Law & the Courts

John Brennan Claims FISA Abuses were Committed by ‘Overly Aggressive’ FBI Agents ‘Doing Their Level Best’

Former CIA director John Brennan speaks during a forum on election security titled in Washington, U.S., October 30, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Former CIA director John Brennan on Tuesday defended the FBI agents who committed errors in applications for warrants to surveil Trump-campaign associate Carter Page and pushed back on the allegation that they were motivated by partisanship, but admitted that “there were mistakes made.”

“Well clearly, there were mistakes made based on the inspector general’s report,” Brennan told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. “And I know a lot of people attribute it either to incompetence or politicization. Well, I just might attribute it to, these were FBI agents who were doing their level best to try to prevent Russia interference in the election.”

In a report on the FBI’s Russia probe released earlier this month, the Justice Department’s inspector general concluded that the bureau omitted crucial details in its requests for warrants to surveil the Trump campaign. The FBI failed to inform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the controversial Steele dossier, which played a “central and essential” role in the application to spy on Page, contained unreliable information and was indirectly commissioned by the Clinton campaign.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz also found that an FBI lawyer doctored an email used in the warrant application to conceal the fact that Page served as a source for the CIA, a potential crime prosecutors are now investigating.

However, Horowitz nevertheless concluded that no political bias tainted the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation.

“They were probably overly aggressive, they didn’t pay careful enough attention to some of the details, they may have ignored some aspects of the work that was uncovered,” the former CIA director said. “But I think the IG was very clear that politicization did not seem to creep into any aspect of their work either at the initiation of the investigation or throughout.”

Brennan emphasized, however, that the concerns with the FISA court “really need to be addressed” given the court’s “tremendous authority” to allow the FBI to surveil U.S. citizens.

The former CIA chief also said he sees partisanship on both sides among the lawmakers responsible for Congress’s oversight responsibilities.

“The Republicans are not the only ones that engaged in this partisan activity. I experienced some of it on the Democratic side when I was director of CIA and at the White House,” Brennan said.

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