BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. -- President Donald Trump said Sunday that his administration's release of top-secret documents confirmed that the Justice Department and the FBI "misled the courts" in the early stages of the Russia investigation.
"Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC," Trump wrote on Twitter, referring to the Democratic National Committee.
In a series of early-morning tweets Sunday, Trump said the documents were "ridiculously heavily redacted" but confirm that "the Department of 'Justice' and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!"
Hours later, Trump referred to the issue as "a big hoax." It was unclear whether he was dismissing the entire notion of Russian interference or just the investigation of potential collusion by Trump campaign associates with Russian agents. The tweet came about five days after Trump said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
"So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election," Trump tweeted. "Why didn't he do something about it? Why didn't he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, that's why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!"
The Washington Post reported last year that President Barack Obama was aware in August 2016 of Russia's efforts to interfere in the presidential race and help elect Trump. But the administration did not make its first public acknowledgment of Russia's role until that October, and it made no mention of the effort being aimed at aiding Trump until two months later.
Left unmentioned in Sunday's tweets was that the FBI laid out why it was interested in the surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page: "The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government."
The documents also said Page had "established relationships with Russian government officials, including Russian intelligence officers," and had been "collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government."
Those assessments were included in an October 2016 application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to wiretap Page. The New York Times and other news outlets obtained the application and several renewals through Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. The president had declassified their existence last year.
Saturday's release of the documents marks the first time in the more than 40-year history of the court that underlying documents for a warrant have been released.
Page has not been charged with a crime, but he has been interviewed by the FBI and congressional investigators about his ties to Russia.
White House officials have argued that Page, announced by the president in early 2016 as a foreign policy adviser, played only a minor role in the Trump campaign.
On Sunday morning, Page dismissed the claims in the documents. "I've never been an agent of a foreign power in any -- by any stretch of the imagination," Page said on CNN's State of the Union.
He played down a letter he wrote in 2013 in which he described himself as "an informal adviser to the staff of the Kremlin."
"I sat in on some meetings, but to call me an adviser I think is way over the top," Page said. "This is really nothing, and just an attempt to distract from the real crimes that are shown in this misleading document."
PAGE'S ROLE DOWNPLAYED
Some Republican lawmakers and Trump associates also minimized the role of Page and reiterated their support of the president.
"Carter Page is more like Inspector Gadget than he is Jason Bourne or James Bond," Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. "I have not seen one scintilla of evidence that this president colluded, conspired, confederated with Russia."
In his tweets, Trump repeated a criticism used by Gowdy and some of his allies in the House: that, in seeking the wiretaps, the FBI had relied too much upon a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele and paid for by Trump's Democratic opponents. Steele also shared his findings with the FBI because he was concerned that Trump may have been compromised by Russia.
Gowdy said the FBI should have told the court that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign had funded the research. Clinton was never named in the documents, and was described as "Candidate #2."
"I don't have an issue with looking into people that have cozy relationships with Russia," Gowdy said. "I do have an issue when you rely on unvetted political opposition research."
Gowdy said "we will never know" if the FBI had enough information to put Page under surveillance using only information that excluded the Steele dossier.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the surveillance of Page was not justified.
"If the dossier's the reason you issued the warrant, it was a bunch of garbage," Graham said on CBS.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Fox that the FBI's surveillance application was based on "a very flawed document, the so-called Steele dossier, that has never been verified."
He said he had seen the warrant applications with fewer redactions, and argued that most of the redacted information should be made available to the public.
"They can judge for themselves, but I will tell you, it doesn't support the issuance of a warrant against Mr. Page," Goodlatte said on Sunday Morning Futures, arguing that Americans need to compare how the FBI investigated Page to "the shocking way in which they handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation."
At least one Republican was skeptical about the relevance of the surveillance to the Trump campaign.
"I don't believe that [the FBI] looking into Carter Page means they were spying on the campaign," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Fox News Sunday.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said the documents detail "just why the FBI was so concerned that Carter Page might be acting as an agent of a foreign power."
"It was a solid application and renewals signed by four different judges appointed by three different Republican presidents," Schiff said on ABC's This Week.
The released warrant application includes a page-long footnote that lays out the FBI's assessment of Steele's history and the likely interest of his backer, adding that despite the political concern, the bureau believed at least some of his report to be "credible."
The application also shows that the Justice Department's general practice in surveillance applications was not to specifically name Americans or U.S. organizations. For example, it referred to Trump not by name but as "Candidate #1," despite noting in renewal applications that this person had since become president.
David Kris, an expert on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, dismissed the notion raised by some Republicans that the FBI had concealed the source and funding of the dossier.
"Now we can see that the footnote disclosing Steele's possible bias takes up more than a full page in the applications, so there is literally no way the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] could have missed it," he wrote on the blog Lawfare. "The FBI gave the court enough information to evaluate Steele's credibility."
The issue of foreign power and influence has been raised repeatedly after Trump's one-on-one meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16. Trump, who's spending the weekend at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., tweeted on Sunday that he "had a GREAT meeting with Putin and the Fake News used every bit of their energy to try to disparage it."
Susan Rice, national security adviser to Obama, said Sunday on This Week that it was a "historic mistake" to allow Trump -- or any U.S. president -- to sit down with Putin without note-takers or aides present in the room.
"The Russians are feeding their line of what happened," Rice said. "We are hearing no rebuttal or comment from the United States. Russia is dictating the public perception -- the global public perception of what transpired in that meeting, and we have no basis for countering it."
Schiff agreed, saying, "we have no idea what this president, our president, agreed to."
"Ostensibly there may have been agreements on Ukraine, on Syria, and who knows what else? ... It is negligent with our national security for us not to know," he said.
Trump has suggested hosting Putin at the White House later this year for a follow-up summit -- an idea that drew Republican opposition Sunday.
Gowdy said it can be valuable to meet with adversarial countries such as North Korea, "but it's very different to issue an invitation. This country is different. We do things differently. We set the moral standard for the rest of the world."
Invitations, Gowdy said, should be reserved for U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada "who are with us day in and day out."
Referring to the 2016 election, Gowdy said, "Russia is not our friend, and tried to attack us."
Information for this article was contributed by Katie Rogers and Emily Cochrane of The New York Times; by Zeke Miller of The Associated Press; by Mark Niquette, Ros Krasny, Ben Brody, Miles Weiss and Larry Liebert of Bloomberg News; and by Elise Viebeck, David Fahrenthold, Felicia Sonmez and Matt Zapotosky of The Washington Post.
A Section on 07/23/2018
Print Headline: Trump says FBI 'misled courts'; Was never a foreign agent, ex-campaign adviser states