This might explain Rudy Giuliani’s modified limited hangout this morning on allegations of FBI spying on presidential campaigns. After Kimberly Strassel connected some dots earlier in the week from previous testimony about the FBI’s sources in the Trump campaign, critics of the FBI have demanded to know whether they deliberately spied on the Republican nominee. Donald Trump himself seems to think so:
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
The New York Times followed up with its own report on “Crossfire Hurricane,” the name for the FBI investigation prompted by informants and tips, which appeared to throw more gasoline on the fire. The secret probe was advanced by an “informant” within the campaign, which corroborates Strassel’s reporting and suggests that the FBI might have planted someone within the campaign:
The F.B.I. obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters — a secret type of subpoena — officials said. And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. That has become a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials.
As I noted with the Strassel story, however, there are two ways to read this. Either the person inside the campaign worked for the FBI before joining the campaign, or he/she reached out to the FBI as a whistleblower. CNN reports that “US officials” are insisting it’s the latter, not the former:
The informant Trump has been railing about was NOT planted inside the campaign to provide information to investigators, US officials tell @ShimonPro @LauraAJarrett @jimsciutto. Informant was an American but no other details.
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) May 18, 2018
US officials tell CNN that the confidential intelligence source was not planted inside the campaign to provide information to investigators.
One of the officials said the informant is a US citizen but provided no other details on the identity.
The officials say that the identity of the informant had been closely held at the highest levels of the FBI and intelligence community, and the individual has been a source for the FBI and CIA for years.
For years? Hmmm. How did an intelligence source for “years” end up working on a presidential campaign in the first place? Strassel and others are asking that very question, and having not-indefensible suspicions that it wasn’t coincidental. One potential answer might be that he was one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers. George Papadopoulos was part of that coterie of experts whose presence in presidential campaigns are intended to give the candidate a wide range of thought on policy, and also to make them look informed. That might explain why Papadopoulos came to the FBI’s attention. (Since Papadopoulos got charged with obstruction, it’s highly unlikely to be him.) As the primaries narrowed down the contestants, the Trump campaign picked up a few of these experts along the way from other campaigns.
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti emphasized that the use of the word “informant” carries a specific meaning:
Informants are not “planted.” An informant is someone who comes forward to the FBI or who is approached by the FBI and agrees to help them investigate allegations that a crime is being committed. https://t.co/1SmnyHxwoi
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) May 18, 2018
With all this in mind, Giuliani’s limited walkback makes a little more sense, although he walks it back to the point where even “informant” isn’t confirmed:
Rudy Giuliani on President Trump's claims that there was an "informant" in the Trump campaign: "I don't know for sure, nor does the President, if there really was one” pic.twitter.com/of1eS51GwR
— New Day (@NewDay) May 18, 2018
Giuliani told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that neither he nor Trump knows “for sure” if there was an informant.
“I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one,” he said.
He told Cuomo that the team has been “told that” by people “off the record.”
“[We] don’t know if they’re right or not,” he said. “They’re people who knew a little about the investigation.”
Of course, we’re still dealing with unnamed sources on a story that hasn’t yet seen all of its details emerge yet. Is it possible that the FBI planted an employee on the campaign? Sure, but it hardly seems likely. Given all the infighting within the GOP in 2015-6 (and for that matter, the oppo research we already know took place among Democrats), the odds seem a lot higher that the FBI might have been getting all sorts of tips about Trump’s activities from both outside and inside the campaign. If the FBI source was also an intel source for “years” previous to this, it might well have been someone who worked on another GOP campaign first. That wouldn’t be the FBI’s doing, but it does point out how poorly the Trump campaign vetted its volunteers and officials during the campaign cycle.
The wild card here is the Inspector General, who is already conducting an investigation into the actions taken by the FBI to get the surveillance warrant. Thus far the IG has performed independently, even to the point of making a criminal referral for Andrew McCabe for his alleged false statements to investigators over leaks about the Clinton investigation. The probe of the Carter Page warrant, and the use of Fusion GPS oppo research to get it, will directly involve any informants the FBI had. If that person was an FBI agent or was placed in the campaign for the purpose of being a paid informant, the IG’s report will make that clear … eventually. And if so, then not only should heads roll, but perhaps a criminal referral or two should be made at that point, too. But that’s a mighty big if.