Though the FBI regrets the numerous “errors and omissions” it made in a series of wiretap warrant requests to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as an alleged “Russian agent," it insists they were benign mistakes. However, newly discovered records reveal no fewer than 10 instances, starting as early as 2009, in which top officials at FBI headquarters came to possess evidence that Page was acting on behalf of the CIA and the FBI itself, yet hid this exculpatory evidence from a secret federal surveillance court.
So far, only former FBI attorney Kevin Clinesmith has taken the rap for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) abuses against Page, who was falsely accused of masterminding a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. (Update, January 29: Clinesmith is sentenced to a year of probation, far less than the government recommended.)
But the FBI’s entire "Crossfire Hurricane” investigative team — including its leader, Peter Strzok – ignored several warnings that Page was assisting the good guys. Instead of following the law and reporting this history of cooperation to the FISA court – which spoke to Page’s loyalty and innocence – the team portrayed his contacts with Russian intelligence officers as evidence he was helping the bad guys.
A timeline of events compiled by RealClearInvestigations shows that the FBI’s own files indicate it considered Page’s contacts with Russians innocuous and his cooperation with U.S. authorities valuable until 2016, when Page joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. Suddenly, the bureau became suspicious of him and put him under investigation and electronic surveillance – in the heat of the presidential campaign.
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The timeline, based on recently filed court papers by Special Counsel John Durham and Carter Page's legal team, as well as a 2019 report on FISA abuses by the Justice Department's inspector general, shows that at several stages in its year-long probe, the FBI was made aware of the exculpatory information on Page, yet plowed ahead with its illegal surveillance of him -- all the while deceiving one of the most powerful courts in the country.
Carter Page graduates from the United States Naval Academy. He serves in the U.S. Navy for five years, working as an intelligence officer before rising to the rank of lieutenant.
Page begins working as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch in its London office.
Merrill promotes Page to deputy branch manager of its office in Moscow.
Page leaves Merrill to become an international energy consultant. Based in New York, he travels primarily to London and Moscow.
The CIA begins debriefing Page about his contacts with Russians.
FBI counterintelligence agents interview Page, who informs them he has been reporting information to CIA handlers “on an ongoing basis” regarding his work in Moscow. The interviewing agents acknowledge this fact in an FBI Electronic Communication (EC) documenting their conversation. (The EC is accessible to counterintelligence agents and supervisors in the FBI’s “Sentinel” system of record.)
January: Russian agents posing as bankers approach Page at an energy symposium in New York City and try to cultivate him as a source for economic information about the U.S. energy industry.
April: The FBI secretly records one of the Russians complaining to another agent about Page: “I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am.” He advises his comrade to try to massage Page for information and then “tell him to go fuck himself."
June: FBI interviews Page again and he reveals he has spoken with the CIA “since his last interview with the FBI,” according to another FBI EC. Page agrees to cooperate as a key witness in the FBI’s undercover investigation of the Russian agents in New York.
March: Page meets with FBI agents and federal prosecutors in New York to help them finalize their case against one of the Russian agents, Evgeny Buryakov, who agrees to plead guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered Russian agent. He is sentenced to 30 months in prison.
March 21: Page joins the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser.
April 1: FBI headquarters advises the New York field office to investigate Page.
April: Hillary Clinton's campaign hires the Washington-based opposition research firm Fusion GPS to dig up dirt on Trump. In turn, Fusion hires retired British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to compile a dossier on Trump and Russia.
July: Page travels to Moscow to give an economic speech at a college where President Obama previously spoke. Steele drafts a memo falsely claiming Page met with Kremlin officials during his trip as part of a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Steele begins feeding his dossier to the FBI.
Aug. 10: FBI HQ opens an investigation of Page and prepares a request to eavesdrop on him under FISA.
Aug. 17: The CIA sends a memo to FBI HQ advising the Crossfire Hurricane team that Page had been approved as an “operational contact” for the agency from 2008-2013, during which he provided information on Russia directly to Langley. The FBI team does not follow up with the CIA, even though the information is highly relevant to its FISA request.
