FBI warrant for Trump search relied on media reports, like earlier bungled Russia FISA warrants

FBI's use of news stories in seeking the Russia FISA warrants against Trump adviser Carter Pages was sharply criticized by the internal watchdog of the Justice Department.

Published: August 26, 2022 12:43pm

Updated: August 26, 2022 3:06pm

Like the Russia collusion FISA warrants before it, the FBI search warrant for Donald Trump's Florida estate relied on multiple news media reports from outlets such as Breitbart and CBS to justify its unprecedented request to raid a former president's home. 

For instance, the bureau relied on a local CBS report to establish that Trump had moved boxes suspected to contain documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago in mid-January 2021, just before he left office, according to the partially redacted FBI affidavit made public by a court Friday.

"According to a CBS Miami article titled 'Moving Tucks Spotted At Mar-a-Lago,' published Monday, January 18, 2021, at least two moving trucks were observed at the PREMISES on January 18, 2021," the memo related.

Another citation referred to a Breitbart article from May in which former Trump adviser Kash Patel was quoted as saying he did not believe documents found at Mar-a-Lago and returned to the National Archives and Records Administration were classified. The citation refers to Trump as "FPOTUS," meaning former president.

"I am aware of an article published in Breitbart on May 5, 2022, available at https://www.breitbart.comvoliticsi2022i05/05/documents-mar-a-lago-marked-classified-wereah-eadv-declassifi.ed-kash-patel-savs/, which states that Kash Patel, who is described as a former top FPOTUS administration official, characterized as 'misleading' reports in other news organizations that NARA had followed classified materials among records that FPOTUS provided to NARA from Mar-a-Lago. Patel alleged that such reports were misleading because FPOTUS had declassified the materials at issue," an FBI agent wrote in the affidavit supporting the search.

The next few paragraphs are redacted so it is not readily apparent why that reference is relevant.

The affidavit states that a total of 184 documents with classification markings had been found when Trump returned documents to the Archives in 15 boxes early in 2022, and that was among the reasons the FBI believed it had "probable cause" to search Trump's home on Aug. 8.

Patel played a major role as chief investigative counsel for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes in discredited the bungled Russia collusion probe, including abuses in seeking the FISA warrant.

The former federal prosecutor also was considered for a time by Trump to be named deputy director of the FBI, a move that was blocked by other aides.

The use of news articles to support a search warrant is allowed in some circumstances, but the FBI's use of news stories in seeking the Russia FISA, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, warrants against Trump adviser Carter Page was sharply criticized by the Justice Department's internal watchdog.

For example, the DOJ inspector general noted the FBI used a Yahoo News article to support claims in the Christopher Steele dossier even though Steele was a source for the article and failed to reveal the circular reporting to the intelligence court that had approved the warrant and three renewals.

The FBI "failed to correct the assertion in the first FISA application that the FBI did not believe that Steele directly provided information to the reporter who wrote the September 23 Yahoo News article, even though there was no information in the Woods File to support this claim and even after certain Crossfire Hurricane officials learned in 2017, before the third renewal application, of an admission that Steele made in a court filing about his interactions with the news media in the late summer and early fall of 2016," Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote in a scathing 2019 report that highlighted widespread failures and abuses in the Russia probe.

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