Former Justice Department official: Republican memo is ‘politically motivated’
ABC News(WASHINGTON) — A former deputy assistant attorney general who oversaw surveillance requests under President George W. Bush said the memo released by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee alleging abuses of government spying powers is “politically motivated” and “amateurish.”
“It’s politically motivated, it’s sort of amateurish, it’s very short, and it leads to more questions than it answers,” Matt Olsen, an ABC News contributor who previously served under Bush in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos in a panel discussion on This Week Sunday.
The four-page memo alleging abuses of government surveillance powers was written by Republican staff of the House Intelligence Committee. It was made public after Trump declassified the document and despite the FBI’s expressing “grave concerns” about its release.
The memo deals entirely with the process that led to the court-approved surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, whom authorities suspected at the time of being a Russian agent.
It alleges the Justice Department requested and got a warrant for surveillance of Page in October 2016 because of information included in an infamous dossier written by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele. Steele was employed by an opposition research firm that received funding for the project, in part, from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Olsen on This Week disputed the allegation that the Justice Department didn’t disclose in its surveillance request the potential bias of the Steele dossier.
“The central claim in the memo that biased information wasn’t presented to the court — we now know that’s not true, and that’s actually consistent with my own experience overseeing the lawyers in the Justice Department,” Olsen said.
He described the lengthy, arduous process of making a surveillance request and winning approval.
“These applications take weeks, sometimes months to prepare,” the former deputy assistant attorney general said. “Every fact that’s in an application is vetted and scrutinized by lawyers.”
“And that’s before it ever gets to the FISA court,” he said of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act judges who weigh surveillance requests. “The chances that there was a conspiracy of all these people to provide misleading information to the FISA court” in the Carter Page case is “zero.”
Once it gets to the court, the judges are “independent,” Olsen said. “They ask questions.”
The former Justice Department official said the “real takeaway” from the request for surveillance of Page is that “there had to be huge suspicions” that he was an agent of Russia in order for the application to be made and approved.
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