Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia.
Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server. The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons.
The FBI agents who talked to the New York Times, and rubbished the ground-breaking stories of Slate ( Franklin Foer) and Mother Jones (David Corn) may not have known about the FISA warrant, sources say, because the counter-intelligence and criminal sides of the FBI often work independently of each other employing the principle of ‘compartmentalization’.
The FISA warrant was granted in connection with the investigation of suspected activity between the server and two banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. However, it is thought in the intelligence community that the warrant covers any ‘US person’ connected to this investigation, and thus covers Donald Trump and at least three further men who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates. The warrant was sought, they say, because actionable intelligence on the matter provided by friendly foreign agencies could not properly be examined without a warrant by US intelligence as it involves ‘US Persons’ who come under the remit of the FBI and not the CIA. Should a counter-intelligence investigation lead to criminal prosecutions, sources say, the Justice Department is concerned that the chain of evidence have a basis in a clear warrant.
In June, when the first FISA warrant was denied, the FBI was reportedly alarmed at Carter Page’s trip to Moscow and meetings with Russian officials, one week before the DNC was hacked. Counter intelligence agencies later reported to both Presidential candidates that Russia had carried out this hack; Donald Trump said publicly in the third debate that ‘our country has no idea’ if Russia did the hacking. The discovery of the Trump Tower private Russian server, however, communicating with Alfa Bank, changed matters, sources report.
To further complicate the story, the FISA warrant was allegedly granted in part because of the involvement of Vladimir Putin’s own daughters. One is married to a senior official at Gazprom, where Carter Page and Paul Manafort reportedly have holdings; another to Kirill Shamalov, a banking official.
The fact that the alleged warrant was a FISA warrant is itself significant. The court exists to grant warrants to examine cases concerned with Foreign Intelligence.
Pursuant to FISA, the Court entertains applications submitted by the United States Government for approval of electronic surveillance, physical search, and other investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes. Most of the Court’s work is conducted ex parte as required by statute, and due to the need to protect classified national security information.
Bradley P. Moss is a national security lawyer. He told us:
If a FISA warrant was issued, it does not necessarily mean that the court considered any U.S. persons as literal ‘spies.’ I can imagine an argument having been made that there was probable cause to believe they were “agents of influence” who were unwittingly being influenced by a foreign power.
If the operation concerns suspected money laundering involving a foreign government, the FISA warrant could theoretically encompass U.S. persons in that limited context. A FISA warrant is authorization to collect evidence, not to arrest.
On October 9th, the Trump campaign released a large number of documents pointing out what they alleged were Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia. On October 12th, rumors of a FISA warrant started to surface online. Donald Trump’s campaign had not answered requests for comment on the matter at time of going to press.
— Tim (@russelltim151) November 6, 2016