By Ray McGovern
February 19, 2021 "Information
Clearing House" - On Jan. 12, 2017,
former FBI Director James Comey attested to the
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that the
now-discredited information from former British spy
Christopher Steele regarding Russian collusion had
been "verified". Thanks to an FOIA request, we now
have documentary evidence showing Comey pressing
ahead to validate Steele amid a distinct lack of
enthusiasm on the part of other agency heads.
Clearly, the latter were reluctant to push Steele’s
salacious storytelling, lest they throw additional
doubt on their own threadbare tales of Trump’s
collusion with Russia.
Comey wanted to use Steele’s reporting to
buttress an already flaw-filled FBI filing for a
warrant to prolong eavesdropping on Carter Page.
(Page was a foreign policy adviser who began working
with the Trump campaign in March 2016.). Trouble is
that on the same day (Jan. 12, 2017) that Comey told
the FISA Court that Steele’s reporting was
"verified", Comey emailed then-National Intelligence
Director James Clapper admitting that the FBI was "not
able to sufficiently corroborate the [Steele’s]
If you find it difficult to reconcile those two
statements, you are not alone. Was Steele’s
reporting "verified"? Or was it uncorroborated? How
Comey was hell-bent on renewing the original
(October 21, 2016 ) 90-day warrant he signed to
surveil Carter Page. And if that required morphing
"uncorroborated" into "verified", no big deal? The
rubber-stamp FISA judge would be none the wiser, and
who knows what juicy tidbits might turn up in that
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Comey’s email to Clapper betrays concern that his
colleague intelligence gurus might not want to go
out on the shaky Steele limb. Comey knew of the
pungent odor in which Steele’s reporting was widely
held/smelled. So, in an effort to head off
unnecessary trouble, in his email, Comey suggested,
"… it may not be best to say ‘The IC [Intelligence
Community] has not made any judgment that the
information in the [Steele] document is reliable’".
What Comey knew is that Clapper and CIA Director
John Brennan were equally determined to avoid adding
the Steele fiasco to the list of other smelly irons
they had in the fire. As things turned out, Comey’s
demurral about what his colleagues should say about
Steele came too late.
In his email explanation to Comey, Clapper said
"I apologize for not running this by you … We
caucused this afternoon and decided I should call
the president-elect…I spoke to him for 20 minutes
and expressed my profound dismay at the leaks that
have been appearing in the press … I told him I do
not believe these leaks are coming from the
Intelligence Community (sic). (Buzzfeed had
the Steele dossier on Jan. 10.). Was it actually
profound dismay Clapper felt, or more likely
As for Steele’s reporting, Clapper told Comey
that he had already given the offending sentence to
the media; namely, "The IC has not made any judgment
that the information in the [Steele] document is
reliable" – the wording that Comey wanted changed –
and that CNN had "already picked it up…"
So What’s the Big Deal About Carter Page?
Carter Page was simply low hanging fruit – a
target of opportunity because he was known to have
had contacts with Russians; he was easy pickings.
Trump and higher-ups were the real target. As
explained below, snoopers could get at Trump and
others by getting just one warrant – on whatever
The "evidence" used by Comey and his "folks" to
"justify" the FISA warrants included not only Page’s
known contacts with Russian officials (even though
CIA had told the FBI from the outset that those
contacts had been approved), but also the
phony-as-a-three-dollar-bill "Steele dossier".
The first FISA warrant renewal
application, signed by Comey on Jan. 12, 2017, shows
him determined to attempt to spy on Trump and his
associates after Trump had become
president-elect and then president. At a Senate
hearing on Sept. 30, 2020,
Sen. Lindsey Graham gave a chronological rundown
of the evidence that Comey and his "folks" either
knew, or should have known, so that by signing
fraudulent FISA warrant applications they were
perpetrating fraud on the court.
The original FBI application for a FISA warrant
on Carter Page was dated Oct. 21, 2016. The three
renewal applications were on January 12, April 7,
and June 29, 2017. A different FISC judge considered
each application and issued the requested orders,
collectively resulting in about 11 months of FISA
coverage targeting Carter Page from October 21,
2016, to September 22, 2017.
Spy on Trump?
Few outsiders are aware that those warrants
covered not only Page but also anyone Page was in
contact with – as well as anyone Page’s contacts
were in contact with – under the so-called two-hop
surveillance practice. In other words, the warrants
extend coverage two hops from the target – that is,
anyone Page talks to and anyone they, in turn, talk
According to two former technical directors at
NSA, Bill Binney and Ed Loomis, when President
Barack Obama approved the current version of "two
hops," the NSA was ecstatic. It is easy to see why.
