FBI head seems to confirm Russia probes have asked for wiretap warrants

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray appeared to provide the first official confirmation Thursday that the FBI has applied for secret FISA warrants in the Russia investigation — the type of warrants that can allow the bureau to spy on the email and telephone calls of specific individuals.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee, Wray was being questioned about whether the FBI would provide the committee with information about its applications for the secret warrants, which can grant investigators access to phone calls, email, web browsing history and other electronic records. Wray told lawmakers that he could not provide the information, but that the FBI "has been having extensive interaction with the Congressional intelligence committees on our interaction" with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray
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FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray sits during a meeting with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 29, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Christopher Wray, President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the FBI, is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) meets with Christopher Wray, who U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated to be FBI Director, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Christopher Wray (L) is greeted by former Senator Sam Nunn as he arrives to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Christopher Wray is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Christopher Wray is seated prior to testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on his nomination to be the next FBI director on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 12, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 18: Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee to lead the FBI walks through the Senate subway at the US Capitol on July 18, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) meets with FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray (R) on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Wray will fill the position that has been left behind by former director James Comey who was fired by President Donald Trump about two months ago. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 13: U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) meets with FBI Director nominee Christopher Wray (R) on Capitol Hill July 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. If confirmed, Wray will fill the position that has been left behind by former director James Comey who was fired by President Donald Trump about two months ago. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JULY 12: Christopher Wray, nominee for FBI Director, testifies during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 12, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JULY 12: Christopher Wray, nominee for FBI Director, prepares for his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Dirksen Building on July 12, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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The FISC, as it is known, is the court that grants FISA warrants to the FBI, and with them permission to conduct secret surveillance of targets in the United States. The House and Senate intelligence committees have been receiving information from the FBI and other intelligence agencies as part of their investigations into Russian campaign interference.

Wray's statement appears to be the first on-the-record confirmation that the FBI has applied for FISA warrants in its investigation into Russian election interference and the question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with that effort. The Washington Post and the New York Times reported in April that the FBI used a FISA warrant to monitor former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations
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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

R. James Woolsey

Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has cooperated with Mueller's investigation and worked with Michael Flynn and was present at a meeting where they discussed removing the controversial Turkish Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen from US soil. 

(Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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The warrants are classified, so government officials usually cannot discuss them in public. The FISA court grants permission to the vast majority of the government's surveillance requests, leaked documents have shown.

"I do not believe that I can legally and appropriately share a FISA court submission to this committee," Wray told House Judiciary Committee members Thursday. He said the House and Senate intelligence committees provide the "appropriate settings" in which the FBI should discuss that sensitive matter. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Virginia Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, disagreed, and said his committee had jurisdiction over FISA.

Spokespersons for the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not respond to requests for comment.

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