Investigations are underway in both the House and the Senate into whether the Obama administration referred to the salacious so-called "Trump Dossier" (a.k.a. Steel Dossier) in a case before a secret federal surveillance court so as to conduct wiretaps and other surveillance on Donald Trump and his team during and after the 2016 presidential election. to obtain permission to spy on Donald Trump campaign aides and later his transition team.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray on October 4 if the FBI has improperly presented any portion of the dossier to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court. The FISA court rules on government requests to lift a ban on spying on American citizens. At the time that the petition was brought before the FISA court, James Comey was director of the FBI and Attorney General Loretta Lynch oversaw the Justice Department.

Fusion GPS was the company that was contracted, first by an unidentified Republican and later by a Democrat, to produce the report that was prepared by Christopher Steele, who formerly worked for the British intelligence agency. Steele and his company, Orbis Business Intelligence, put together the uncorroborated and salacious information then-candidate Trump, which sought to show that Russian officials had compromising material about Trump concerning business dealings in Russia.

According to a CNN report in April, the FBI obtained permission from the FISA court to use the dossier and monitor communication by Carter Page -- a top aide to Trump. 

BuzzFeed published the dossier on January 10, even though the report noted that its “allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.” According to Sen. Grassley’s October 4 letter to the FBI, even while six major news outlets possessed the dossier for six months, none released it. Grassley has written three letters to the FBI about his concerns over the dossier, but the agency has not yet responded to any of them.

In his October 4 letter, Grassley said that using the unverified dossier before the FISA court “constitutes a crime of unbelievable dimensions,” on the part of the Obama administration. He added, “It requires the empanelment of a federal grand jury.” In the letter to FBI director Wray, Grassley wrote that it appeared that former British agent Steele also gave his report to members of the British intelligence community. In the United Kingdom, documents filed in court proceedings indicate that Steele gave the dossier to a “senior UK government national security official” on December 13, 2016. 

Grassley pointed out in his letter to Wray that Steele’s allegations may have reached the US through British intelligence channels. If the Obama administration had assumed that the Steele dossier and a British intelligence report were separate investigations, its case before the FISA court would have been all the more compelling for wiretaps. Therefore, a separate British report may have been the deciding factor in convincing the FISA court to allow the wiretaps on Trump’s campaign communications. Grassley wrote: “Mr. Steele’s dossier allegations might appear to be ‘confirmed’ by foreign intelligence, rather than just an echo of the same ‘research’ that Fusion bought from Steele and that the FBI reportedly also attempted to buy from Steele.” Grassley added, “If this in fact happened, it would be alarming.” 

On Monday, executives from Fusion GPS refused to provide testimony to a Senate hearing, citing their Fifth Amendment rights preserving them from self-incrimination. Attorney Joshua Levy argued in a 17-page letter to the committee that his clients, Fusion GPS Executives Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catan invoked Fifth Amendment privileges from being compelled to give self-incriminating testimony. Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson will testify before the committee within weeks. During testimony on Monday, Democratic staffers repeatedly interrupted Republicans’ questions, according to reports.

The Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court was established by Congress in 1978 under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act. The court must accept from the Department of Justice a formal application to approve a “warrant” to conduct electronic surveillance (wiretaps), physical search, and other of investigative actions for foreign intelligence purposes. Observers of the case say that if the unverified dossier was used as verifiable information before a FISA court, the implications are staggering and may require empaneling a federal grand jury to examine whether intelligence data and false intelligence data by the Obama administration were used to mislead a federal court.



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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