An interesting story at the NY Times today sheds some additional light on the early stages of the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign. You may recall that George Papadopoulos was credited with indirectly kicking off that investigation after he told Australian ambassador Alexander Downer that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The FBI responded by sending Stefan Halper (pictured above) to meet with Papadopoulos and quiz him about connections between the campaign and Russia. But according to the NY Times, the FBI also sent an attractive undercover investigator with Halper who posed as his assistant:

The conversation at a London bar in September 2016 took a strange turn when the woman sitting across from George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, asked a direct question: Was the Trump campaign working with Russia?

The woman had set up the meeting to discuss foreign policy issues. But she was actually a government investigator posing as a research assistant, according to people familiar with the operation. The F.B.I. sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

It was Ms. Turk (not her real name) who contacted Papadopoulos when he arrived in London in September. When they met for drinks she began asking him about the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia:

Mr. Papadopoulos was baffled. “There is no way this is a Cambridge professor’s research assistant,” he recalled thinking, according to his book. In recent weeks, he has said in tweets that he believes Ms. Turk may have been working for Turkish intelligence but provided no evidence.

The day after meeting Ms. Turk, Mr. Papadopoulos met briefly with Mr. Halper at a private London club, and Ms. Turk joined them. The two men agreed to meet again, arranging a drink at the Sofitel hotel in London’s posh West End.

During that conversation, Mr. Halper immediately asked about hacked emails and whether Russia was helping the campaign, according to Mr. Papadopoulos’s book. Angry over the accusatory questions, Mr. Papadopoulos ended the meeting.

The F.B.I. failed to glean any information of value from the encounters, and Ms. Turk returned to the United States.

Papadopoulos, in reacting to the Times’ article, says he agrees with all of it except he believes Ms. Turk was CIA. He says she barely spoke English:

Here’s a bit of his congressional testimony about meeting Ms. Turk:

Of course, by the time Halper and “Ms. Turk” became involved in this story, the FBI had already opened the investigation, one which has now been resolved with a finding of no criminal conspiracy, i.e. no collusion. The more interesting question is when these attempts to probe Papadopoulos about his Russia connections started.

According to Papadopoulos, a director at the London think tank, where he worked prior to taking a job with the Trump campaign, first suggested he meet with Joseph Mifsud. It was Mifsud who introduced him to a young woman he claimed was Vladimir Putin’s niece. It was also Mifsud who, in April of 2016, dropped a bombshell about Russia having Hillary’s emails.

About a week after that in early May, Papadopoulos claims he was contacted by two people from the Defense Intelligence Agency who wanted to talk about his contacts with Russia. A few days after that, he was asked, out of the blue, to meet with the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer. He did eventually meet with Downer. Papadopolous claims Downer was rather obviously recording his reactions with his phone and says he told the Mueller investigators about this when he was questioned. He also testified before Congress that he had seen Downer using his phone to record him and says he believes a transcript was made of those conversations (though he hasn’t seen it).

Papadopoulos did try to set up a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russia but no meetings ever took place. The whole story of how Papadopoulos became the spark for the FBI investigation still has a lot of unexplained elements. We may get some additional answers about all of this in the next month or so when IG Horowitz releases his report on the FBI’s investigation.