DOJ acknowledges 'insufficient' cause to monitor former Trump aide Carter Page as suspected Russian agent

Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department acknowledged that it had "insufficient" cause to continue wiretaps of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page as part of the bureau's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to newly released court documents.

In at least two of the four warrant applications filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Justice conceded that it lacked "probable cause to believe that Page was acting as an agent" of Russia, the court revealed in an order posted Thursday.

The new disclosure comes more than a month after the Justice Department's inspector general identified 17 inaccuracies in requests to wiretap the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser in 2016 and 2017. At the time, investigators believed that Page was allegedly conspiring with the Russian government.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report examines the FBI's Russia probe and its surveillance of former Donald Trump campaign aide Carter Page.

"The court understands the government to have concluded, in view of the material misstatements and omissions, that the court's (surveillance) authorizations...were not valid,"  the court order states.

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The Justice Department declined comment Thursday.

Earlier this month, FBI Director Christopher Wray outlined a series of proposed reforms aimed at bolstering public confidence in sensitive surveillance operations in wake of the damning inspector general's report.

In the FBI's package of reforms, ordered by the FISA court, Wray pledged an overhaul of its training program for agents and lawyers to ensure that information used to support future surveillance applications is complete and properly vetted.

After the inspector general's report was released, FISA court Judge Rosemary Collyer issued a rare rebuke of the FBI and asserted the bureau had misled the court when seeking permission to wiretap Page.

"The frequency with which representations made by FBI personnel turned out to be unsupported or contradicted by information in their possession, and with which they withheld information detrimental to their case, calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable," Collyer wrote.

Although the inspector general debunked claims by President Donald Trump that the Russia investigation was motivated by political bias, it revealed a dysfunctional system in which a team of investigators, handpicked to conduct one of the FBI's most sensitive investigations, committed "basic and fundamental errors." 

The findings, nevertheless, fueled new attacks on the legitimacy of the Russia investigation by Trump and Republican allies who have long accused the FBI of spying on the Trump campaign.

On Thursday, the disclosures by the FISA court brought fresh recriminations from some Trump allies.

"It’s about time federal authorities entrusted with our most powerful and intrusive surveillance tools begin to own up to their failures and abuses, and take steps to restore public confidence," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a vocal critic of the FBI.

In this image from video, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., swears in Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts as the presiding officer for the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Jan. 16, 2020.

"For years, the American people were fed false allegations of Russian collusion based on the FBI’s defective FISA warrants," he said. "We were forced to endure the nearly-two-year spectacle of the unnecessary special counsel investigation because of the warrants, and then forced to foot the bill for it to the tune of $35 million. And we were left to sift through competing storylines as so many loud voices continued to push the now-debunked claims while the rest of us demanded accountability."

The Russia investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, ultimately found insufficient evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. And while Mueller refused to clear Trump of wrongdoing, he said that charging him with obstruction was "not an option" because of Justice Department policy against prosecuting a sitting president. 

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in for his testimony before the House Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on July 24, 2019.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ: 'Insufficient' cause to wiretap Carter Page