Talk of unproven FBI ‘plant’ in Trump campaign circulates among Republicans
A small cadre of House Republicans believe that they have sniffed out the identity of a confidential FBI informant who reportedly met with Trump campaign officials during the election.
The GOP lawmakers have raised alarm bells about the alleged source in service of their argument that the FBI may have inappropriately “spied” on members of the Trump campaign during the election.
But none of the lawmakers have so far made their suspicions about the person’s identity public, and some Republicans privately fear that the alleged informant has been misidentified.
The Justice Department is refusing to provide access to the information lawmakers need to confirm their suspicions—arguing that doing so would endanger the person’s life.
But this had done little to check conservatives who have publicly suggested that the FBI placed a “mole” in Trump’s campaign in order to manufacture evidence against him.
President Trump amplified the allegations on Friday, quoting a claim from Fox News anchor David Asman that the Justice Department “put a spy in the Trump campaign” in order to “frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.”
GOP lawmakers aligned with Trump throughout the week have made repeated appearances on Fox News to air their suspicions.
“If they did this, if there was a plant, if there was a spy, if there was an informant put in the other party’s campaign during the election, that is as wrong as it gets,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told the network on Friday.
The FBI never had enough credible evidence to justify opening the probe, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told Fox and Friends on Tuesday.
“I think if the campaign was somehow set up, I think that would be a problem, right? If there were somehow meetings that occurred and all of this was a setup?” said Nunes, who is demanding documents related to the opening of the investigation but insists that he is not seeking the identity of the source.
The furor coincides with the one-year mark of special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment—a controversial anniversary that has heralded a more aggressive push from the White House and from Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill to “fight back” against the probe.
The uproar began a week ago with a subpoena from Nunes. DOJ responded that it was “not in a position to provide information responsive to your request regarding a specific individual.”
Nunes and other conservatives have threatened to either impeach or hold in contempt senior officials at the department if their demands are not met.
Conservative media has been churning over the identity of the informant for months—Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday said winkingly “I think we know [the source’s name]”—but it is not clear how GOP members reached their conclusion.
One of President Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, told CNN on Friday that neither the president nor his legal team knows “for sure” if the FBI used a confidential informant in its investigation into the Trump campaign.
“I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one,” Giuliani said. “For a long time we’ve been told there was some kind of infiltration. At one time, the president thought it was a wire tap.”
Trump’s claims that former President Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower have been widely debunked, although some conservatives maintain that the “unmasking” of former national security advisor Michael Flynn substantiates the president’s allegations.
Although the name has been whispered around Capitol Hill for weeks, some Intelligence Committee lawmakers claim not to know the source’s identity at all. Amongst themselves, they refer to the informant as “Source Number Two,” according to one source.
The Hill is not reporting the identity of the person House members have identified because none of the lawmakers have been willing to make on the record comments about the person, nor has The Hill corroborated that this person was cooperating with the FBI or the CIA.
Nunes told Fox and Friends this week that the committee was tipped off to the existence of a “human source” by the founder of Fusion GPS, the firm that contracted the production of an opposition research dossier into Trump that conservatives also believe was inappropriately used during the investigation. The dossier was paid for in part by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent in the election.
“What happened with that is that in [Glenn Simpson’s] testimony he mentioned that there was a source within the campaign,” Nunes said.
“We believe he was telling the truth. And what we’re trying to do is get the documents to figure out—did they actually have, what methods were used to open this counterintelligence investigation?”
Simpson told Senate Judiciary Committee investigators in August that the former spy who compiled the dossier told him that the FBI had an informant in the Trump campaign.
A source close to Fusion GPS later said that Simpson misspoke, mischaracterizing a tip that an Australian diplomat gave the bureau related to Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos — the tip that is now believed to have been the predicate for the counterintelligence investigation.
Conservatives suggest that there is something fishy about the timeline of events leading to the launch of the investigation in late July 2016 — unproven claims that gained traction but little clarity throughout the week.
The hurdle for using a confidential informant in an investigation into a political campaign, they say, should be higher than for a probe into any other private organization.
Nunes, together with House Oversight Committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), have been in discussions with the Justice Department about the subpoena. The two had what they described as a “productive” meeting with the department last week.
Three House conservatives — none of whom sit on the Intelligence Committee — urged Trump this week to intervene in the dispute to force the Justice Department to turn over the information they seek.
The push-and-pull hints at a deep and growing mistrust between the House GOP and the nation’s top law enforcement agency.
“As anybody in the intelligence community knows, human sources in particular who put themselves at great risk to work with us and with our foreign partners have to be able trust that we’re going to protect their identities and, in many cases, their lives and lives of their families,” FBI Director Chris Wray said during a routine budget hearing on Wednesday.
“And the day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe.