26

Donald Trump has tweeted allegations of the US's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) planting spies in his 2016 presidential campaign:

  1. Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!
    5:45 AM - 17 May 2018

    Donald Trump, via Twitter

  2. “Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.” David Asman @LouDobbs @GreggJarrett Really bad stuff!
    3:24 AM - 18 May 2018

    Donald Trump, via Twitter

  3. 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!
    6:50 AM - 18 May 2018

    Donald Trump, via Twitter

These tweets have been reported by the media, e.g. in this sample article.

Is there any concrete evidence that such a thing did happen?

  • 6
    I think it should be clarified what we mean by "the Trump campaign." If the NYT piece is correct, an informant met with George Papdapoulos and Carter Page several times. The WH has said that Page was not part of the campaign and Papadapoulos' connection to it was minimized. One has pled guilty already and the other has been under investigation for a while. Does this mean the campaign itself was "spied on"? – rougon May 18 '18 at 12:49
  • 38
    What, precisely, is "The Obama FBI" ? There's the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and as it's part of the enforcement arm of government, the executive's ability to direct it is limited to advising the DoJ and/or the AG to focus on specific investigations... – Shadur May 18 '18 at 13:22
  • 2
    NYT has an article out now with more info: nytimes.com/2018/05/18/us/politics/… Seems that said informant met with two members of the campaign (one of whom the campaign has disavowed) after they were under suspicion, and the informant was never embedded in the campaign. – rougon May 19 '18 at 1:01
  • 2
    @Shadur I think it's part of a (conspiracy) theory that there is a so-called deep state, consisting of members from the intelligence community and other government bodies, that forms a shadow government that controls major things in the country. Fun fact, the Wikipedia page says there is a poll (by ABC News and WaPo) which says 48% of Americans believe that such a deep state exists in the US. – JJJ May 19 '18 at 5:40
  • 3
    Edited the question to directly quote Trump's tweets, following from some confusion on SE.Skeptics.Meta. I figure that directly quoting the original source of these statements probably works better than quoting them through an article anyway. Please let me know if this in any way detrimentally affects the question! – Nat May 20 '18 at 4:38
60

tl;dr: The claim is based on a misrepresentation or misinterpretation of testimony by a co-founder of Fusion GPS. There is no evidence that there ever was an embedded FBI informant in the Trump campaign.

Trump's source is this Fox News segment in which Andew McCarthy makes the claim.

This Fox News article goes into more depth about what exactly is claimed:

A new New York Times report stated that the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia began in the summer of 2016 and was code-named Crossfire Hurricane.

Brian Kilmeade noted that the report "buried the lead," stating that "at least one government informant met several times" with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos.

They go on quoting an article by McCarthy:

Something tells me the co-founder of Fusion GPS was dead-on accurate when he testified that Christopher Steele told him the FBI had a “human source” — i.e., a spy — inside the Trump campaign as the 2016 presidential race headed into its stretch run.

[...] Simpson gave his testimony about the FBI’s human source at a closed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on August 22, 2017. He did not try to retract it until the uproar that followed the publication of his testimony on January 9, 2018.

He goes on citing Simpsons testimony:

Essentially, what [Christopher Steele] told me was [the FBI] had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source [...] they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump campaign.

This quote is the origin of the claim. To me, this doesn't sound like an embedded informant, but like a leak. Further quotes which McCarthy omits point to this as well:

” . . . I think it was a voluntary source, someone who was concerned about the same concerns we had,” Simpson explained. “It was someone like us who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”

Simpson also later clarified that this is indeed what he meant.

23

Update: The New York Times published an article on this so detailed that it seems to supplant all previous information about this informant, at least pending further information: F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims.

The article tells us (with an unusual amount of detail for identifying a source intended to be kept confidential) that the informant is "an American academic who teaches in Britain" who engaged with George Papadopoulos and Carter Page (and had some prior contacts with Michael Flynn) as part of an FBI national security investigation. The informant paid Papadopoulos to write a research paper and met with him and his assistant to press for information related to the investigation. He also met and exchanged emails with Page.

Based on this reporting, there is no evidence that the informant everyone is presently discussing was "embedded" in the campaign. It appears that this informant was an outsider who asked individuals for information, as opposed to someone who became a part of the campaign. There is no evidence the informant discussed here was a member of the campaign staff, an advisor, or otherwise inside the organization in any way other than talking to individuals (individuals the administration has attempted to distance itself from at that).

We do not know if there were other sources not mentioned here. In one interview, Giuliani claimed there were two informants, but he also acknowledged uncertainty as to whether there were any, as the Times quotes him: "I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one."

As for the claim that it is "bigger than Watergate," the article notes some distinctions:

No evidence has emerged that the informant acted improperly when the F.B.I. asked for help in gathering information on the former campaign advisers, or that agents veered from the F.B.I.’s investigative guidelines and began a politically motivated inquiry, which would be illegal.

