Just how serious is last night’s CNN scoop about an FBI attorney altering documents submitted to the FISA court supporting the Carter Page warrant? Bad enough to shake up longtime Donald Trump critic Preet Bharara. In the same segment in which Evan Perez introduces his bombshell development in the Russia-collusion case, an equally shaken Wolf Blitzer turns to the former US Attorney, who confirms that “it doesn’t get more serious” than purposeful misrepresentations to the FISA court.
The main concern of the two CNN reporters, however, seems to be of the “Republicans pounce” potential that such a finding will generate:
BLITZER: So FBI agents under investigation. Clearly, this is going to reverberate and provide ammunition to the president and his allies that this whole Russia investigation was criminally wrong.
PEREZ: Exactly. I mean, look, this is exactly what people close to the president have been saying, that the FBI committed wrongdoing in starting this investigation. And so the question now obviously is what are the details are going to be part of the Horowitz report that’s going to be released on December 9th and how much political hay the president’s allies are going to make about it.
Is that the real story here? Or is that the nation’s top law enforcement and domestic intelligence agency lied to the court to surveil someone connected to a presidential campaign? I mean, they’re both stories, but in terms of impact and actual damage to the legal and political process, the latter is leagues ahead of the former.
To his credit, Bharara is much more concerned about the latter
BLITZER: Let me bring Preet Bharara, the former U.S. attorney at the Southern District of New York. What’s your reaction, Preet?
BHARARA: Well, that’s kind of an alarming bit of news. Obviously, based on what Evan is saying, there’s a lot we don’t know. But the given — the description he has provided, if there was an FBI agent sworn to uphold the Constitution who can be proven to have altered a document in connection with illegal proceeding, including the obtaining of a FISA warrant, that’s really serious. It doesn’t get a lot more serious than that.
And I’d like to know the details of what the nature of the change was, if there was a mistake in some way. Based on that reporting it doesn’t sound like it was. I want to keep an open mind about it. But that’s not a good thing. It’s a terrible thing.
The law enforcement agents and prosecutors who work with them are sworn to uphold the Constitution, sure, but actually even exceed the protection of the Constitution. They have to be of the utmost integrity and the utmost candor and especially making a representation to the court, which is what a FISA application is. It’s got be on the up and up.
And I know there has been political fighting about whether or not there was proper candor, and there was this back and forth within the House Intelligence Committee when the positions were reversed between Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff. And that looked like a lot of politics. This particular thing that Evan Perez has just broken the story on does sound serious to me it.
Exactly. The politics surrounding this might be intriguing in every sense of the word, but this looks like actual intrigue. Why would an FBI attorney corrupt a process that is meant to protect US citizens from undue domestic intelligence surveillance? And why did it take this long — far after Robert Mueller’s probe finished — to find out that the basis for the surveillance had been partially falsified?
This is no mere electoral concern, either. Congress passed FISA to limit domestic intelligence surveillance of US citizens in the wake of Watergate, in which intelligence assets got abused for political gain. It was a recognition of a need to have the option in rare circumstances while severely limiting the FBI and other agencies from doing what apparently happened here. Bharara would know more than most that a massive abuse of FISA to interfere with an election will almost certainly result in legislation further limiting that ability or possibly eliminating it altogether, with potentially dire results for national security. If the FBI cooked the warrant application in any way, they may have also cooked their own goose in the long term.
And after 9/11, we all know it doesn’t get a lot more serious than that, either. It’s one hell of a lot more serious than whether Republicans get to pounce, regardless of where CNN prioritizes that point.