The battle lines are being drawn ever sharper in Russiagate, which American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norman Ornstein predicts will end with Mueller indicting Trump, followed by the president pardoning himself and firing the special prosecutor, followed by patriot militias loyal to the president brutally suppressing mass protests, leading to a declaration of martial law.
The latest development turns on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s unprecedented decision to release the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant application against one-time Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.
Taken in light of the behavior of a US president who bullies the heads of state for ostensible allies like Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom while blowing kisses to Vladimir Putin, the FISA application certainly raises eyebrows.
“The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” the application reads. “Based on the foregoing facts and circumstances, the FBI submits that there is probable cause to believe that Page… knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities (other than intelligence gathering activities) for or on behalf of such foreign power….”
The FISA application points to exactly what the Russian government might want from the Trump administration in exchange for their services in releasing damaging information on Hillary Clinton (see the Democratic National Committee emails). “According to open-source information, in July 2016, Page traveled to Russia and delivered the commencement address at the New Economic School,” the application reads. “In addition to giving this address, the FBI has learned that Page met at least two Russian officials during this trip.” A heavily redacted section of the application references a “secret meeting” with an Igor Sechin, who is president of the Russian energy company Rosneft. An unidentified source tells the FBI that “Page and Sechin discussed future bilateral energy cooperation and the prospects for an associated move to lift Ukraine-related Western sanctions against Russia.”
Trump apologists, including US Rep. Devin Nunes, have argued that the source material — widely believed to have come from Christopher Steele — for the warrant is fatally compromised because Steele was helping the Clinton campaign. They’ve additionally argued that the FBI failed to verify the raw intelligence from Steele. (Put aside for a moment that the FBI’s inquiry into Trump’s entanglements with Russia was not triggered by the Steele dossier.)
One problem for Trump’s apologists is that, however shoddy the FBI’s application for a FISA warrant, judges approved it three different times, including under the Trump administration.
In a piece published by the National Review on Monday, Andrew McCarthy, a retired federal prosecutor, argues that “the newly disclosed FISA applications are so shoddy that the judges who approved them ought to be asked some hard questions.”
He goes on to say, “Much of my bewilderment, in fact, stems from the certainty that if I was so daft as to try to get a warrant based on the good reputation of one of my FBI case agents, with no corroboration of his or her sources, just about any federal judge in the Southern District of New York would have knocked my block off — and rightly so.”
Not every Republican lawmaker in Washington is ready to start impugning federal judges to provide cover for Trump. Sen. Richard Burr, the Republican from Winston-Salem who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Tuesday: “I don’t think I ever expressed that I thought the FISA application came up short. There [were] sound reasons as to why judges issued the FISA.”