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FBI collected improper cell phone pictures while spying on Carter Page in Russia probe

Page says multiple FBI misconduct issues in Russia case make it worse than Watergate.

Updated: April 16, 2020 - 10:59pm

The list of FBI misdeeds in the Russia investigation keeps piling higher.

In addition to filing inaccurate Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants, hiding evidence of innocence from the courts and falsifying a government document, the bureau collected inappropriate cell phone photos during two secret premises searches in summer 2017 while spying on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

The revelations surfaced belatedly this week when the government declassified once-redacted footnotes from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigative report on the bungled Russia case.

Footnote 379 revealed that in 2019, nearly two years after the inappropriate pictures were gathered, the Justice Department’s National Security Division (NSD) self-reported two violations notifying the FISA court that FBI personnel conducting two premises searches violated rules designed to protect Americans from unnecessary privacy invasions.

The rules are known as Standard Minimization Procedures (SMPs) and require FBI agents not to collect, gather or store privacy information about an American target that isn’t germane to the investigation, according to current and former FBI officials familiar with the procedures.

The footnote lays out in detail the concerns disclosed to the court, saying the improper actions occurred after the fourth and final FISA warrant against Page was issued in summer 2019 and FBI employees conducted two secret premises searches.

“On May 10, 2019, NSD sent a second letter to the FISC concerning the Carter Page FISA applications, advising the court of two indicants in which the FBI failed to comply with the SMPs applicable to physical searches conducted pursuant to the final FISA orders issued by the court on June 29, 2017,” the footnote said.

“According to the letter, the FBI took and retained on an FBI‐issued cell phone photographs of certain property taken in connection with a FISA‐authorized physical search on July 13, 2017, which NSD assessed did not comport with the SMPs,” the footnote from Horowitz added.

“In addition in a separate incident on July 29, 2017, the FBI took photographs in connection with another FISA‐authorized physical search and transferred the photographs to an electronic folder on the FBI's classified secret network.”

The FBI eventually reported that it had taken “remedial action” to resolve the procedural violations. Officials said that could have included removing the inappropriate photos from its servers and possibly destroying them.

The footnotes are not more specific about what physical searches were conducted in connection with the Page FISA, what photos were taken and whose privacy was not protected by the minimization rules.

Read the declassified footnotes here.

In an interview, Page said he has always suspected while he was staying in hotels in New Jersey and Connecticut in summer 2019 that FBI officials may have searched one or more of his locations and that he was dismayed to learn some rules were not followed.

Page said he had stayed at the hotel rooms because he had received death threats and feared for his safety after his name surfaced in news media leaks that he was under investigation for possible collusion with Russia. Page was eventually cleared, and it has since been revealed he had been an asset helping the CIA.

“As I alluded to, my life was put at risk thanks to all the death threats I was getting then based on the fake news,“ he said. “So I was on the run and changing my locations frequently to stay safe.”

Page said the inspector general’s findings, including those hidden in redactions for several months before the declassifications this week, show the FBI wrongly obtained a warrant against him on false evidence, including possible Russian misinformation, and didn’t even follow its own rules when conducting court-approved searches.

“Literally each and every one of the FBI’s priorities were violated in this historic scandal,” he said. “President Trump is right, this was much worse than Watergate on every conceivable level.”

Horowitz’s report in December laid out systemic failures by the FBI in seeking the warrants to spy on Page and investigate the Trump campaign, including providing the FISA court false information, suspect and unverified evidence and a falsified document.

The footnotes released this week provided a new body of explosive evidence, including that the Steele dossier used by the bureau to justify the FISA warrants may have been based on intentional Russian disinformation fed to its author, former British spy Christopher Steele.

You can listed to John Solomon's podcast interview with Page here.