January 13, 2019
'Serious, Substantial Evidence' Trump Worked For Russia Was Required To Open FBI Investigation, Ex-Agents Say

On Saturday morning, Donald Trump unleashed a Twitter tirade in response to Friday's explosive New York Times report revealing that, in May of 2017, the FBI became so concerned that Trump was "working on behalf of Russia against American interests" that the bureau opened a secret counterintelligence investigation into whether Trump was a Russian agent who had somehow assumed the presidency of the United States.

In his Twitter posts, Trump said that the FBI opened the investigation "for no reason and with no proof" of the allegations that he was working on behalf of Russian interests.

But though the FBI itself has not commented publicly on the NYT report, prominent retired FBI agents told the Daily Beast that the bureau would not have opened what is likely an historically unprecedented investigation of a sitting president if there were not a "much higher than normal" amount of evidence to raise suspicions that Trump was actually working for Russia.

Ali Soufan, a retired agent who investigated the September 11 terror attacks and other high-profile terrorist incidents, also emphasized that for the FBI to investigate any high level government official would require "serious deliberations."

Ali Soufan
Getty Images | Tommaso Boddi
Retired FBI special agent Ali Soufan, who says that the FBI would have needed 'serious and substantial' evidence to open its investigation of Trump.

"Imagine if it is a case on the president of the U.S. acting as an agent of a hostile foreign power," Soufan added, saying that to open its counterintelligence investigation of Trump, the FBI would have required "serious and substantial" evidence that its suspicions about him were well-founded.

As he has on numerous previous occasions, Trump, in his Twitter screed, sought to blame the FBI investigation on agents who he claimed were biased against him, in his words, "the losers that tried to do a number on your President."

But according to the former FBI agents who spoke to the Daily Beast, such a highly significant and sensitive investigation would not have been undertaken without the knowledge and approval of the highest-level officials at the Department of Justice and FBI; officials who, at that time, would have been appointed by Trump himself.

While Trump's lawyer and public spokesperson, Rudy Giuliani, claimed that any such investigation must have found nothing, because any findings would have been reported to Trump himself, a former Justice Department official told the Daily Beast that a counterintelligence investigation such as the one described by the New York Times "take a long time. They're not over quickly. And based on the president's public statements and actions, I think you have to open a cointel investigation. You might never know that it's resolved."