Did the FBI use national security as an excuse to redact embarrassing info?
Or was it just a coincidence? The re-publication of a much-less redacted referral from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Christopher Steele has raised eyebrows about why so much of the document had been originally redacted. Rumblings on Capitol Hill, picked up by Adam Kredo at the Free Beacon, are that the FBI overclassified the material to keep from having their reliance on Steele exposed, especially after it became clear that he lied to investigators about his media contacts:
Federal authorities scrambled to redact and keep classified key information revealing major abuses of the U.S. surveillance apparatus that targeted President Donald Trump’s associates in the lead up to the 2016 election, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation who said the latest information corroborates findings recently made public by House Intelligence Committee officials.
On the heels of the release of a classified memo by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee disclosing that the FBI relied heavily on a widely discredited anti-Trump dossier to carry out unwarranted surveillance on Trump allies, Senate investigators this week made public their own findings that appear to corroborate the events. …
Congressional sources with knowledge of the situation told the Washington Free Beacon that federal authorities scrambled behind-the-scenes to redact this information and keep it classified not for national security reasons, but to ensure this damaging information never reached the public’s eyes. …
“If you compare that version of the Grassley memo to the new version with less redactions, it’s clear the redactions had nothing to do with national security, and everything to do with trying to keep embarrassing information from getting out,” the source said.
If you haven’t done so already, be sure to read my analysis of the fully redacted Grassley-Graham referral, and then Allahpundit’s analysis of the mostly unredacted referral from yesterday. Even with the redactions, it became clear that Grassley and Graham had two significant concerns. First, the use of unsolicited “intelligence” made Steele very vulnerable to manipulation by hostile intelligence agencies, which eroded the credibility of the dossier. Second, Steele’s material misrepresentations eroded his personal credibility, on which the Department of Justice’s FISA warrant for surveillance appeared largely based. Both of those concerns, as well as others about the FBI’s honesty in its continuing warrant applications, only got amplified by the removal of these redactions.
The speed in which the redaction reversal took place raises even more questions. Unclassified information should only get redacted to protect sources and methods, and classification levels on other information should reflect the same necessity. Yet, when Graham and Grassley pressed, the FBI quickly reversed itself and published almost all of the rest of the information. None of this appeared to relate to sources and methods except for those which were already widely known — Steele himself and his connections to partisan political operations.
So … if all those redacted areas could be unredacted so easily, why were they redacted in the first place? That’s a mighty good question. For insight into the answer, Byron York discussed the differences between the two versions:
The referral, which was first released in heavily redacted form on Monday, appears to confirm some level of coordination between the extended Clinton circle and the Obama administration in the effort to seek damaging information about then-candidate Trump.
The less-redacted referral fails to provide further illumination on the memo mentioned in the dossier obtained by BuzzFeed, mentioning how Steele allegedly received information from “a foreign sub-source who is in touch with [redacted], a contact of [redacted], a friend of the Clintons, who passed it to [redacted]” — redactions that appeared in the first issuance of the referral. …
The referral also mentioned how then-FBI Director James Comey in March 2017 spoke with Grassley and Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein, and was asked “why the FBI relied on dossier in the FISA applications absent meaningful corroboration — and in light of the highly political motives surrounding its creation.”
According to the referral Comey “stated that the FBI included the dossier allegations about Carter Page in the FISA applications because Mr. Steele himself was considered reliable due to his past work for the Bureau.”
The referral says that though the FBI suspended its relationship with Steele in October 2016 for unauthorized contact with the media, the agency defended his credibility before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court multiple times under the assumption that Steele had told the truth when he said he had not contacted journalists. The Judiciary Committee said that documents and testimony it received showed that Steele provided dossier information to “numerous media organization” before his relationship with the FBI was terminated.
Small wonder members of Congress have begun grumbling about the FBI’s attempts to block information. As with the curiously “classified” Nunes memo, nothing about this involves sources and methods, but they do involve the performance of the FBI and the DoJ. This also explains why Republicans on Capitol Hill have been so hot to get these published; they’ve seen these issues, but have been thwarted in their attempts to shed light on these issues.
The real test, of course, is still the FISA warrants themselves. The referral sheds more light than the Nunes memo does on the substantive concerns about how they were put together and how they were used, but the real evidence needed is the warrants and whatever underlying intelligence was used to justify them. Right now it appears that the FBI and DoJ are hiding behind redactions, but it’s also fair to point out that President Trump has the plenary authority to declassify those warrants if he chooses. The fact that both are still dragging their heels is a sign that both see risks involved in full disclosure. And that prompts lots of questions about why that might be the case, questions that won’t get answered by memos and referrals.