I’ve watched this story for 72 hours to see if anything new might develop.
On September 1, 2020, journalist Sarah Carter broke a story based on confidential sources that in a briefing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the FBI and Department of Justice informed the committee that the “Woods File” for the Carter Page FISA application had been somehow “lost” at some unknown point in time. She reported that the Committee was told that the contents of the file had been “recreated” by the Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel office by “reverse engineering” — my words — through examining the application and determining what factual allegations would have required supporting documentation normally contained in a “Woods File”.
I have not seen any other news outlet report this story, so all I have at this point is Carter’s story which she attributes to “sources familiar with the proceedings” before the Intelligence Committee.
As a refresher readers should understand that the “Woods File” is a process by which the FBI case agent on a FISA application documents a source for every factual allegation set forth in the application. It is named after a member of the FBI General Counsel’s Office who first devised the validation process as part of reforms to the FISA process put in place by Robert Mueller when he was Director of the FBI.
Here is what Carter reports based on her sources familiar with the hearing:
The original Woods file on former campaign advisor Carter Page went missing more than two years ago, and according to sources who spoke to SaraACarter.com, those documents had to be recreated by the FBI and former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in 2018 from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Application used by the bureau to obtain the warrant on Page.
The woods file procedure, which was overseen by FBI Supervisory Special Agent Joe Pientka, and ultimately former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, was used to verify the contents in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application that was used to obtain a warrant to spy on Page.
Moreover, during Pientka’s numerous interviews with investigators from the DOJ’s Inspector General’s office, who likely have worked for both Michael Horowitz and Connecticut prosecutor John Durham – the fact that it was a recreated Wood’s file was never disclosed.
Where to begin?
How about with the “disappearance” of an electronic file in a system where nothing disappears. The Woods File is a subfile in the investigation’s case file. It is created by the Case Agent by scanning in the documentary sources used as the basis to make factual allegation in the affidavit.
The purpose of having the file is so that when third parties — supervisors, subsequent case agents, other agencies — who review the affidavit and have questions about a particular allegation, they can go to the Woods File and find the specific documents from which the allegation was sourced. The file is not intended to “prove” the allegation true — only that the allegation has a source, and what that source is.
A question that has never received enough scrutiny is the role of the Special Counsel’s office in seeking the third extension of the Page FISA warrant. That extension was requested on June 29, 2017. That is six weeks after Mueller was appointed Special Counsel, and responsibility for Crossfire Hurricane was transferred to the Special Counsel’s Office.
The IG Report on Four FISAs pirouettes around this question on Page 219 in the following fashion:
On June 29, 2017, a day before FISA coverage on Carter Page was going to expire, and at the request of the FBI, the Department filed an application with the FISC requesting an additional 90 days of FISA coverage targeting Carter Page.
Well, that was stating the obvious — to say the least. Of course, the FBI requested it — the FBI obtained the original FISA and the FBI had been accessing records and other information on Page through the FISA. And saying “the Department filed an application” is equally unenlightening because only the “Department” can file such an application. But the Report does have the following “pregnant” footnote:
On May 17, 2017, the Crossfire Hurricane cases were transferred to the Office of the Special Counsel. Although agents and analysts were working with the Special Counsel, the FISA application was still subject to Department approval and notification requirements.
What that footnote suggests but doesn’t make explicit is that the FBI agents who sought the third extension were working for the SCO when the decision was made to seek the third extension — i.e., if the SCO had not wanted the third extension, no such effort would have been made. There is NO suggestion that anyone at FBI HQ or DOJ — separate from the SCO — commanded that the third application be made to extend the FISA warrant.
And this brings us to a critical issue — did SCO review the original application and first two extensions, compare the allegations in the applications against the Woods File, and realize the scope of the problems? Were these problems known before the third extension was sought under the authority of the SCO?
How does the Woods File — stored electronically in the FBI’s Sentinel database — get “lost”? And at what point in time did the SCO decide it was necessary to “reconstruct” a replacement Woods File by reverse engineering it through analyzing the applications to determine the specific factual allegations needed source documentation — other than the Steele Memos — in order to justify their inclusion in the third application to extend.
I hope the FBI solves crimes better than they commit them.