Where was its concern about Russia during its eight years in power?
As I argued in my weekend column, it is hard to imagine a more idle question than whether the Obama administration spied on the Trump campaign. Of course it did. If you want to argue the point, imagine what the professors, pundits, and pols would have said had the Bush administration run an informant against three Obama 2008 campaign officials, including the campaign co-chairman; any hair-splitting about whether that technically constituted “spying” would be met by ostracism from polite society.
There is, in addition, more evidence — at least, more public, verified evidence — that Stefan Halper was a spy for the FBI than that Carter Page was one for Russia. This is not a small point.
Spy vs. ‘Spy’
It has been credibly reported that Halper, a longtime source for the CIA and British intelligence, was tasked by the FBI in the Trump-Russia investigation to make contact with and get information from at least three Trump campaign officials. He even sought a role in the campaign from co-chairman Sam Clovis. Page, on the other hand, was the target of four FISA court surveillance warrants, which enabled the Justice Department and FBI to monitor him for a year, starting at the height of the 2016 campaign.
To obtain such a warrant under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978), the FBI and Justice Department must convince a judge that there is probable cause to believe the target is an agent of a foreign power — in Page’s case, of Russia. As we’ve previously outlined (here, last section), because Page is an American citizen, the Obama administration had to have told the court that he was either: (a) “knowingly engage[d] in clandestine intelligence gathering activities for or on behalf of [Russia], which activities involve[d] or may [have] involve[d]” federal crimes; or (b) “knowingly engaged in any other clandestine intelligence activities for or on behalf of [Russia], that were undertaken “pursuant to the direction of an intelligence service or network of [Russia],” and that “involve[d] or [were] about to involve” federal crimes.
(See Section 1801(b)(2) of Title 50, U.S. Code. I am assuming it was not alleged that Page was knowingly engaged in sabotage, international terrorism, or the use of false identities, the alternative statutory grounds for claiming that a U.S. citizen is acting as an agent of a foreign power.)
Assuming the Obama administration told the FISA court that Page was a clandestine agent of Russia, I’d make two observations: First, the only publicly known allegations that Page was engaged in such clandestine activities come from the Steele dossier, and appear to be unverified.
Second, Page has never been charged with a crime, which would be odd if the FBI had been able to verify its FISA application claims — posited four times over a year of surveillance — that he was engaged in activities that appeared to be federal crimes. (We have not been permitted to see the FISA applications; I am assuming here that the Justice Department would not seek a FISA warrant, and the court would not grant one, unless the application addressed FISA’s requirements for showing an American to be an agent of a foreign power.)
To put the matter more succinctly: We know why it is claimed that Halper was a spy; we still do not know why it was claimed that Page was a spy. …