Did the FBI conduct surveillance on the Trump administration as well as the Trump campaign? The answer may very well be yes — since, as the subject of the FBI’s surveillance revealed, he was in contact with Trump officials long after he was dismissed from the campaign.
Carter Page, as you probably know, was one of the subjects of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant that allowed the government access to Page’s communications.
The adviser to the Trump campaign left before the election, but the FISA warrant was renewed until September of 2017.
That’s incredibly relevant because, as he told The Federalist, he remained in contact with members of Trump’s administration during that time.
“Yes, I stayed in touch with them — including during the transition months and after the start of the new administration,” Page said.
“While Page refused to identify all of the individuals with whom he maintained a relationship in order to protect their privacy, he confirmed that he remained in contact with Steve Bannon,” Margot Cleveland wrote in a piece published by The Federalist on Tuesday.
“Bannon, the former head of Breitbart News, served as the chief executive for the Trump campaign beginning in August 2016. Following Trump’s 2016 victory, the president-elect appointed Bannon to serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon continued in that role following Trump’s inauguration, until the president fired him in August 2017.”
Most of the media coverage attempting to debunk the fact that surveillance on Page equals surveillance on the Trump campaign focuses on the fact that almost all of said surveillance took place after Page, who had contacts with Russian intelligence officials before he joined Trump’s team and was dismissed after his links to Russia became an issue, left the campaign.
While accurate, Page argues that’s also irrelevant.
Page told The Federalist “that whole ‘he already left the campaign’ facade (the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, and many other usual suspects use it all the time), is entirely incorrect anyway” since he continued to communicate with members of the Trump team.
“I can also tell you on the record,” he added, “that one of the things that the FBI investigators were interested in were my early 2017 text messages with Steve Bannon (irrelevant as they may be).”
“Page refused to expand on the content of his early 2017 text messages with Bannon, but suggested that the subject matter of those texts was unimportant — it was the FBI’s interest in, and probing about, his exchanges with Bannon that proved infinitely more significant. That probing came when the FBI interviewed Page multiple times in March 2017, at a time when James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok remained in charge of the Russia collusion investigation,” Cleveland wrote.
“The special counsel report reveals that Robert Mueller’s team asked President Trump whether he spoke with Bannon or other individuals with the transition team regarding ‘establishing an unofficial line of communications with Russia.’ Whether that was the FBI’s interest in Page’s exchanges with Bannon is unknown, but the time frame would match.”
Cleveland also noted what National Review’s Andrew McCarthy — a former federal prosecutor — pointed out: If the government has a FISA warrant on someone’s “phone or his communication devices, [such as], emails, text accounts and the like, you not only get the forward-going communications, you get whatever stored communications are on his system.”
And, as The New York Times noted, “the wiretap order enabled F.B.I. agents to obtain and read older emails in Mr. Page’s account, including when he was working with the campaign. The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, has asked those involved in that effort why they did not use a so-called filter team to review the messages and screen out any sensitive but irrelevant information before adding them to the Russia investigation case file.” (Emphasis ours.)
While the FBI didn’t have to use a filter team, not having one would certainly be an odd decision if the bureau was surveilling someone involved with a presidential campaign and communicating with members of a presidential administration.
If Page is to be believed here about who he was communicating with and when — that’s a very big if, mind you — it still doesn’t answer the question about whether the FBI did spy on the campaign and administration, but we certainly know whether it could. Yes, the FBI had access to communications between Page and members of the Trump campaign. It also had access to conversations with administration officials, as well — if it so desired.
The question, therefore, is whether or not it wanted them. We don’t know and we ought to — which is why an investigation of the intelligence methods used during and subsequent to the 2016 campaign is both important and urgent.
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