The FBI continued to tell judges that dossier writer Christopher Steele wasn’t the source of a news article the bureau used to corroborate a wiretap application when in fact Mr. Steele had publicly acknowledged that he fed the anti-Trump story.
This chronology is contained in four heavily censored Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act applications obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act.
The documents also show that the FBI relied as evidence on mainstream media stories that were critical of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
The FBI submitted the warrants for surveillance on Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page from October 2016 to September 2017. The FBI told surveillance court judges that Mr. Page was an illegal foreign agent of Russia. Mr. Page has repeatedly denied this and has not been charged.
The applications are heavily redacted. The FBI’s central piece of evidence in the unredacted parts is the dossier compiled by Mr. Steele, a former British spy hired by Fusion GPS with money from the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. In other words, the FBI was relying on partisan opposition research to target Mr. Page for a year of intrusive phone and electronic intercepts.
Mr. Steele’s dossier made several charges against Mr. Page.
The paramount one is that, during a public speaking trip to Moscow in July 2016, he met with two U.S.-sanctioned Kremlin figures, Igor Sechin and Igor Diveykin. Mr. Steele said Mr. Page discussed sanctions relief for bribes. Mr. Page denies those charges.
To bolster Mr. Steele, the FBI presented to the judges as an independent source a Sept. 23, 2016, article by Michael Isikoff in Yahoo News. It reported the same supposed Sechin-Diveykin meetings.
The applications state, “[Steele] told the FBI that he/she only provided this information to the business associate [Fusion] and the FBI. … The FBI does not believe that [Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”
But in fact, he did. Mr. Isikoff has acknowledged that his source was Mr. Steele. By June 2017, the date of its final application, the FBI had a way to know this.
The Washington Times first reported on April 25, 2017, that Mr. Steele filed a declaration in a libel lawsuit against him in London. He stated that he had personally briefed Yahoo News and other media in September 2016 before the story appeared.
The Times produced his declaration in the story, which was repeated by other news media. But the FBI two months later continued to tell judges, “The FBI does not believe that [Mr. Steele] directly provided this information to the press.”
The Republican majority of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has stated that the FBI knew at the time, but did not disclose to the judges, that the dossier was funded by the Democratic Party.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, has accused the FBI of abusing the FISA process by relying on the opposition research of the other party.
The only reference to possible bias is when the FBI discusses a “U.S. Person” who matches the job description of Glenn Simpson, the Fusion co-founder who hired Mr. Steele.
“The FBI speculates that the identified U.S. person was likely looking for information that could be used to discredit candidate #1’s [Mr. Trump’s] campaign,” the application said.
The FBI cited other mainstream media stories to augment the wiretap application. Several referred to a platform plank at the Republican National Convention dealing with defending Ukraine.
The liberal media narrative was that Trump people watered down the language to please Moscow, which is backing ethnic-Russian separatists in their war against the central government in Kiev. The FBI cited this angle.
But Trump aides said the stories were inaccurate. They said the final language was tougher on Russia than the first draft. A single delegate proposed adding a sentence that endorsed “lethal” aid. A compromise was struck by adding a sentence that pledged military support, a less-provocative way of saying lethal aid.
In the end, the Trump administration sent state-of-the-art Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in May.
The FBI also cited stories about then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The Nevada Democrat sent a letter to the FBI calling for an investigation into the Trump campaign based on Steele dossier tidbits showing up in the media.
“The FBI’s use of politically charged media reports to surveil political opposition is tyrannical,” said J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman and senior campaign adviser. “It’s fundamentally un-American, and those responsible must be brought to justice.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, has been defending Mr. Steele by reading his charges into the transcripts of congressional hearings.
“Looking more and more like the President cannot separate fact from fiction,” Mr. Schiff tweeted Sunday. “FBI had good reason to believe Page was an agent of a foreign power, and the FISA was lawfully approved by 4 different judges. If the President isn’t compromised, why does he continue to act this way?”
Mr. Page lived in Moscow as an energy investor in the 2000s and has a string of contacts with Russian businesspeople.
In 2013, a Russian spy posing as a United Nations diplomat made contact with Mr. Page in New York. It is standard operating procedure for Russian intelligence to try to recruit American business contacts.
The FBI later informed Mr. Page that the Russian was an agent. He said he cooperated in the investigation and was never charged.
He has testified under oath that he never met the Russians named by Mr. Steele and repeated the claim on Sunday’s political talk shows.
Mr. Steele’s dossier also accused Mr. Page of coordinating Russian election inference, which included hacking Democratic Party computers, with campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Mr. Page testified that he had never met nor spoken with Mr. Manafort. No evidence has surfaced to rebut his testimony.
The FBI fired Mr. Steele in late October after he went to Mother Jones magazine with his dossier stories. In future applications, the FBI continued to vouch to judges for his honesty.
His dossier, which also includes salacious claims about Mr. Trump, cites unnamed Kremlin sources, leading Republicans to charge that if anyone is guilty of election year colluding with Moscow, it is the Clinton campaign.
At the time of all four FISA applicants, the FBI investigation was led by Peter Strzok, the agent known for his dislike of Mr. Trump in text messages to his lover. In August 2016, before the first Page application, he texted that “We’ll stop it,” referring to the Trump campaign.
Special counsel Robert Mueller fired Mr. Strzok in July 2017 after being briefed on the text messages by the Justice Department inspector general.