The New York Times is reporting on President Trump’s claim, via Twitter and based on an internet theory, that the FBI sent a mole to infiltrate and spy on his 2016 presidential campaign with the intention of bringing down his candidacy. There is no evidence that that claim is true and the Times points out that what did happen is that, because members of the Trump campaign were suspected of improper contact with Russian individuals, the FBI made contact with those individuals through an established intelligence source.
In fact, F.B.I. agents sent an informant to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign. The informant, an American academic who teaches in Britain, made contact late that summer with one campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, according to people familiar with the matter. He also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page, who was also under F.B.I. scrutiny for his ties to Russia.
There is no evidence that the FBI or the informant acted improperly. It would be illegal for the FBI to conduct a politically motivated investigation and there is no evidence they did. Although hesitant to appear to disrupt the presidential campaign further, after the investigation looking into Hillary Clinton’s emails had been closed, the FBI concluded they had the legal authority to conduct an investigation after it was revealed that George Papadopoulos had been told the Kremlin had thousands of compromising emails on Hillary Clinton. The operation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, ended up investigating Mike Flynn, who would eventually become Trump’s National Security Advisor, and Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager.
Paul Manafort since has been charged with a host of crimes and Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
The story regarding this FBI source has been brewing for over a month and is another example of the Trump administration’s battle with its own Department of Justice and FBI. Amidst partisan maneuvering, an FBI source has been outed, accurately or not, setting a dangerous precedent. CNN reports that the informant has been a longtime source for the FBI and CIA and the identity of the informant had been a closely guarded secret in the intelligence community.
FBI Director Christopher Wray communicated the danger of outing FBI sources when he spoke to the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe. Human sources in particular who put themselves at great risk to work with us and with our foreign partners have to be able to trust that we’re going to protect their identities and in many cases their lives and the lives of their families.”
On Friday, the President tweeted about the story.
Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a “hot” Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 18, 2018
On Saturday, President Trump demanded the House Intelligence Committee be allowed to see Justice Department documents for the sake of giving answers about the “mole”. The Department of Justice and FBI warned the White House on May 2 that turning over the documents would risk lives by potentially exposing the source. At that time, the White House was convinced to not disclose the documents. But, it seems, the President has now taken a new position on that.
If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal. Only the release or review of documents that the House Intelligence Committee (also, Senate Judiciary) is asking for can give the conclusive answers. Drain the Swamp!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2018
Democrats Chuck Schumer and Mark Warner have warned that the Republicans are coming close to “crossing a legal line”.
It would be at best irresponsible, and at worst potentially illegal, for members of Congress to use their positions to learn the identity of an FBI source for the purpose of undermining the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in our election.
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) May 18, 2018
Donald Trump has now escalated the situation further, by tweeting again today about the “infiltration” of his campaign.
I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
Why It Matters
This chapter of the Trump presidency is an extraordinary one. Never before has a President, Democrat or Republican, publicly called for an intelligence source to have their identity revealed. Both parties have historically understood the need for the protection of human intelligence sources and gone out of their way to shield them, because those sources are the heart of our intelligence community. In 1982, after a CIA agent named Philip Agee went rogue, outing sources and operatives, Congress criminalized the intentional outing of intelligence sources by passing the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
Representative Devin Nunes has repeatedly demanded documents from the DOJ which would imperil the identity of a long time FBI source – a source who the agency has promised to protect in return for gathering intelligence. The White House has been warned that the turning over of documents Nunes is demanding would put lives at risk.
Regardless of the warning, the Republican party, via right wing media, with Trump leading the charge has pushed this story for weeks and caused an FBI source (assuming the name of the source that has been published is correct) to be outed. They have done so simply to stymie a legitimate investigation into possible criminal behavior by members of their own party and, in doing so, made America less safe.
The actions of Republicans in this matter will have lasting and negative consequences on our intelligence community. The behavior of this president and the Republicans towards the intelligence community must not be normalized.
A companion piece to this article will be published later today on The News Blender in which the timeline of the outing of this intelligence source will be laid out to demonstrate how significant the actions of Republicans have been in this story.