A senior White House official tells the New York Times that White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn is now searching for a FISA warrant – or series of warrants – allegedly issued in an Obama-era investigation of Donald Trump’s ties to a shifty Russian bank.
The official says that McGahn’s office wants access to any order, issued by the ultra-secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, relating to President Trump, his campaign, or his immediate associates.
Those documents are usually only available to law enforcement, and while the White House has the authority to request the documents, they typically don’t – largely because the Department of Justice is supposed to be insulated from political pressure to take on, or complete, an investigation.
But according to a report in Heat Street in November, the DOJ began an investigation into a Russian bank in 2016, looking for money flowing between that bank and any Presidential campaign. According to Louise Mensch writing in Heat Street, the FBI approached the FISA court for permission to investigate a server, now believed to be in Pennsylvania.
That warrant was turned down, but another, more “narrowly drawn,” according to The Intercept, was not. After that, the story isn’t so clear: the FBI could have found nothing, it could still be investigating, or it could have requested other FISA warrants, with more specific details about Donald Trump’s inner circle.
If the White House retrieves the alleged FISA documents, Trump will have the executive option to declassify whatever information remains about the warrants and the ensuing investigation.
That, of course, is a double-edged sword: if Trump declassifies the information, it could certainly reveal that President Obama had ordered a large scale investigation into his contacts with the Russians. It could also reveal that Trump’s inner circle did, in fact, have contacts with the Russians.
The White House Counsel’s office says that they are only now beginning, on the Administration’s orders, to explore how to obtain the possible FISA warrants. White House press Secretary Sean Spicer told the media, in an emailed statement, that the office is “reviewing what options, if any, are available to us.”