On Friday, Feb. 2, President Trump authorized the public release of the GOP’s House Intelligence Committee memo alleging abuse of surveillance powers within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
The memo details the FBI’s application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for approval to surveil Carter Page, Donald Trump’s former foreign-policy adviser, during the 2016 election.
Following the release of the memo, top FBI and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials have come under fire for the questions that have been raised regarding the appropriateness of actions and decisions made by the FBI.
One of the greatest concerns has been whether the FBI, knowing the political motivations behind the creation of Christopher Steele’s Trump Dossier, should have used it in their Carter Page FISA application—a FISA application being a presentation of probable cause made by intelligence agencies to the FISC in order to obtain a warrant to surveil a person of interest.
Former deputy director of the FBI, AU’s President John Pistole, who served in the bureau for nearly 27 years, explains that the motivations behind someone’s decision to supply the Intelligence Committee with information don’t always speak to the accuracy of the information presented.
“Everybody’s got a motive for providing information to the FBI or the CIA,” says Pistole. “What’s your motive for doing that? Maybe you’re a patriot, maybe you’re looking for money, maybe you are trying to discredit somebody else. Everybody’s got a motive for providing something. Just because somebody has a motive doesn’t mean that what they’re saying is true or not true.”
Rather than being a “statement of all corroborated fact,” Pistole says that a FISA application is an “investigative tool” used by the FBI to investigate the accuracy of information provided to them.
“You don’t have enough there to do anything with, to charge somebody,” he says. “It’s an investigative tool, just like issuing a search warrant or interviewing somebody or issuing a grand jury subpoena to have you come in and testify. A FISA is an investigative tool, so it’s taking allegations and trying to find out whether they’re true or not.”
Pistole explains that the FISA application process is both extensive and thorough. He says that before a FISA application is sent to the deputy director or the director at the FBI, it must first be reviewed by between eight and ten people within the institution. After being signed by the director of the FBI, the FISA application is sent to the DOJ to be reviewed by between six and eight people there before being signed by the deputy attorney general and the attorney general.
Pistole says that “it’s such a stretch of credibility or reasonableness” to imply that so many officials would conspire to mislead the FISC.
Having signed off on numerous FISA applications during his time as deputy director at the bureau, Pistole says there exists “a very high threshold to do surveillance on U.S. citizens.” He explains that a short application typically contains between 50 and 60 pages, whereas a longer one could range between 100 and 120.
“The thoroughness that is involved in that process is extensive and impressive, I think, to most people,” says Pistole. “If the American people saw a typical FISA application, and you could get the most generic one you could find that had the least amount of classified information, and then just redact the small amount of classified, I think people would be overwhelmed.”
When it comes to the importance of questioning, rather than attacking, decisions made by government officials, Pistole says that the purpose of oversight is “to make sure that procedures and policies are being followed.”
“Questioning some of those [procedures and policies] from time to time is completely appropriate,” he says, “but attacking the integrity without more of a basis is just so blatantly partisan that it doesn’t pass the first blush test.”
Pistole also explains that he is disappointed in the way President Trump has responded to the memo’s allegations, and he says “hopefully the Democratic response will come out.”
“I don’t ascribe to the conspiracy theory, so it’s just disappointing to see the president tweeting about the FBI, the Department of Justice, the attorney general,” says Pistole. “It’s just not a good way to run things in my mind. Easy for me to say, sitting here as president of Anderson University.”
On the evening of Monday, Feb. 5, the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to send to Trump’s desk the Democratic memo created in response to its GOP counterpart. Trump was given five days to determine the memo’s fate, and on Friday, Feb. 9 he sent it back to the committee for changes to be made regarding classified information in the memo.