The New York Times reports that the FBI sent an investigator posing as an assistant to meet with George Papadopoulos — a Trump campaign adviser — when the bureau was trying to assess the scope of Russia’s alleged attempts to influence the 2016 election. The revelation shines a light on the level of alarm inside the FBI at Russia’s reported actions, and could also provide Republicans with ammunition in their accusations that the Obama administration spied on Donald Trump’s campaign.
The agent in question, Azra Turk, was a government investigator posing as a research assistant. She went to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry that was opened during the same summer, one tasked with examining the Trump campaign’s links to Russia — if any. During an alleged conversation with Papadopoulos at a London bar in September of 2016, talks took a jarring turn when Turk asked him point-blank if the Trump campaign was working with Russia.
Turk emailed Papadopoulos numerous times while in London, saying that meeting him was the “highlight of my trip.”
“I am excited about what the future holds for us :),” she is said to have written to him via email.
Turk worked alongside long-time informant Stefan A. Halper, a Cambridge professor. The New York Times reports that the pairing is a sign that the FBI wanted to utilize a trained agent for oversight — and to gather information, or serve as a credible witness, if the case led to prosecution.
While the FBI claims that its activities were legal and carefully considered, they are now under the magnifying glass of Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general. Horowitz is reportedly investigating their FBI’s conduct during the 2016 presidential election. Attorney General William Barr says that the results of the investigation may go public in May or June, although some of the findings will remain classified.
Barr told Congress last month that he believed the Obama administration was “spying” on the Trump campaign. However, critics claim that Barr made the claim to appease Trump, and to intentionally conflate legal intelligence gathering with illegal spying.
Regardless, Barr defended his comments at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, and said he wanted to know more about the FBI’s investigative efforts.
“Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant” tied to the warrant to surveil former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, he said. Barr elaborated further in his subsequent remarks.
“I would like to find out whether that is in fact true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.”
The FBI had to keep its investigative efforts secret during the 2016 presidential election, as the release of information from its investigation could have destroyed the Trump campaign, per The New York Times.