The nation’s top spy court appointed an Obama-era Justice Department official who has denied and downplayed FBI surveillance abuse to assess the FBI’s response to a scathing new report cataloguing problems with how the agency secured authority to spy on a Donald Trump campaign affiliate.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) presiding Judge James Boasberg appointed David Kris to review the FBI’s proposed changes to its surveillance application process even though he spent the past few years running interference for the FBI as substantive criticism of the agency mounted.
Lengthy investigations in the House of Representatives and by the Department of Justice inspector general showed major problems with the claims the FBI made as part of an investigation into whether Trump was a traitor who had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election. Those problems include withholding exonerating evidence, undue reliance on shady sources, and outright alteration of evidence.
Kris, who served as assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s National Security Division, recently claimed the IG report that catalogued egregious abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) powers actually vindicated the FBI. He also smeared Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, saying his initial sounding of the alarm about those abuses was incorrect, threatened national security, and should be harshly punished.
Kris appeared in locations that pushed the false Russia collusion narrative, such as Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, the Lawfare blog, and Twitter, to defend the FBI and attack President Trump and other critics of the harmful surveillance campaign. He once wrote that Trump “should be worried” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into treasonous collusion with Russia meant “the walls are closing in.”
The appointment of a former official who served as an apologist for the FBI signals that the court isn’t particularly concerned about the civil liberty violations catalogued by Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s investigation into the year-long surveillance of Carter Page. Page is the Trump campaign affiliate whose phone and email communications federal agents wiretapped, and who had confidential human sources and overseas intelligence assets placed against him. False claims that Page was a Russian spy were leaked to the media by government officials as part of a years-long campaign to paint President Trump as a traitor who had colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election.
The court “finds it appropriate to appoint David S. Kris, Esq., to serve as amicus curiae to assist the Court in assessing the government’s response to” a Dec. 17, 2019, order to “inform the Court . . . of what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure that the statement of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI that is material to any issue presented by the application.”
The pick was justified on the grounds that he is one of the few officials with FISA experience. But Kris has repeatedly shown himself to be a reflexive defender of the FBI, even as evidence mounted of its malfeasance. Here are some examples of that.