The long knives are starting to come out against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to The New York Times. Specifically, the secret memo compiled by Rep. Devin Nunes claims that he extended the surveillance of former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page. To be clear, Rosenstein could not have done so on his own; he would have had to approve an application to the FISA court, which would have made the final decision.
Republicans will attempt to tie the extension of surveillance to the Steele dossier, which they assume has been discredited since we learned that it was an attorney for the Clinton campaign and DNC that took over the contract with Fusion GPS after the Washington Free Beacon bailed on it. But that ignores the fact that Page had been a person of interest to U.S. intelligence services long before he joined the Trump campaign.
We already know that the original application to the FISA court for surveillance back in the summer of 2016 included this information:
Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, officials said. Those contacts had earlier surfaced in a federal espionage case brought by the Justice Department against the intelligence operative and two other Russian agents. In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.
The reason Page distanced himself from the Trump campaign that fall was because intelligence sources had leaked to Michael Isikoff that Page attended a meeting in early July 2016—around the time the surveillance began—with Igor Sechin, a longtime Putin associate, former Russian deputy prime minister, and the executive chairman of Rosneft, Russian’s leading oil company.
That meeting, if confirmed, is viewed as especially problematic by U.S. officials because the Treasury Department in August 2014 named Sechin to a list of Russian officials and businessmen sanctioned over Russia’s “illegitimate and unlawful actions in the Ukraine.”
In December, during the Trump transition, Page spoke publicly about having just attended yet another meeting with “an executive from Rosneft.” Even if these meetings and his extensive history of anti-American/pro-Russian comments had nothing to do with his involvement with the campaign or the transition, they would probably still be of interest to our intelligence services, much as they had been back in 2013.
The president, some congressional Republicans and a whole host of right wing news sites have decided to spin conspiracy theories in an attempt to undermine the Mueller investigation, but the rest of us in the reality-based community don’t need to abandon all common sense and become defensive. Based solely on the tidbits we know about Carter Page, Rosenstein would have been derelict in his duty to have ignored this man.