Sccop or rehash? NBC News reported this afternoon that the FBI delivered a warning to Donald Trump last summer that Russians would attempt to infiltrate his campaign:
In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would likely try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.
Wow! That turned out to be prescient, right? Well, maaaaayyyybeeeeee. It could also just be standard operating procedure — since the FBI delivered the same warning to his opponent:
The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.
The timing of the warnings raise questions about the briefing, too:
The briefings were led by counterintelligence specialists from the FBI, the sources said. They were timed to occur around the period when the candidates began receiving classified intelligence, the officials said, which put them at greater risk for being targeted by foreign spies. Trump’s first intelligence briefing as Republican nominee was Aug. 17, 2016, sources told NBC News at the time.
Trump was “briefed and warned” at the session about potential espionage threats from Russia, two former law enforcement officials familiar with the sessions told NBC News. A source close to the White House said their position is that Trump was unaware of the contacts between his campaign and Russians.
Depending on where one reads in the NBC report, these briefings took place in either mid-July or mid-August of 2016. We know now that the FBI had already gained access to some or all of the Fusion GPS dossier and had been considering payments for Christopher Steele to keep digging. If this warning came in mid-August, it would land on the timeline after FBI counterintelligence chief Peter Strzok started discussing an “insurance policy” against Trump with his paramour Lisa Page.
This goes to the question of whether this is actual news. If this was a serious warning about explicit vulnerabilities that the campaign then disregarded, then yes, this is a big story. But if that was the case, wouldn’t the FBI have disclosed the dossier at that time? The dossier didn’t come up until after the election; supposedly the FBI declined to pursue it because they had difficulty corroborating the information. If, on the other hand, this was just a normal pro forma briefing about general risks and how to avoid them and both candidates got the same briefing, then it’s not a story at all — except for the question of why the FBI wouldn’t have asked Trump about the dossier at that time.
Even as a background issue, it’s not much of a scoop. In the final five paragraphs of the lengthy article, NBC notes that Senate Judiciary chair Chuck Grassley had commented in September that the FBI had delivered “defensive briefings” in previous presidential campaigns. Grassley had asked the FBI in September to provide details of any such briefings to the Trump campaign; NBC appears to have confirmed that they followed their standard operational procedures for both candidates.
Perhaps there will eventually be more to this story, but it’s not remarkable as it is now except as an answer to Grassley’s question.