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'New York Times' Reporter On New Documents Related To Carter Page


Yesterday the FBI released declassified court documents that alleged Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser, was an agent of the Russian government. After their release, Page told CNN the documents were false. We're joined now by Charlie Savage, a New York Times reporter who broke the story.

Good morning, Charlie.

CHARLIE SAVAGE: Good morning.

COLEMAN: Charlie, do these documents prove that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government?

SAVAGE: That's not what these documents are. These are wiretap applications from very early in the Trump-Russia investigation seeking permission from a national security court to surveil Carter Page, who had just left the Trump campaign a month earlier in September of 2016, to see what was happening. And it suggested - the documents suggested that or explained that the FBI believed - or had reason to believe - that he was probably an agent of Russia for a variety of reasons, some of which are redact - most of which are redacted and some of which we can see. And these documents were the subject of a fight in February between House Republicans and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. This is when Devin Nunes, the head of the House Intelligence Committee and a Republican and a key ally of Mr. Trump, was attacking the Trump-Russia investigation by saying that it was abuse of the FBI surveillance powers to go after the phone and email communications of Mr. Page. So now we can see for ourselves what it was the FBI was telling the court two years ago and make a judgment about whether Mr. Nunes was telling the truth or being misleading in how he characterized these documents.

COLEMAN: So what specifically did the documents say that Page did on Russia's behalf?

SAVAGE: So they - again, they're heavily redacted. So we can see that the FBI said, we believe he is colluding and conspiring with the Russian government in its effort to interfere with the 2016 election and then vast numbers of black pages. The part that was a subject of a fight in February is unredacted here, though, so we can see that for ourselves. And that is the fact that the FBI used as part of its evidence in making the case to the court that there was probable cause here against Mr. Page that used information supplied by Christopher Steele of the famous - maybe notorious - Steele dossier. Remember; he is the former British intelligence agent who was hired to research Trump-Russia ties and produced a dossier, which eventually leaked. Parts of the - the most notorious parts of that dossier are about sexual activity by Trump. That may or may not be true. That's not what's in this application, however. It's a section about Carter Page going to Moscow in July of 2016, which definitely happened, and some alleged conversations he had with government representatives when he was there, which he disputes.

COLEMAN: Why were these documents released now?

SAVAGE: The New York Times and several other news organizations - USA Today, Gizmodo and then Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group - all filed Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking their disclosure after President Trump declassified the existence of this wiretapping in February to allow Devin Nunes to make his case. And part of this is extraordinary for reasons that have nothing to do with Trump-Russia. There's been - for 40 years, since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed to regulate national security wiretapping, the public has never seen one of these documents. It's been one of the most closely guarded secrets of the government - what's in these things, what they look like, how they work. And so to see them now, even in partially or heavily redacted form, is still an extraordinary moment in the history of surveillance in this country.

COLEMAN: Charlie, we have about 30 seconds. The president tweeted this morning that these are a scam. Does he have a point?

SAVAGE: No, he's just - well, no. I mean, it's in the eye of the beholder. But he's declaring victory without much regard to the substance of these documents. These documents are useful for evaluating whether Devin Nunes and Republicans were telling the truth in February about what the court was told about the Steele dossier or whether Democrats were telling the truth. And they largely - I have to say, assessing it - dovetail with the Democrats' arguments that the court was given information that the Steele dossier was opposition research and so it knew to discount that.

COLEMAN: Charlie Savage of The New York Times. Thanks very much.

SAVAGE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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