[...]

After opening the Russia inquiry about a month later, they took steps, those officials said, to ensure that details of the inquiry were more closely held than even in a typical national security investigation, including the use of the informant to suss out information from the unsuspecting targets. Sending F.B.I. agents to interview them could have created additional risk that the investigation’s existence would seep into view in the final weeks of a heated presidential race.

F.B.I. officials concluded they had the legal authority to open the investigation after receiving information that Mr. Papadopoulos was told that Moscow had compromising information on Mrs. Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials. As part of the operation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, the F.B.I. also began investigating Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his future national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

In other words, the FBI believed it had a legal basis for the investigation based on the evidence it had so far, and took steps to avoid making the investigation public to prevent political consequences during the election.

Update 2: The Washington Post has further information: Secret FBI source for Russia investigation met with three Trump advisers during campaign.

This article adds the additional information that the informant also met with campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and offered to "provide foreign-policy expertise to the Trump effort." According to Clovis' attorney, the two mainly discussed China. Based on this reporting, I don't believe you could characterize this relationship as "embedded" either. The Post's reporters agree:

There is no evidence to suggest someone was planted with the campaign. The source in question engaged in a months-long pattern of seeking out and meeting three different Trump campaign officials.


The Washington Post has an editorial synthesizing the available public information: What do we know about the ‘FBI informant’ Trump keeps talking about? An important takeaway is that we don't know a lot. What we do know:

The source is a U.S. citizen who has provided information over the years to both the FBI and the CIA … and aided the Russia investigation both before and after Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, according to people familiar with his activities.

[...]

That also means this isn’t someone we’ve already heard of.

We also know this from the New York Times, though we don't know it's describing the same source:

At least one government informant met with Mr. Trump’s former campaign aides, Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, current and former officials said.

Another report today, from CNN, includes the claim sourced to anonymous US officials that:

"the confidential intelligence source was not planted inside the campaign to provide information to investigators."

But what we don't know:

We don’t know what the informant’s relationship to the Trump campaign was. Was he or she on the staff? An outside adviser? Just someone who came in contact with people on the campaign for some other reason? We have no idea.

[...]

But we have no idea whether the informant was “implanted.” This morning, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, “We’re told there were two infiltrations, two embedded people in the campaign.” Pressed on where he learned this, Giuliani was vague. Given how often he has said things that he quickly walked back or turned out to be bogus, there’s no reason to think he has any idea what he’s talking about. But it’s theoretically possible.

We know essentially nothing about what information the informant provided. We don’t know what the informant has passed on to investigators. We don’t know how central this information became to the investigation, or if it revealed any crimes. The information could be the key to the whole case, or it could be of little or no importance.

In other words, there is not enough public information from reliable sources at this time to understand who all the FBI has received information from. But if today's reports prove accurate, we know that the source was not "planted" inside the campaign.

There is also an issue with the definition of "embedded informant" here. If someone voluntarily reports information and becomes a source because they were, as Simpson said, "concerned," that's not the same thing as the FBI directing someone under its control to join the campaign for the purpose of gathering information. If I witness a stabbing on the street and call the emergency services, I'm not "an embedded informant"; I'm a witness notifying law enforcement about something I see. We don't yet know enough about the source's (or sources') relationship with the campaign and the government to know whether anyone was "embedded" or under what circumstances they came to know what they knew.

In short, there is evidence that there is at least one confidential human source who provided information about the investigation. There is not sufficient reliable public evidence to entirely understand who the source or sources are, their connection to the campaign or law enforcement, how the relationship came to be, or what information they provided. There is at least some information indicating the source was not "planted." Given this, there is also not yet any public evidence to conclude the FBI did anything improper with this source or that it is "bigger than Watergate."

  • Your post may warrant an update. nypost.com/2018/05/19/… – fredsbend May 20 '18 at 14:08
  • @fredsbend I'm not seeing anything in that link (or the Daily Caller stories, which I read before writing the updates) that adds new information related to the claims in this question. I can identify the informant by name if that makes you happy, but I'm not seeing anything in your link that would shed new light on any of the informant's actions not already reported. Am I missing something? – Zach Lipton May 20 '18 at 19:28
  • I didn't read it ... just the headline. – fredsbend May 21 '18 at 14:49
  • 2
    I think the new info - the specifics of the informant, himself - is relevant, and you are missing the mark a bit with the "embedded informant" definition. It is really much more straightforward than that. This person was not part of the campaign, actually. He just had contact with high-level campaign members, whether they were consulting him or not, and he was not formally part of the election campaign staff. Overall, I like this this a bit better than the accepted answer. +1 – PoloHoleSet May 22 '18 at 15:47

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .