A new exclusive report from Heat Street‘s Louise Mensch – a former British Member of Parliament – claims that the FBI’s counter-intelligence division just obtained a FISA warrant to conduct national security searches of Donald Trump’s recently uncovered private email server. If true, the theory expressed in her report would also plausibly explain why the New York Times shot down not one or two, but a trio of mainstream news stories last week which pointed to FBI surveillance of Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, and her report fits a fourth published report about Western European intelligence activity by Newsweek.
It must be stressed that Heat Street’s report is not confirmed fact, and if its report and theory is proven true, it does not point to use of the FISA warrant for a criminal arrest of Donald Trump at this time either. A secret FISA warrant authorizes covert electronic intelligence gathering of a US person by the FBI, and it is issued by a secret panel of federal judges in Washington, D.C. without participation of the target being surveilled in the hearing. Louise Mensch’s exclusive report contains a series of logical and plausible theories which must be viewed skeptically until the first sentence is proven to be true:
Two separate sources with links to the counter-intelligence community have confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought, and was granted, a FISA court warrant in October, giving counter-intelligence permission to examine the activities of ‘U.S. persons’ in Donald Trump’s campaign with ties to Russia. Contrary to earlier reporting in the New York Times, which cited FBI sources as saying that the agency did not believe that the private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower which was connected to a Russian bank had any nefarious purpose, the FBI’s counter-intelligence arm, sources say, re-drew an earlier FISA court request around possible financial and banking offenses related to the server.
The first request, which, sources say, named Trump, was denied back in June, but the second was drawn more narrowly and was granted in October after evidence was presented of a server, possibly related to the Trump campaign, and its alleged links to two banks; SVB Bank and Russia’s Alfa Bank. While the Times story speaks of metadata, sources suggest that a FISA warrant was granted to look at the full content of emails and other related documents that may concern US persons. The FBI agents who talked to the New York Times, and rubbished the ground-breaking stories of Slate ( Franklin Foer) and Mother Jones (David Corn) may not have known about the FISA warrant, sources say, because the counter-intelligence and criminal sides of the FBI often work independently of each other employing the principle of ‘compartmentalization’.
It cannot be stressed enough that the bombshell first sentence of the Heat Street report is unconfirmed, and not known to be fully factual at this time. It also presents a plausible theory – compartmentalization – why one wing of the FBI might not know what the other is doing, which accounts for the New York Times shooting down three other published reports – but does not prove the Times wrong, yet.
The British news report does fit the bigger picture of confirmed news coverage of Trump’s Russian ties, and does present a plausible theory based upon these four reports from reputable, mainstream media news outlets:
- Slate’s report of an unusual email server
- Mother Jones’ simultaneous report that a trusted, non-American western intelligence agent provided a massive dossier to the FBI over the summer which could not be ignored
- An NBC News report which purported that there is an FBI investigation of Donald Trump’s campaign management’s ties to Russia.
- Newsweek’s recent report that Western European government intelligence agencies are highly alarmed by the Trump campaign’s public embrace of Vladimir Putin:
Again, it cannot be stressed enough that this is a difficult to confirm the essential facts of this report of the FBI surveilling Donald Trump’s email server. The corroborating news reports both provide a plausible theory to Mensch, but also should cause the reader to draw conclusions skeptically because Heat Street’s report could fit the publicly known facts all too well, but still be factually false.
A shrewdly concocted story based solely upon known news reports, and using the secretive nature of the FISA warrant process and the FISA court could be used to intentionally broadcast an entirely false story as well, and one with factual underpinnings.
It’s nearly impossible to obtain a copy of any FISA warrant, and the emergence of one of these top secret documents happens with the same rarity, and danger to the source, which Edward Snowden experienced when leaking documents about government secrecy and surveillance.
The British website Heat Street is a conservative news outlet, actually owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, and politically speaking, it despises Hillary Clinton. Louise Mensch herself, was part of Republicans for Hillary at one time, before endorsing ex-CIA agent Evan McMullin, who is running a single-state campaign in Utah. There’s no explicit partisan reason for Mensch or especially her publisher to favor the Democratic nominee based on the reports in their website.
It’s also notable that Mensch was a Republican for Hillary before endorsing McMullin. That doesn’t make her much different than any member of the news media registered as a Republican, like the boards of numerous conservative newspapers in America who endorsed Hillary Clinton based on the facts available. Readers should also take into account Mensch’s personal history of histrionic statements, trolling and reported substance issues which may make her an unreliable news source, when evaluating the source of this report to decide if it’s plausible, although none of that takes away from the sound logic of the ‘big picture’ of her claims in the Heat Street report. If it’s a lie or misinformation, certainly every piece of the puzzle is confirmed elsewhere or fits known facts, except for one.
The Heat Street’s report does assert one new, yet unknown and unproven claim as fact about Gazprom, which is the majority Russian state-owned energy company that Vladimir Putin ran in between stints as President. There is no other report to date which links former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to Gazprom, so it’s actually either an exclusive detail by Mensch which is entirely unconfirmed, or it’s wrong:
To further complicate the story, the FISA warrant was allegedly granted in part because of the involvement of Vladimir Putin’s own daughters. One is married to a senior official at Gazprom, where Carter Page and Paul Manafort reportedly have holdings; another to Kirill Shamalov, a banking official.
Donald Trump’s campaign had not answered requests for comment on the matter at time of going to press.
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort is known to have multi-year, known ties to Ukrainian political parties and the FBI leaked that he is being investigated to NBC just last week. Manafort’s Ukrainian clients allegedly paid him $12.7 million off the books, and are a pro-Russia party, whose last President defected to Russia after a popular uprising.
Ironically, Trump’s fellow Republican, Senator Rand Paul filibustered the old Patriot Act leading to the even more ironically named USA Freedom Act which in theory promotes more transparency about the secretive FISA warrants, but which actually gives the power of disclosure to the Executive Branch of government, and not the judges.
The next President would have political reasons both to release the FISA Warrant record, and also to withhold it for very the same reasons that Democrats decried the numerous disclosures of the FBI’s investigation in October. However, unlike the FBI Director’s breach of advice and policy from the Attorney General which allegedly violated the Hatch Act, Congress gave the FISA warrant disclosure privileges explicitly to the President, and after an election it disclosure would not have the same partisan impact of the Director’s untimely disclosure.
To recap, there is one and only one conservative news outlet reporting that the FBI used a secret national security warrant to conduct surveillance of Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns the UK-based website reporting the story and there’s no further confirmation of the basic facts of the story, which presents a plausible theory which must be skeptically viewed, for now.
Grant Stern is the Executive Editor of Occupy Democrats and published author. His new Meet the Candidates 2020 book series is distributed by Simon and Schuster. He's also mortgage broker, community activist and radio personality in Miami, Florida., as well as the producer of the Dworkin Report podcast. Grant is also an occasional contributor to Raw Story, Alternet, and the DC Report, and a senior advisor to the Democratic Coalition