Sept. 23: Steele leaks the FBI probe of Page based on his dossier to Yahoo News, which quotes a “senior U.S. law enforcement official” confirming that Page’s contacts with Russian officials is “being looked at.” (Yahoo reporter Michael Isikoff sends no emails to Page, and despite leaving phone messages on his voice mail, never gives him advance warning of the bombshell he’s dropping.)
Sept. 25: Enraged by the story, Page sends FBI Director James Comey a letter denying contacts with sanctioned Russian officials and requests an interview with agents to clear his name. He also reminds Comey of his decades-long record of cooperation with both “the FBI and CIA." Comey shares the letter with Strzok and others on the Crossfire team, but does not respond to Page.
Sept. 26: Strzok texts FBI lawyer Lisa Page: “At a minimum, the letter provides us a pretext to interview [Page]."
Sept. 28: Stuart Evans, a Justice Department attorney who signs off on FBI applications for FISA warrants, emails Page case agent Stephen Somma and asks, “do we know if there is any truth to Page’s claim that he has provided information to [the CIA] — was he considered a source/asset/whatever?"
Sept. 29: Somma replies to Evans that although Page “did meet with [the CIA],” he maintains that his past 2008-2013 history with the agency is “dated" and irrelevant to the FISA request. Based on his response, Evans agrees to leave Page’s prior relationship out of the FISA application. (Somma's portrayal, however, “was inaccurate,” according to Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who would note in a later report that the FISA application included allegations about 2007-2008 meetings Page had with Russian intelligence officers which "Page had disclosed to the agency” in 2010. So contrary to Somma’s assertion, Page's disclosures to the CIA were in fact relevant, especially since the CIA had assessed that Page “candidly” described these earlier contacts with Russian officers. The CIA emphasized Page’s truthfulness in its August memo to the FBI. The agency did not terminate him as a source due to any wrongdoing or suspicions about him.) Somma also got a high-level nudge from then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who asserted to Evans that he “felt strongly” that he should let the warrant move forward.
Oct. 21: The FBI withholds the exculpatory information from the FISA court and the court approves the FISA warrant to secretly collect Page’s emails and text messages – past and present – and record his phone conversations. Signed by Comey, the warrant application omits Page’s prior historical contacts and relationship with the CIA. It also leaves out the fact that Page previously cooperated with the FBI to help put away a Russian spy.
Jan. 12: FISA warrant is renewed after the FBI fails again to disclose the highly relevant information to the court.
March: Somma and another agent grill Page during five separate interviews for a total of 10 hours. Page states that he is not a Russian agent and, to the contrary, has previously assisted both the FBI and CIA in their counterintelligence efforts involving Moscow.
April 3: BuzzFeed runs a misleading story on Page — "A Former Trump Adviser Met With A Russian Spy” — which reveals Page was approached by Russian agents in New York in 2013. But the article fails to note that Page helped FBI agents and prosecutors bust one of the agents. (The security manager of the Senate Intelligence Committee leaked sensitive information from the case, which unmasked Page’s identity as a witness, to the author of the BuzzFeed story. The author, Ali Watkins, now with the New York Times, also happened to be having an affair with the security manager, James Wolfe, who served a short prison term in 2019 for lying to federal investigators about the leaks.)
April 4: The New York Times publishes a similar article on Page: “Russian Spies Tried to Recruit Carter Page Before He Advised Trump."
Early April: After Page receives death threats in the wake of those stories, his personal attorney Adam Burke steps in to help him. Somma puts Burke in touch with Clinesmith. In multiple communications Burke fills the Crossfire attorney in on his client’s role assisting the U.S. government against Russians spies, and implores him to help clear his client’s name and end the threats against his life. Clinesmith offers no help, while discouraging Page from trying to clear his name in the press.
