Congressman Brad Wenstrup, House Intelligence Committee, comments on House Republicans boycotting an intel committee hearing in an effort to get to Adam Schiff to investigate FISA abuse
One of the most effective tools law enforcement agencies use to protect the American people against terrorists and foreign intelligence operations may be undermined as a result of abuses committed by fired FBI Director James Comey and fired Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.
The abuses by the disgraced former FBI leaders involved the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), a law that allows limited court-ordered surveillance of suspected terrorists and spies.
Unfortunately, under President Barack Obama’s Democratic administration the law was used to improperly spy on Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign.
The Justice Department’s inspector general issued a report last year concluding that Page shouldn’t have been subjected to surveillance under FISA.
In recent congressional testimony, current FBI Director Christopher Wray did not satisfy some members of the House Judiciary Committee that the FISA abuses identified by the inspector general have been remedied.
These members are calling for further restrictions on the use of FISA that would make it harder to conduct surveillance of proper targets under the law.
In a very clever dodge, Comey and McCabe have blamed the problems with the surveillance of Page on subordinate FBI agents and on the FISA approval process itself. This is an epic deflection of responsibility and masks the real issue: how to prevent FBI executive-level bias from influencing the process of getting a FISA surveillance warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The best way to prevent further abuses is to hold Comey and McCabe accountable for their misconduct, in order to deter future FBI executives from taking it upon themselves to use their positions try to damage the election prospects of a presidential candidate they dislike.
I and a great number of current and former FBI agents and high-level officials were disgusted when Comey cited his “overconfidence” in agents “seven layers down” as being responsible for FISA abuses involving the surveillance of Page.
We were equally disgusted when McCabe blamed the “lowest-level FBI agents,” who he accused of supposedly “baking” the 17 serial instances of misrepresentations or material omissions in the four Carter Page FISA warrant applications.
Both Comey and Page have used their anti-Trump media acolytes to push this narrative, throwing the FBI and street agents under the bus and encumbering them with further restrictions on an already onerous approval procedure.
Terrorists and foreign intelligence agents take full advantage of modern technology to ply their trade. They use sophisticated methods – but without equally sophisticated and proactive tools, American law enforcement and intelligence agents will be at a severe disadvantage. Simply put, without FISA the FBI will only catch the less-sophisticated bad guys.
Comey and McCabe would have us believe they were passive bystanders to the surveillance of Page, despite having to give final approval to the applications for court permission to surveil Page under FISA.
There is ample evidence that Comey and McCabe were aware that opposition research that was “inaccurate, incomplete or unsupported” and financed by the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign was used in sworn affidavits to get four FISA warrants to surveil Page.
Comey and McCabe knew what was going on with the Page warrants because they took the highly unusual step of directly supervising the investigation out of FBI headquarters instead of the FBI’s Washington field office.
Standard FBI practice is to designate a field office, not headquarters, as the lead investigative office of origin.
Leading an investigation from FBI headquarters is a rare and flawed practice because headquarters consists of FBI managers and executives, whereas field offices are staffed with special agent investigators, investigative analysts, forensic specialists and surveillance experts.
Field offices also have digital and paper evidence collection capabilities and close working relationships with prosecuting attorneys.
But Deputy Director McCabe set up the unusual structure of running the Page investigation out of FBI headquarters so he could be intimately involved in every facet of the investigation.
In fact, before Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to investigate allegations of collusion before the Trump presidential campaign and Russia, the FBI investigative agents conducting the probe were under the direct supervision of McCabe and his surrogate, lead investigator Peter Strzok.
Lisa Page, who was McCabe’s special legal adviser and was involved in an extramarital affair with Strzok, was also plugged directly into the investigation.
Clearly, we need to ensure that the bias of final approvers of FISA warrant applications – like Comey and McCabe in the case of Carter Page – will never again infect an FBI investigation.
U.S. citizens – let alone presidential candidates or their campaign advisers – should only be targeted for surveillance when it is clear that they are witting accomplices to an agent of a foreign power.
In the case of Carter Page there was no need for FISA surveillance to begin with. FBI executives knew that he was a CIA asset reporting to the intelligence agency on the very activities that were the subject of his surveillance.
The FBI should have provided defensive briefings to candidate Trump and his campaign officials about Russian efforts to interfere in our 2016 presidential election. Instead, the FBI allowed Russia’s intelligence services to run operations designed to undermine our election so FBI officials could build a prosecutable case against Carter Page.
The FBI’s mission is to counter such intelligence activities – hence the term “counterintelligence.”
In my 24 years with the FBI I signed off on numerous FISA applications as they moved up through the multilayered approval procedures. By my count, there are at least 10 levels of review by FBI managers and four layers of legal reviews before a proposed FISA warrant even clears FBI headquarters and is forwarded to the Justice Department for approval, where yet another multilayered review takes place.
Those with experience in these matters know that there is no process in the FBI that is more rigorous than a FISA warrant application.
When the fix is in and that fix is orchestrated by the top executives it is not “the process” or low-level agents who bear the blame – it is the flawed and corrupt leaders.
FISA is a vital and proactive tool in this daily battle to counter the actions of hostile foreign intelligence agencies – such as the Russian FSB – that are engaged in a relentless effort to undermine our free democratic institutions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intelligence apparatus would love to see the loss or diminishment of FISA as an investigative tool used by U.S. law enforcement. Ditto for terrorist group including ISIS, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda.
When a company or agency has corrupt leadership, the corrupt officials can do enormous damage. Eventually the bad apples are ousted, leaving the rank and file to deal with the fallout. That is the case with the FBI.
The 38,000 men and women of the FBI are the finest this country has to offer. There were over 32,000 applicants for only 900 special agent job openings in 2019.
The FBI seeks out mature and experienced professionals who can handle – and not abuse – the immense power and responsibility of a position in the bureau. They are the best in the world and deserve better than the abysmal leadership they were subjected to under Comey and McCabe.
The human factor can best be addressed by deterring future abuses. We must hold wrongdoers fully accountable with criminal prosecutions if supported by the evidence.
U.S. Attorney John Durham, the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut, is investigating how the Russia collusion investigation was conducted and is quietly building and expanding on the inspector general’s report to ensure accountability is placed exactly where it belongs.
Never again should a sensitive political investigation of a presidential campaign be initiated on wispy predication and be run by highly conflicted and biased headquarters executives abusing the most intrusive surveillance techniques available against U.S. citizens.
Let’s not fall for the clever deflection of the Comey team onto the “process” or subordinate agents and analysts. To do so will tie the hands of the skilled and dedicated men and women of the FBI who play by the rules and hold our national security in their hands.