Amid the coronavirus panic, a quiet investigation has begun on Capitol Hill led by Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham. He’s already begun interviewing unnamed government officials. It involves accountability for the FBI’s improper wiretaps against a government citizen who happened to be affiliated with the Trump campaign.
Sharyl: What can you tell me about the closed door interviews that you're doing or planning related to the surveillance court and the FBI's alleged abuses?
Sen. Graham: Well, what I'm trying to do is get to the bottom of how it happens. So we don't do it again.
Sharyl: At the heart of his questions are the government’s improper wiretaps of former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page in 2016 and 2017.
Specifically, Graham says he wants to know what top Obama officials James Clapper, Sally Yates, Andrew McCabe and James Comey knew.
The wiretap abuses were revealed in a report from Inspector General Michael Horowitz last December. Horowitz criticized the FBI’s reliance on political opposition research, not proven facts, to justify four wiretaps against Page.
The research, called a “dossier,” was secretly paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democrats. It was put together by ex-British Spy Christopher Steele. Steele relied on Russian sources who made unverified and sordid allegations about Page and Donald Trump and their supposed Russian ties which proved untrue.
Horowitz found the FBI knew they were on shaky ground. In January 2017, four government agents interviewed a main Russian source for the dossier. He said his own information about Page and Trump was nothing to base a wiretap on.
Sen. Graham: So the thing that intrigues me the most is in January, 2017, the primary sub source, a Russian who prepared all the information to give to Christopher Steele to go in the dossier, was interviewed by the FBI and the Department of Justice. There were four people in the interview. And he basically told them, according to the Horowitz report, “This is bar talk, it's not reliable. I've never meant it to be used this way. I can't believe you're getting a warrant based on this document.” The odds that these four people dealing with the most high profile investigation maybe in the history of the FBI, did not tell Comey, McCabe, and people higher up I think are pretty low. But that's yet to be established.
Sharyl: Who are the four people?
Sen. Graham: Well I can't name them on television.
Sharyl: They're people that you're interviewing?
Sen. Graham: Yeah, there are people that I will be interviewing two work for the Department of Justice, two work for the FBI. McCabe and Comey are basically saying, "I didn't know about all this." I find that hard to believe, so I'm going to go start at the bottom and work my way to the top and I'll let you know what we find.
Sharyl: As you mentioned, at least two of the Carter page wire taps have been deemed invalid.
Sen. Graham: Right.
Sharyl: In those wiretaps, the intelligence agents are allowed to listen, pick up, collect information from many other Americans who are in contact with Carter Page.
Sen. Graham: Right.
Sharyl: As well as people in contact with them. This could add up to thousands of people. Has anybody asked what other names were caught up in these improper wiretaps?
Sen. Graham: That's what we'll be doing, who did you collect on? Did you mitigate as you're supposed to? If it's a contact not relevant to the investigation, that's supposed to be flushed from the system.
Sharyl: A related question, it seems like we never got to the bottom of all the unmaskings. The names that were revealed inside the government of people whose names were supposed to be protected, who are incidentally collected in intelligence gathering. And a couple of reminders. At a hearing in 2017, former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, admitted “having reviewed and possibly shared classified documents in which Mr. Trump, his associates or members of Congress had been unmasked.”
(video shows May 8th 2017 Senate hearing)
Senator Chuck Grassley: Did either of you ever review classified documents in which Mr. Trump, his associates or members of Congress had been unmasked?
James Clapper: Well, yes.
Sharyl: In addition to that, near daily unmasking requests were made in 2016 by United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. She then later said she didn't make a lot of those requests made in her name, and I don't think anyone ever got to the bottom of that.
Sen. Graham: Sally Yates and Clapper and McCabe and Comey will all be witnesses, along with Rosenstein.
Sharyl: In your inquiry?
Sen. Graham: Yes. Now Samantha Powers is in the State Department lane, but we'll know pretty closely, pretty quickly if an unmasking was abused here for political purposes.
“Rosenstein” refers to Rod Rosenstein, former Deputy Attorney General. Senator Graham says we can expect public hearings with the main players once he’s interviewed the unnamed federal agents behind closed doors.