that such a conspiracy, should it be exposed, would be the most explosive in the history of the nation — towering over the piddling criminality of Watergate or the Teapot Dome scandal. And any genuine effort to ferret out criminality and sedition within one of the nation’s major parties — perhaps going as high as the future president himself — would be supported by unimpeachable underlying evidence and undertaken with abundant care and meticulous oversight.

So what are the chances that a good-faith investigation would botch nearly every request to spy on the campaign when the FISA court is already signing off on over 96 percent of applications? What are the chances that the FISA applications of a good-faith investigation would be riddled with errors and rely on “misleading and inaccurate” information based on a fabulist document paid for by the opposing political party?

You would think that this kind of potential abuse by the Justice Department would pique the interest of mainstream journalists. No such luck.

In December, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the FBI had included “at least 17 significant errors or omissions in the Carter Page FISA applications and many errors in the Woods Procedures” during its Crossfire Hurricane investigation.

A new IG report looked at another 29 applications the FBI filed to get permission to spy on “U.S. Persons” (this can include green-card holders who are non-citizens). The FBI couldn’t even find “Woods Procedure” files — which contain “supporting documentation for factual assertions contained in the FISA applications, as required by FBI policy” — for four of the applications, while every single one of the other 25 that auditors examined had “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts.” In addition to the 29 applications audited, the IG looked at the FBI’s own “application oversight mechanisms” relating to 42 FISA applications.

Put it this way, the new IG report found a total of 390 problems in 39 of the 42 applications that “including unverified, inaccurate, or inadequately supported facts, as well as typographical errors,” and it found another 20 issues per application in the new audit.

If you’re keeping score at home, only three of 75 FISA applications (4 percent) used to spy in the investigation, starting in October 2014, were not problematic. Whoops!

It’s even worse than it looks, because Horowitz didn’t scrutinize the raw-evidence case files, which, for all we know, is teeming with mitigating evidence and facts omitted from the applications. If agents were this “sloppy” with warrants, what makes anyone believe that they collected the foundational evidence in a more professional manner?

So how does the New York Times frame this amazing discovery? As “a broader pattern of sloppiness”— the word “sloppiness,” in fact, is twice used to editorialize, in what is presented as a news story. The audit makes no such claim of “sloppiness  and instead chalks up the problem to “errors and omissions.”

Here is the completely unsubstantiated third paragraph of the Times story regarding this scandal:

It undercuts the narrative fostered by President Trump and his supporters that the botching of applications to surveil his campaign adviser Carter Page is evidence that the F.B.I. engaged in a politically biased conspiracy.

Now, it is inarguable that Horowitz lacks telepathic powers that would enable him to bore into the soul of the agents who managed to be accidentally inaccurate more than 95 percent of the time. The audit, however, is not dispositive.

In fact, when we contextualize these findings with other statements by Horowitz, it points to a high probability of corruption or, at the very least, miraculous negligence.

Let’s remember that in December, Senator Ted Cruz asked Horowitz: “A lawyer at the FBI creates fraudulent evidence, alters an email that is in turn used as the basis for a sworn statement to the court that the court relies on. Am I stating that accurately?”

Horowitz answered: “That’s correct.”

Let’s remember also that Horowitz told the Senate that the FISA warrants relied “entirely” on the fictitious Steele dossier, a document featuring “intelligence” gleaned from foreign powers, and paid for by the political party running against the campaign under investigation.

Even if we lay the culpability on sloppiness, it is still a massive scandal of ineptitude. If the Justice Department acts this recklessly when investigating a presidential campaign, just imagine how abusive they are when investigating ordinary Americans.

Apologists for the FBI will question the patriotism of those who are critical of potential domestic spying. They have plenty of fodder. We now know that FBI lawyers manufactured evidence to spy on a political campaign. We know that some of the FBI agents involved promised to “stop” the president. We know that top FBI leadership, the people who have been lecturing us about patriotism and loyalty, have lied. And not just James Comey and Andrew McCabe. Onetime CIA director John Brennan spied on the legislative branch and lied about it to the American people. Onetime director of national intelligence James Clapper spied on the American people through a domestic surveillance program and lied about it to Congress.

Now, I realize it’s somewhat of a cliché to say this, but can you imagine the storm accompanying this kind of abuse if it had it emanated from the Trump administration and was aimed at Joe Biden, or from the Bush administration aimed at Barack Obama? And really, what stops the GOP from cooking up a dossier and then having some partisan FBI lackey spy on Joe Biden? Surely such an investigation would be, rightly, viewed as abuse of power.

But “sloppiness?” Color me skeptical.


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