April 7: Unbeknown to Page or his lawyer, Clinesmith shepherds through a FISA warrant application to renew the wiretapping of Page. Like the prior two requests, it omits his past cooperation with the CIA and FBI, and is approved by the court.
April 11: Quoting “law enforcement and other U.S. officials," the Washington Post breaks the story about the FBI obtaining a FISA warrant to monitor Page. The article, based on illegal leaks of highly classified FISA information, reports that the FBI's affidavit cited contacts Page had "with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013,” as well as the false rumors from the Steele dossier about Page meeting with Kremlin officials in Moscow in 2016.
April 21: After the FBI leaks and news reports, Page goes public denying he had collected intelligence for the Russian government, asserting instead that he had previously shared information that he had learned about Russians with the U.S. intelligence community. In a statement to CNN, Page reveals he has collected intelligence for "the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past.”
May 9: President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey, sending the FBI into a frenzy of activity, including re-engaging with dossier author Steele.
May 11: In interview on MSNBC's "All In With Chris Hayes,” Page asserts that had he been an agent for Russia, U.S. intelligence would have already known, because he’d consulted with both the CIA and the FBI "numerous" times over the previous few years. "I've helped both the FBI and CIA in the past,” he says. "We’ve had tens of hours of discussions.” NBC News, in turn, runs a story on its website under the headline: “Carter Page, Once Linked to Trump Campaign, Russians, Claims Multiple FBI, CIA Contacts."
May 17: Special Counsel Robert Mueller takes over the Crossfire Hurricane probe. Clinesmith is reassigned to Mueller’s office.
June 15: After hearing Page’s public remarks about assisting the CIA, a supervisory special FBI agent expresses concern Page could claim he had been acting on behalf of the U.S. government in engaging with Russians cited in the FISA applications. He asks Clinesmith, who was responsible for handling questions or concerns involving the CIA for the Crossfire team, to check it out. Clinesmith, in turn, contacts the CIA by email to seek clarification about Page’s past status with the agency.
June 15: Replying later that day by email, a CIA liaison tells Clinesmith that Page had provided direct reporting to the CIA in the past. She explains code language the CIA used describing Page as a source. She also directs him to the memo the CIA had sent the previous August informing the FBI that Page had a relationship with the CIA. In effect, she reiterates what the bureau told the agency 10 months earlier — and before it ever sought the first FISA warrant against Page. She forwards a list of other supporting documents, as well.
June 19: Clinesmith tells the supervisory special agent, who planned to be the affiant on the FISA renewal, that Page never had a relationship with the CIA, which he claims “confirmed explicitly he was never a source.” Clinesmith adds, “We don’t have to have a terrible footnote” in the renewal application. He also assures the agent that even Stu Evans, a skeptical Justice Department attorney – to whom Clinesmith refers disparagingly as “Eeyore,” the grumpy character from “Winnie the Pooh” – is satisfied with his explanation. The agent nonetheless asks for the CIA’s response "in writing," prompting Clinesmith to forge part of the email that the CIA had sent him so it falsely stated Page had not been a source for the CIA. He then forwards the altered email to the agent, who in turn relies on it to swear out an affidavit to convince a judge to continue monitoring Page.
June 29: FISA warrant is renewed for a third time as the FBI continues to withhold the highly relevant information about Page’s CIA assistance.
Sept. 22: FISA surveillance coverage of Page ends, and no charges are brought against him.
February: Mueller returns Clinesmith to the FBI after IG Horowitz provides him with examples of anti-Trump messages Clinesmith sent other agents just after Trump was elected in 2016.
July: FBI suspends Clinesmith without pay for 14 days.
September: Clinesmith resigns from the bureau after Horowitz discovers the falsification of the CIA email during an internal investigation of the FBI’s FISA application process and refers his findings to prosecutors for a potential criminal charge against him.
August: Clinesmith signs an agreement with Special Counsel Durham pleading guilty to a single felony count of knowingly and willfully making a false document.
January 29: Clinesmith is sentenced to a year of probation.