- President Donald Trump spent a significant part of the weekend tweeting about an FBI informant he believes may have been planted within his presidential campaign.
- On Friday, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that an American professor who teaches in Britain was tapped by the FBI to speak with Trump campaign officials before the 2016 election.
- Contrary to claims from Trump and his allies, there’s no substantial evidence the informant infiltrated Trump’s campaign to spy.
President Donald Trump spent a significant part of the weekend tweeting about an FBI informant he believes may have been planted within his presidential campaign.
Trump was apparently inspired to do so by recent reports detailing contacts this informant supposedly had with Trump campaign officials before the 2016 election.
It’s all linked to the ongoing investigation into Russia’s election meddling, and it further complicates the already convoluted array of narratives surrounding the issue.
Here’s a quick breakdown of what we know about this FBI informant.
The identity of the informant
On Friday, The Washington Post and The New York Times both reported that an American professor who teaches in Britain was tapped by the FBI to speak with Trump campaign officials before the election. Neither newspaper has named the informant, citing concerns for his and his contacts’ safety.
This person had reportedly worked in Republican administrations and was an intelligence source for both the FBI and the CIA at various times.
Some reports suggest the informant is Stefan Halper, a foreign-policy scholar who worked in the Nixon, Ford, and Reagan administrations.
Contrary to claims from Trump and his allies, there’s no substantial evidence the informant infiltrated Trump’s campaign to spy. Instead, it seems the FBI wanted this person to gauge the level of contact between Trump’s people and Russia.
Who the informant talked to
The informant reportedly contacted the Trump campaign aides George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Sam Clovis several times in 2016.
In May 2016, Papadopoulos boasted to an Australian diplomat that a Russian professor had contacted him to say the Kremlin had compromising information on Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee. The diplomat eventually told US officials what Papadopoulos said.
Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI related to the Russia investigation.
Page was a target of FBI surveillance from October 2016 into early 2017.
Can Trump order the Department of Justice to investigate this?
On Sunday, Trump tweeted: “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!”
Technically, Trump has the authority to call on the Department of Justice to do this, but it’s complicated because of the political implications.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, told news outlets later Sunday that the solicitor general was expanding an inquiry into the investigation regarding Page to “include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”
The Justice Department in March launched an investigation into how the FBI gained a warrant to surveil Page.
Separately, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein released a statement, saying: “If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action.”
Trump’s critics say he has gone too far this time in trying to derail the Russia investigation.
Matthew Miller, a Department of Justice spokesman under President Barack Obama, tweeted on Sunday that Trump had “finally crossed the red line and ordered up a DOJ investigation of his political opponents, as well as career law enforcement agents.”