Â |Â USA TODAY
WASHINGTON â€”The government is considering an unprecedented disclosure of parts of a controversial secret surveillance order that justified the monitoring of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
Responding to a legal challenge brought by USA TODAY and the James Madison Project, Justice Department lawyers Friday cast the ongoing review as â€œnovel, complex and time-consuming.â€
â€œThe government has never, in any litigation civil or criminal, processed FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) applications for release to the public,â€ Justice lawyers wrote in a five-page filing.
The government’s action comes in wake of a bitter political dispute in which a divided House Intelligence Committee, while conducting a review of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, seized on a 2016 order authorizing the surveillance of Page.
In dueling memos released last month, Republican members â€” led by California Rep. DevinÂ Nunes â€” alleged that Justice and FBI officials abused their authority in targeting the former campaign adviser by improperly relying on an unsubstantiated dossier prepared by a former British spy. Democrats â€” led by California Rep. Adam Schiff â€”argued that the dossier was only part of the justification for the order, indicating that Page had been deemedÂ an “agent of the Russian government” prior to the FBI receiving the dossier.
The release of both memos, Justice lawyers wrote Friday, requires “the government to carefully review FISA materials related to Carter Page to determine what information contained in them has been declassified and whether any such declassified information can be released to the plaintiff in response to its (freedom of information) request.
“That review is ongoing,” Justice lawyers said, asking the court to approve a July 20 deadline for Justice’s National Security Division and the FBI to complete the examination.Â “The government does not make this request lightly.”
If documents related to the FISA applicationsÂ along with orders issued by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are identified for release, Justice lawyers said that it may be necessary to ask the secret court for an order to formally unseal the documents for public release.
USA TODAY, which is owned by Gannett, and the James Madison Project, a non-partisan organization which promotes government accountability, objected to the government’s proposed timeline for processing the document request, asserting that the records are of “significant public interest.”
They also argued that President Trump, despite objections raised by Justice, had authorized the de-classification of the Nunes’ memo which disclosed the existence of the FISA warrant targeting Page.