Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham wrote a letter to the FBI and Justice Department in June seeking "all proposed FISA applications that the FBI and Justice Department submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court" in the course of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
One of the most contentious issues surrounding the Trump dossier is the question of whether the FBI used unverified material from the dossier — a Clinton campaign opposition research product — to apply for permission to spy on Americans. Investigators from both House and Senate have long wanted to see any FISA applications (that is, spying requests filed with the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court) that dealt with the Trump-Russia affair.
Now, they have seen them.
Sources on both Capitol Hill and in the executive branch have confirmed that representatives of four committees — the House Intelligence Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Judiciary Committee, and Senate Judiciary Committee — have had the opportunity to examine FISA documents in a secure room at the Justice Department. They were not allowed to take the documents out of the room or to copy them, but they could make notes. They thus know the answer to the was-the-dossier-used-for-spying question.
So what is the answer? For the moment, it's classified. (Just for the record: I don't know it.) There might be articles and commentary written on the assumption that the FBI did or did not use the dossier material with the FISA court, but right now it appears the information has not leaked, and those articles and commentary are based on assumptions rather than hard information.
The challenge for House and Senate investigators is to get the information to the public. One option is to ask the executive branch to declassify it. The problem is that simply getting the information out of the FBI and Justice Department has been like pulling teeth. Another option is to have the president himself declassify it. The problem is that it is probably a good idea for President Trump to stay out of a congressional investigative process that focuses on his campaign. Yet another option is for Congress to exercise its little-known authority to declassify. The problem is that it is a long and complicated process.
Maybe it would be better to just do an old-fashioned leak. The problem with that is that it would open the leaker to the legitimate charge of revealing classified information. Whether that happens could depend on how widely the information is disseminated inside Congress. The more members and staff who know, the more likely it will get out.
On June 27, 2017, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham wrote a letter to the FBI and Justice Department seeking "all proposed FISA applications that the FBI and Justice Department submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)" in the course of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The request included "the FISC's responses to such proposed FISA applications; all final, signed FISA applications that the FBI and the Justice Department submitted to the FISC; and the FISC's responses to the final, signed applications."
It's not clear whether Grassley and Graham got everything they wanted. But it is clear that congressional investigators know some very critical facts regarding the dossier's role in the Trump-Russia investigation, and it is time the public did, too.