HH: Joined now by Devin Barrett, one of the very best national security reporters in America. He’s all over this story of the FISA memo and the Russia investigation for the Washington Post. Welcome, Devlin, good to have you on the program.
DB: Hey, happy to be here.
HH: Devlin, I want to start with maybe a misstep. Back in April, you and Ellen and Adam published a story that said the FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an advisor to presidential candidate, Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and campaign, law enforcement officials said. And it was about Carter Page. Obviously, that did not issue to October. Did someone feed you a false flag?
DB: False flag? No, I don’t think that’s what happened. I think what happened was, you know, the FBI began looking at Carter Page in the summer. And as a result of that looking, they got the FISA in October. So I think that’s the distinction there, and obviously we would have loved to have made that distinction in real time. But you know, reporting on FISA is tricky work, I think you’d agree, and you know, we’ve certainly obviously reported a lot since then about it as more details have come out.
HH: Now I’ve had, it is tricky work. I did it, I did FISA apps for two years, and hundreds of hundreds of them. I had a U.S. Attorney today write me, former U.S. Attorney, write me that there was no good reason for the FBI to be evasive with regard to disclosing the specifics of the Clinton campaign, and that they used the dossier because the old FISA warrants were stale and they needed to re-inflate them. What’s your assessment of that, Devlin?
DB: I think that’s a really interesting notion. I think part of what’s so tricky about reporting on FISA, particularly on FISA as they relate to individuals, is that these things never see the light of day, right? So you’ve written, I think, about how you’ve reviewed hundreds of them back in your time in the government. You know, as a reporter, you know, I can only say gosh, I wish, because these things are kept under tight lock and seal. I keep thinking that what this story could really use, frankly, is some clarity from the FISA Court itself. You know, right now, you’ve got a situation where Democrats and Republicans are offering wildly different versions of what’s important here and whether or not the court was misled, whether or not judges were misled. It seems like the easiest person to ask, or person or persons to ask if the court was misled was the court itself. So I keep wondering if at some point does the court itself say something about this and try to settle this issue one way or the other.
HH: You know, excellent question, and the guy to ask is the Chief Justice. I believe, Devlin, I can’t be sure, the Chief Justice and I shared an office at the White House, but we were not at Justice contemporaneously. I think I inherited my job from him. I think he used to review FISA warrants as well, and he appoints those judges.
DB: That’s right.
HH: And he will not be amused. I do not think he will be amused by this footnote and the obscurity with which it operates. What do you make of my analogy, you’ve obviously read my Washington Post piece, between a corporate filing that said you know, we’ve got supply chain problems in South America…
HH: …versus you know, we’ve got a factory seized in Venezuela. That seems to me to be completely accurate.
DB: Yeah, look, I think it’s a great question. I think what is, because it raises the obvious question. So the issue that everyone’s debating about is, is it good enough for the FBI and Justice Department to have said that this information came from a, you know, politically-motivated, politically-interested person. And obviously, the Republican argument is no, no, no, you should back up and you should make clear this came from Democrats, the DNC and/or the Clinton campaign. You should make that clear to the judge so that the judge isn’t going into anything blind. The Democrats argue look, you say politically, you know, politically-motivated. It’s a two party country, like we know what that means. We don’t need to be, you know, we don’t need to take a lot of guesses as to what that means. I think that’s actually a super interesting question, and I would love to know, like I said, what is a judge expecting out of this, because I think what we’re really talking about is what are a judge’s expectations for how much detail they get into.
HH: You know, I’ve got…
DB: I totally take your point about an SEC filling. Like I think that’s a very good analogy, but you know, I would, I think in the same way that you would ask the SEC like do you think this is a fair representation of what it was, I would ask the judge.
HH: I have a former federal judge retired wrote me, if I had granted the application, subsequently learned that the information was sourced to the DNC and campaign, I would have rescinded the authorization, issued a show cause order to the government to explain who and why this sourcing was not made known to the court. The fact (if it is that) that the government told the court that it was a political source but did not identify who in this particular instance is highly probative that the government purposefully misled the court. I don’t know that it is. I’d have to actually see the transcript of the hearing. But I tried to bring to my perspective, Devlin, the volume of these things is immense. It’s like a firehose.
HH: There are only eight judges. You know, Comey doesn’t read these things. Rod Rosenstein didn’t read these things. We’re looking in the wrong place. It’s whoever prepared this has got to answer this question.
DB: I do think that as this plays out, I do think there’s going to be more and more information about this particular application in this particular case. And we’re going to learn a lot more about it, and I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s healthy and it helps.
DB: Are we there, yet? No.
HH: Any judges talk to you, yet?
DB: What’s that?
HH: Any judges call you or talk to you, yet, about this thing?
DB: Not, yet, but we’re trying. I promise you we’re trying to answer that question, and I’ll be honest. I focus more on current judges, because to me, the real meat of this is okay, so does the court believe it’s been misled, because that would obviously be a huge, huge deal if the court thinks it’s been misled.
HH: Go find any former FISA judge. There are lots of them. There are scores of judges who served in that job who have retired and gone senior status. Go find former FISA judges, because I got one.
DB: I accept the assignment. I accept the assignment.
HH: Yeah, Devlin, great reporting. We’ll keep watching it. Follow him on Twitter, @DevlinBarrett if you want to be up to speed on this. Do not get left behind, America.
End of interview.