A federal judge sided with the Trump Justice Department by ruling against the release of classified portions of the FBI’s applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to surveil a Trump campaign aide in 2016.
At issue in the lawsuit was whether President Donald Trump had ordered 21 pages from four of the applications related to former campaign volunteer Carter Page to be declassified and released to the public. The Justice Department released heavily redacted versions of the applications on June 21, 2018.
The James Madison Project, a government transparency group, filed the lawsuit in conjunction with USA Today reporter Brad Heath, arguing that Trump ordered the documents to be declassified in a statement and White House press release issued last year.
In the press release, the White House directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify and release four categories of information related to the Russia probe.
Trump backed away from ordering the declassification several days later, however, reportedly because of pressure from the intelligence community and Justice Department officials.
Judge Amit P. Mehta said in Tuesday’s ruling that he accepts the Justice Department’s argument that Trump’s statement and the press release were not official orders to declassify the documents.
“DOJ’s declaration now makes clear that the Press Release was not a declassification order,” Mehta wrote.
The decision means the public will not see portions of the FISA application to spy on Page that some Republicans have asserted would show that the FBI misled the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to surveil Page.
Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, has called on Trump to declassify the 21 pages. Nunes specifically identified pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the final renewal of the FISA warrant granted on Page in June 2017.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe approved the surveillance application, which is 121 pages in all.
The Justice Department’s inspector general blasted the FBI for omitting key details about Page and the so-called Steele dossier on Trump in the applications submitted to the FISA court.
The inspector general found 17 “significant” errors and omissions on the FBI’s part, according to a report released Dec. 9, 2019. The report said the FBI left exculpatory information regarding Page out of the surveillance applications.
FBI investigators failed to corroborate the dossier before using it in the FISA applications.
It is unclear why Trump or Attorney General William Barr have not declassified the rest of the FISA application regarding Page. Trump announced that Barr would have the authority to declassify documents related to the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign.
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