Top FBI Lawyer Admits She Didn't Read Trump Spy Warrant Before Signing It
Senior FBI Attorney Trisha Anderson drops bombshell admission in congressional testimony
The senior FBI lawyer who signed off on the FISA warrant to spy on Donald Trump's campaign advisor, Carter Page, has admitted during a congressional testimony that she didn't read the document before signing it.
Trisha Anderson, the head of the bureau’s National Security and Cyber Law Branch and principal deputy general counsel for the FBI, signed off on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) application before forwarding the document to then-FBI Director James Comey, despite not having read it, she said.
Anderson's division was responsible for legal oversight of the FBI’s FISA applications process and provided a final sign-off before the documents were sent to the Bureau's director level.
Prior to signing this request, Anderson's division was also assigned the Mid-Year Exam - the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Despite not readily volunteering to reveal the information, Anderson admitted during questioning that she was personally responsible, at the senior executive service (SES) level, for signing off on the original Carter Page FISA application:
Mr. Breitenbach: “You had mentioned earlier that all FISAs have to be signed off, have an approver at an SES level. In OGC? Or is that anywhere inside the FBI?”
Ms. Anderson: “In NSLB, in my particular branch.”
Mr. Breitenbach: “In NSLB?”
Ms. Anderson: “Yeah. Uh-huh.”
Mr. Breitenbach: “Okay. Who was that SES approver for the Carter Page FISA?”
Ms. Anderson: “My best recollection is that I was for the initiation.”
In her Aug. 31, 2018, testimony, a transcript of which was reviewed by The Epoch Times, Anderson described her role in the FISA process as “a backstop” whereby she would serve as “a last check in the process to ensure that all necessary elements of the FISA package were present and that it met the basic requirements of probable cause.”
However, there appears to be significant latitude in the “backstop” review process.
According to Anderson, the Department of Justice (DOJ) attached a “cover note” that identified potential issues, if any, for her to review with every FISA application.
If no issues were identified by the DOJ, then according to Anderson, there would be no need for her to read the FISA application:
Ms. Anderson: “[So] there typically would be a cover note that would summarize the FISA. That cover note is generated by DOJ. And because of the time pressures involved and the sort of very-last-stop-in-the-process nature of the review, the SES review, that’s done, I wouldn’t read a FISA unless there were some sort of issue that was identified based on the cover note.”
Mr. Breitenbach: “You are, though, reviewing for the sufficiency of probable cause –”
Ms. Anderson: “After many people have reviewed that assessment. And so, as I mentioned, this was essentially a backstop to all of the other processes and the rigor that had been applied by DOJ attorneys and by FBI investigative and legal personnel.”
Despite the FISA application’s politicized nature and obvious sensitivity, it appears that no issues were identified in relation to it, as Anderson testified that she had not read the application, only the DOJ cover note:
Mr. Breitenbach: “Does that mean you read the FISA –”
Ms. Anderson: “No.”
Mr. Breitenbach: “Okay. So you did not read the FISA, but you would’ve been familiar then with at least part of the FISA with regard to the legal predication for probable cause in the FISA in order to be able to sign it?”
Ms. Anderson: “I would be familiar based on the cover note, yes.”
Mr. Breitenbach: “On the cover note. Okay. So –”
Ms. Anderson: “In the case of the Carter Page FISA, I was generally familiar with the facts of the application –”
Mr. Breitenbach: “Okay.”
Ms. Anderson: “– before I signed that cover note.”
Anderson claimed that in the case of the Page FISA, her approval was “more administrative in nature” because “all necessary approvals, including up through and including the leadership of the FBI and the leadership of the Department” had been obtained by the time the Page FISA came to her desk for sign-off.
The Page FISA application relied heavily on allegations made in the so-called Steele dossier paid for by Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
At the time of the FISA application, none of these allegations had been verified or validated by the FBI when they were presented to the FISA court in support of probable cause, and the Steele dossier remains unverified to this day.
The dossier extensively cited a September 23, 2016, Yahoo News article by Michael Isikoff, which focused on Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow.
This information, which was used by the FBI to “corroborate” the dossier, was provided to Isikoff by the author of the dossier, former MI6 agent Christopher Steele.
The House Intelligence Committee noted that “Deputy FBI Director McCabe testified before the Committee in December 2017 that no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the FISC without the Steele dossier information.”
According to former FBI counterintelligence head Bill Priestap, “corroboration of the Steele dossier was in its ‘infancy’ at the time of the initial Page FISA application.”
Anderson admitted that the Page FISA process was handled outside of normal procedures, receiving early approvals from leadership officials at both the FBI and DOJ—including Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates—prior to the document reaching her desk:
Ms. Anderson: “In this particular case, I’m drawing a distinction because my boss and my boss’ boss had already reviewed and approved this application.
"And, in fact, the Deputy Attorney General, who had the authority to sign the application, to be the substantive approver on the FISA application itself, had approved the application.
"And that typically would not have been the case before I did that. Before, I would usually sign the cover note on the FISA application.
“So this one was handled a little bit differently in that sense, in that it received very high-level review and approvals — informal, oral approvals — before it ever came to me for signature. And so, in this particular case, I wouldn’t view it as my role to second-guess that substantive approval that had already been given by the Deputy Director and by the Deputy Attorney General in this particular instance.”
