Ex-Trump campaign aide Carter Page sues FBI for $75 million over Russia probe surveillance

The Trump administration may be on its way out, but disputes over the Mueller investigation aren’t going anywhere

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 28 November 2020 19:22
<p>Carter Page</p>

Carter Page

Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser on the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, sued the Department of Justice, FBI, and various top department officials in a Washington federal court on Friday.

He alleges he was improperly surveilled as part of the intelligence effort to investigate possible ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The suit, which includes former FBI director James Comey, former acting FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and an FBI lawyer named Kevin Clinesmith, centres around how the FBI got permission from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to investigate Mr Page on suspicions he might be a recruitment target for Russian espionage, efforts which later got folded into the Mueller investigation. The legal action asks for $75 million in damages.

“To persuade [the FISA court] that there was probable cause to believe that Dr Page was a Russian agent, the Defendants provided false or misleading information” to the court, the lawsuit, filed in a Washington federal court on Friday, says.

It alleges the FBI didn’t independently investigate claims made in the infamous Christopher Steele dossier, opposition research funded by Democrats and collated by a British former spy, which formed part of the case to surveil Mr Page. The suit also argues the agency didn’t disclose Mr Page’s past relationship as an informant of the CIA, which would’ve potentially cast doubt on his being a potential Russian agent. Together, Mr Page argues, these actions “violated federal statutes enacted to prevent unlawful spying on United States persons, as well as the Constitution.”

The lawsuit makes serious claims, though most of them have already been litigated in one form or another. The Mueller special counsel investigation found that despite irregularities, it could not show Mr Page was a foreign agent.

And a 2019 report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that despite “serious performance failures” in the surveillance process on Mr Page, including an FBI lawyer altering an email submitted to the court to hide Mr Page’s CIA work, the investigation wasn’t shown to be biased and had other grounds besides the Steele dossier to justify its existence.

It also found that the FBI was justified in looking into the Trump campaign, and didn’t send informants and undercover agents into the organisation for surveillance, debunking a regular claim from the president and his associates.

The fallout from the investigation is ongoing. FBI director Christopher Wray has ordered 40 different corrective steps to fix the lapses that came to light as part of the surveillance process, and in March, the FBI officials involved in surveilling Mr Page were effectively barred from further appearances before the FISA court.

Last spring, the DOJ launched yet another investigation into the Mueller probe, from US attorney John Durham, to look into the surveillance of the Trump 2016 campaign, among other topics, which critics argued suggested the over-politicisation of the Justice Department.

The investigation, which remains ongoing, has so far produced one criminal charge against Mr Clinesmith, the FBI lawyer, for allegedly altering the email used in justifying Mr Page’s surveillance.

On Thursday, the president pardoned Michael Flynn, his disgraced former national security adviser, who for a time cooperated with the Mueller team and who had previously pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with a Russian official during the transition process.  

Mr McCabe, the former acting FBI director, warned CNN in mid-November that there was some “very, very serious, very specific, undeniable intelligence that has not come out” regarding the Russia affair which could cast the president in a negative light and compromise intelligence sources. The former official believes the intelligence could be released to the public amid yet another investigation into the probe, this one from Senate Republicans.

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