Over last weekend, attorneys for Carter Page filed responses to motions to dismiss filed by the FBI and eight agents involved in the Crossfire Hurricane investigation that led to the government illegally obtaining four surveillance warrants to spy on Page.
With Spygate developments few and far between, it is easy to forget the breadth and depth of the scandal. The briefs docketed on Saturday in Page’s lawsuit against the FBI and the agents involved in obtaining the four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) surveillance warrants serve as an important refresher of what our government did to an innocent man in the hopes of “getting Trump.” As Page’s brief against the individual defendants noted in its opening, this case is extraordinary because they “were not mere field agents bending the rules to pursue criminals, but rather the highest level FBI executives.”
Even the case name, Page v. Comey, confirms the truth of that assertion, with former FBI Director James Comey named as one of the eight defendants. Page’s brief details Comey’s alleged involvement in the Department of Justice obtaining four FISA surveillance orders against the Naval Academy graduate, stressing that Comey was not merely a “supervisory” who signed the FISA applications, but was personally involved.
Establishing Comey and the other agents’ personal involvement proved a key feature of the briefs, because, to avoid dismissal of the complaint, Page needed to show the allegations of the complaint could reasonably support a finding that the individual defendants did more than merely supervise employees who violated Page’s Fourth Amendment rights and rights under FISA.
The 70-page omnibus brief addressing the claims against the individual defendants detailed the personal involvement of each. For instance, for the former FBI director, the brief stressed that “on or about August 17, 2016, Comey received information from the CIA establishing that Dr. Page was an ‘operation contact’ for the CIA during the period of 2008-2013.”
Comey also knew from a September 7, 2016, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) communique that Hillary Clinton had approved “a plan concerning U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump and Russian hackers hampering U.S. elections as a means of distracting the public from her use of a private mail server,” according to the court filing. Comey nonetheless approved the use of the fabricated Christopher Steele dossier to obtain the FISA surveillance orders, and eventually signed three of the four FISA surveillance applications.
Next named in Page’s lawsuit was Andrew McCabe, a former deputy director of the FBI. McCabe was also personally involved in obtaining the illegal FISA surveillance order, according to Page’s most recent court filing.
Among other things, McCabe signed the affidavit the FBI submitted in support of the final FISA application. McCabe’s involvement went further, Page’s attorneys argued, pointing out that he hosted an August 15, 2016 meeting with co-defendants Peter Strzok and Lisa Page discussing “an insurance policy” to prevent a Donald Trump election, and he had approved the FISA applications even though he knew they omitted Carter Page’s past assistance to the CIA.
The brief next discussed Kevin Clinesmith’s involvement in the FISA abuse. Clinesmith, who served as an assistant general counsel in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel, falsely told the FBI that Page was never a source. Then, when asked for written confirmation of that representation, Clinesmith altered the text of the email he had received from the CIA liaison, making the email read that Page was “not a ‘source.’”
Clinesmith then forwarded the altered email to the FBI. Clinesmith later pleaded guilty to making a false statement related to this conduct.
Strzok and Lisa Page’s involvement in the FISA surveillance scheme received attention next. Strzok, who served at the time as the FBI deputy assistant director for counterintelligence, also knew of the CIA’s warning that Clinton had approved a plan to claim Trump had colluded with Russia to “distract the public” from her misuse of a private server. Strzok also stated an intention to “stop” Trump from becoming president and discussed “an insurance policy” to prevent a Trump election.
Lisa Page’s personal involvement mirrored that of Strzok’s, but in addition she attended a briefing with McCabe, at which “Bruce Ohr advised them that Steele’s work product was not for the U.S. Government but, rather, was political opposition research for a private political party.”
The briefs repeated this process for the remaining individual defendants: Joe Pientka, who served as a supervisory agent on the Crossfire Hurricane team; Stephen Somma, an FBI agent who represented himself as “Steve Holt” to Page; and Brian Auten, an FBI supervisory intelligence analyst.
Pientka, Carter Page stressed, had falsely certified that the information in the first FISA warrant was verified for accuracy and later failed to correct the application, even after learning in November 2016 from Ohr that Steele was not a reliable source and had been paid to conduct the opposition research against Trump.
The response filed on Saturday also detailed Somma’s involvement, noting that he had pushed initially for the FISA warrant. Further, according to Page, “Defendant Somma personally provided incomplete, inaccurate, and conflicting information to the DOJ Office Attorney who asked whether Dr. Page had been a source for the CIA.”
In fact, according to Page, Somma actually knew he had served as an “operational contact” for the CIA from 2008-2013, but failed to accurately describe that relationship to others. Somma also did not inform the FISA court that Igor Danchenko, Steele’s primary sub-source for his fabricated dossier, contradicted Steele’s supposed intel.
The final defendant, Auten, also held personal responsibility for violating Page’s Fourth Amendment rights and violations of the Patriot Act, according to Page’s lawyer. Auten “played an instrumental role along with the agents preparing the FISA applications—including reviewing the probable cause section of the applications.”
In preparing the applications, Auten “falsely enhanced the credibility of information obtained from Steele,” according to Page, writing “that information from Steele had been ‘corroborated and used in criminal proceedings,’ although none of Steele’s past reporting as an informant had been corroborated and had never been used in any criminal proceedings.”
Auten also “intentionally failed to disclose the negative feedback that he had received from British Intelligence Service colleagues regarding Steele,” according to the court filing, including a caution from “Steele’s former colleagues that Steele exercised ‘poor judgment’ and pursued as sources ‘people with political risk but no intel value.’”
[Editor’s Note: According to the law and FISA Court rules all of this should have been disclosed to the court, it wasn’t.]