Anderson singled out the involvement of her former boss, FBI General Counsel James Baker, in the Page FISA review process.
Anderson described Baker as “one of the Nation’s leading experts on FISA…one of the best people you could possibly consult about what was contained within the FISA application.”
Anderson, while defending her handling of the Page FISA signing, claimed that Baker had “personally reviewed and made edits to the FISA.”
However, according to Baker’s Oct. 3, 2018, testimony, he had only read a small portion of the Page FISA and specifically did not review the underlying Woods Procedure file, which provided documentation for the accuracy of facts represented in the FISA application:
Rep. Meadows: “And did you read the whole Carter Page FISA application?”
James Baker: “I — my recollection is that I read the factual part of the initiation of the Carter Page FISA. I am not going to say I read –“
Baker clarified that by “factual part” he meant that he had only read the probable cause section of the Page FISA.
He also testified that he had asked Anderson to personally notify him when the Page FISA began “moving through the system.”
Baker noted that he did not believe he reviewed the final document, stating “the final would not necessarily have to come to me for approval.”
Contrary to Anderson’s claim, Baker said that he was primarily relying on briefings from his staff, which presumably would have included Anderson in her role as head of the National Security and Cyberlaw Branch—the specific legal division within the FBI that was responsible for the Page FISA:
During his testimony, Baker admitted that disclosures regarding the role of DOJ official Bruce Ohr and his wife, Nellie, had been unknown to him at the time of the Page FISA application.
Ohr was passing on information from Steele, and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson, to the FBI.
A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 19, 2018
Questions Over FISA Process
Judging from Anderson’s testimony, it appears that most of the work, including detailed reviews, are primarily done at lower levels within the FBI.
By the time a FISA application makes its way to Anderson, her description of involvement at the SES level invokes something more closely resembling bureaucratic approval than an intensive review:
“[T]he review by an SESer within FBI OGC, it happens on a very short timeframe.
"In other words, those SESers often will get a stack of FISAs that are — it could be 10, could be 15, could be 5 — you know, perhaps, the morning they’re obligated to go to the Director or the night before.”
As Anderson, herself noted, “There’s not a lot of opportunity for substantive review.”
The FISA process does not appear to be any more rigorous at the leadership levels of the FBI. Anderson claimed that the FBI “Director might on any particular day receive a stack of as many as 15, 17, 20 FISAs.” And the allotted time for the director’s review of the applications seems surprisingly short:
The amount of time spent reviewing and signing off on FISA applications at the leadership level appeared to surprise the House majority investigative counsel involved in Anderson’s interview:
Mr. Baker: “And you said just a minute ago — I thought you said that the Director has 20 minutes set aside to review all the FISAs?”
Ms. Anderson: “Approximately, yes.”
Mr. Baker: “That’s a real number?”
Ms. Anderson: “It’s not set in stone, and so we do have a process in place by which the Deputy Director or Director often will get a heads-up about the number — there’s an email that goes out every evening that indicates the number of FISAs that are ready for the Director’s signature by the next morning.”
Despite the fact that Anderson did not read the final FISA application she signed off on, Anderson repeatedly noted the particular importance of the Page FISA and claimed that it received an extraordinary level of scrutiny and preparation:
“We understood, because of who Carter Page was, that people would second-guess the appropriateness of submitting the FISA application, and so we were taking extra care with the application itself.”
Anderson claimed not to recall if she signed any of the three subsequent renewals of the Page FISA.
But she did, toward the very end of her testimony—after denying multiple times that she had read it—suddenly recall that she had read the FISA at an undisclosed “earlier point in the process.”
Anderson had testified, however, that her only knowledge of the legal predicate for probable cause came from the DOJ cover letter that was attached to the final version that she signed, not from the actual FISA itself.
.....”Carter Page wasn’t a spy, wasn’t an agent of the Russians - he would have cooperated with the FBI. It was a fraud and a hoax designed to target Trump.” Tom Fitton @JudicialWatch A disgrace to America. They should drop the discredited Mueller Witch Hunt now!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Anderson was asked if she had observed any “improper considerations, including political bias” that might have affected or impacted the Page FISA process. To this question, she immediately responded that she had not.
Anderson was then asked if she had observed: “any improprieties in that process that would have required subsequent disclosures to the FISA court about content that the FBI had omitted.”
At this point, Anderson halted her testimony and the FBI counsel interjected.
Upon resumption, Anderson testified that she had been “advised by the FBI lawyers that I can’t answer that question in an unclassified setting.”
The topic of additional or supplemental information provided to the FISA court would be returned to once more during Anderson’s testimony:
Mr. Baker: “Do you know if any additional information, either supplemental or for clarification, was provided to the court for any of the FISAs in the Russia case?”
Ms. Anderson: “This question raises the same classification issue that was raised by the question a few moments ago by the minority staff. And so, based on my consultation with the FBI lawyers, I’m not able to answer that question in this unclassified setting.”
Mr. Baker: “Okay.”
Anderson did testify that in the Page FISA process, she was not aware of any attempts by the DOJ or FBI to intentionally mislead the FISA court.