- The FBI may have “incidentally” collected surveillance on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon when it was monitoring former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
- Bannon and Page spoke in January 2017 about the Steele dossier, a collection of memos alleging collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.
- Depending on what Bannon and Page discussed, the conversation could be of interest to investigators probing Russia’s election interference.
The FBI may have “incidentally collected” surveillance on former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon while monitoring the communications of Carter Page, a former adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, Politico reported.
The House Intelligence Committee released a memo last week that revealed the FBI sought and obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant to surveil Page in late October 2016 on suspicion that Page may have been acting as a Russian agent.
After the first warrant was obtained, five current and former officials subsequently signed off on applications to continue surveilling Page after they all separately found probable cause to do so.
Page told the House Intelligence Committee in November that he had a conversation with Bannon in January 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration, during which Bannon asked him to cancel a scheduled appearance on MSNBC. Page initially said that was the main topic of conversation, but he later said they had discussed the Steele dossier, the document published in full by BuzzFeed News on January 10, 2017.
Page told the committee that prior to receiving the phone call from Bannon, he had gotten a letter from Jones Day, the law firm that represents the Trump campaign, saying he should not “give the wrong impression” about being part of the administration and of the Trump campaign.
“And my response to that was, of course, I’m not,” said Page, who left the campaign in September 2016, after news reports surfaced about his contacts with influential Russians allied with the Kremlin. “The only reason I ever talked to the media is to try to clear up this massive mess that has been created in my name.”
‘He didn’t want me talking that day’
Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence committee, asked Page whether he and Bannon had discussed anything beyond his planned MSNBC appearance. Page said he “may have brought up the need to fix this disaster of a story … this false narrative which had been put out with the world premiere of the dodgy dossier.”
“But Dr. Page, [Bannon] didn’t want you talking. Isn’t that right?” Schiff asked.
“He didn’t want – he didn’t want me talking that day,” Page said. “That’s all I can say.”
The conversation could be of interest to investigators looking into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in his favor.
Bannon failed to appear for a scheduled appearance before the House Intelligence Committee earlier this week. He is set to interview soon with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Republicans ramp up their attacks on Christopher Steele
The Steele dossier – an explosive collection of memos alleging multiple improper ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow – has taken center stage in recent weeks, as Republicans ramp up their attacks on its author, former British spy Christopher Steele.
The Nunes memo took aim at Steele multiple times, painting him as a politically biased source providing unreliable information about Trump’s ties to Russia. Steele’s purported lack of credibility as a source, the memo said, should have been a red flag for the FBI before it used parts of the Steele dossier to support the FISA application on Page in 2016.
On Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley released a declassified version of a January letter in which he and a fellow committee member, Sen. Lindsey Graham, referred Steele to the Department of Justice for criminal charges. In the letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray, the senators asked the DOJ to investigate whether Steele made false statements to the FBI about his contacts with members of the media.
Steele was a longtime FBI informant, but the bureau cut him off as a source in October 2016, after it learned of his interactions with members of the press. But the FBI, as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee, continued using the document as a “roadmap” in their respective Russia investigations.
Experts told Business Insider earlier this week that the US intelligence community’s reliance on the dossier even after cutting off contact with its source was an indication of how seriously they took the intelligence he provided. The FBI has already independently corroborated some of the dossier’s findings.