Let’s say Page was in touch with Donald Trump (as
candidate or president); Trump’s communications
would then be surveilled, as well – and not just his
communications with Page. Or, let’s say Page was in
touch with Google. That would enable NSA to cover
pretty much the entire world.
A thorough reading of the transcript of the Sept.
30, 2020 Senate hearing mentioned above, including
the Q-and-A, shows that this crucial two-hop
authorization never came up.
Those Senators aware of it may have been too afraid
to mention it. Observers were left with the
impression that Page were the only one being
surveilled (producing a yawn and a "what’s the big
With this latest documentary disclosure, what was
already fairly transparent is now obvious in all its
squalor. Steele was hired by the Democrats in June
2016 to come up with material embarrassing to rival
candidate Donald Trump. He must have been paid
by-the-page, for he seriously outdid himself in
soliciting and reporting a kitchen sink’s worth of
bar-talk – including highly salacious material – to
What the recent FOIA revelations confirm is that
Steele’s drivel could not pass the smell test – not
even among intelligence chiefs like National
Intelligence Director James Clapper and CIA Director
John Brennan. They took care to dissociate
themselves from Steele, even though they were
working on parallel paths to ensure Trump could not
win. Comey went ahead anyway. What’s to lose?
It is helpful to note that, back in October 2016
when the FBI obtained the first FISA surveillance
warrant on Page a few weeks before the Nov. 2016
election, there seemed to be little need to hide
tracks, because, even if these extracurricular
activities were discovered, the perps would have
looked forward to award certificates from a
President Clinton rather than possible legal
problems under a Trump presidency. Mrs. Clinton was
a shoo-in, remember? In his "A Higher Loyalty",
Comey writes, "I was making decisions in an
environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the
next president …"
Let’s harken back to what was happening in
January 2017 when Comey decided to use the Steele
material to fortify his application for renewal of
the FISA warrant on Carter Page. Remember: Trump may
have been supremely confident, but he was new to the
ways of Washington and the portages of J. Edgar
Hoover still lurking in the shadows.
Here’s what went down in Jan. 2017:
Jan. 3, 2017: In a
highly revealing interview with Rachel Maddow,
then-minority leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D, NY)
warns in no uncertain terms that President-elect
Trump should not get crosswise with U.S.
intelligence. Schumer: "Take on the intelligence
community and they have six ways from Sunday of
getting back at you." Donald Trump probably was not
watching Maddow that evening, so he had to learn
from experience, which began like this:
Jan. 5: The "Gang of Four" (Director of
National Intelligence James Clapper, FBI Director
James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and NSA
Director Adm. Michael Rogers) brief Obama and Biden
on the evidence-impoverished CIA/FBI/NSA
"assessment" (to be published on Jan. 6) that
Vladimir Putin did all he could to help Trump become
president. As for Steele’s information,
VP Biden’s office confirmed that Obama and Biden
were also briefed on the Steele dossier. The Gang of
Four had decided that Comey would be the one to
handle what would inevitably be a sensitive session
with Trump on the Steele allegations.
Comey later told ABC that when Obama was told
that Comey would brief Trump on the Steele material,
the president gave him a "double eyebrow raise".
Comey interpreted the eyebrow raise as Obama’s way
of saying, "Good luck with that … You poor bastard".
Jan. 6: All goes according to script. The
Gang of Four visit Trump Tower and tell the
president-elect that the Intelligence Community
believes Putin helped him win and that, by the way,
the misnomered "Intelligence Community Assessment",
saying that, is being published that same day (Jan.
6). The NY Times immediately rushed onto its
website an article titled "Putin
Led a Complex Cyberattack Scheme to Aid Trump,
Report Finds". And on Jan. 7, the Times’s
front-page banner headline read: "Putin Led Scheme
to Aid Trump, Report Says", providing credulous
readers with "proof" that Trump owed his election
win to Russia’s "influence campaign". A shot of
adrenaline for Russia-gate. As planned, after his
three colleagues depart,
Comey tells Trump of the Steele allegations,
adding that the FBI had not validated the
allegations, but thought it was important for
the president to know.
Jan. 10: Buzzfeed publishes the
Jan. 12: Comey tells FISA Court Steele
material is "verified"; tells Clapper it is
"not sufficiently corroborated".
Jan. 24, 2017: FBI agents begin to
interview Steele’s main subsource, who casts strong
doubt on Steele’s reporting.
April 15, 2018:
Comey tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that
Steele’s reporting was "still unverified"
when Comey was fired (May 9, 2017); that an agency
effort to verify as much as possible about the
report was still under way; and he was "not sure"
how much of the information in the dossier checked
out. (Note: the superb acting in this interview is a
treat to watch, including gee-wiz parts played by
Comey and a professionally credulous
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a
publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the
Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career
as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the
Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of
the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of
Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity