On Thursday night, CNN reported on a leak from the forthcoming DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’ report on FISA Abuse during the 2016 presidential election. The article alleges that an FBI lawyer is currently under criminal investigation for altering documents in connection with the FBI’s FISA Court application for a warrant to spy on Carter Page, who briefly served as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. My colleague, Streiff, posted about this story on Friday.
For obvious reasons, the mainstream media has been downplaying the seriousness of the violation. However, this offense is far more significant than it was first thought to be, which was made clear in a discussion between CNN’s Wolf Blitzer and former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Bharara, a CNN contributor, has no love for President Trump after being fired three months into his presidency.
Bharara expressed genuine concern. He told Blitzer:
Well, that’s kind of an alarming bit of news. Obviously, based on what [CNN reporter] Evan is saying, there’s a lot we don’t know, but given the description he has provided… If there was an FBI agent who has sworn to uphold the Constitution, who can be proven to have altered a document in connection to a legal proceeding including the obtaining of a FISA warrant, that’s really serious. It doesn’t get much more serious than that.
I’d like to know the details, what the nature of the change was, if there was a mistake in some way… [but] based on the reporting it doesn’t sound like it was. I want to keep an open mind about it, but that is not a good thing. [It’s] a terrible thing.”
Law enforcement agents and prosecutors who work with them are sworn to uphold the Constitution, sure, but [they have to] actually exceed the protections of the Constitution. They have to be of the utmost integrity, of the utmost candor, especially when making a representation to the court, which is what a FISA application is, it’s got to be on the up-and-up.
I know that there has been a lot of political fighting about whether or not there was proper candor, there was back and forth within the House Intelligence Committee when the positions were reversed between Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff, and that looked like a lot of politics. This, this particular thing […] does sound serious.
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) November 22, 2019
On Friday night, former U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman appeared on “Hannity” and echoed Bharara’s sentiments. Tolman has also worked on the Senate Judiciary Committee where he participated in the writing of FISA laws. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), filling in for Sean Hannity, asked Tolman to weigh in on what type of charges the FBI lawyer, who is believed to be Kevin Clinesmith, might face. Tolman said:
When Carter Page says that this is more of the same, I beg to differ. It’s actually worse. The FISA Court is the highest level of government power. Remember, everything that is presented to a FISA Court judge has to be vetted and it has to be screened and it goes as high as the Deputy Attorney General and the Attorney General of the United States. So, at issue is, when you misrepresent to a FISA Court judge, not only are you lying to a federal officer, which is a criminal violation, but you also are obstructing justice in a very significant way with the most important tools we give law enforcement.
Chaffetz asks, “Without having all the details of the case, what are the potential charges Brett?”
Tolman replies, “You have obstruction of justice. You have what’s called a 1000. They are exercising the powers that Congress has given them.”
I was surprised by the strength of Bharara’s and Tolman’s reactions to this alleged crime. It stands in sharp contrast to the little bits of information coming from the New York Times and other liberal media outlets last night which sought to downplay the anticipated IG report. We heard, for example, that James Comey and Peter Strzok would be unscathed and that Horowitz has found FBI officials’ political bias did not affect their actions. My colleague, Bonchie, posted here about those reports.
I’ve heard repeatedly that leak stories, true or untrue, will be frequent over the next two weeks as both sides try to frame the debate. I guess we shouldn’t let ourselves become too excited either way until the actual report is released. It may be a long two weeks.
(Relevant segment begins at 7:15.)