The White House on Friday seized on revelations that the FBI during the 2016 campaign sent an undercover investigator to meet with an aide to then-candidate Donald Trump, with the president calling the news “bigger than Watergate.”
Trump praised one of his most frequent media foes, The New York Times, for its reporting, while his reelection campaign lit into investigators and Vice President Mike Pence called the bureau’s actions “very troubling.”
“Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved – too ‘hot’ to avoid,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Pulitzer Prize anyone? The New York Times, on front page (finally), ‘Details effort to spy on Trump Campaign.’ @foxandfriends This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!”
At the heart of Trump’s claim is a Times report out Thursday that a woman, sent by the FBI, identified herself as an assistant to a Cambridge researcher when she met in London in 2016 with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who later pleaded guilty to making false statements to the bureau. The woman was sent as part of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
The revelation that the bureau sent someone undercover to meet with Papadopoulos has fueled the president’s and his allies’ insistence that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation was politically motivated and that the Trump 2016 campaign was under inappropriate surveillance.
That investigation, however, was reportedly opened after Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that Russians had offered to help Trump’s campaign, before the aide met the undercover woman.
The woman, who identified herself as Azra Turk, posed for her meeting with the Trump campaign aide as an assistant to Cambridge professor and government informant Stefan Halper. The meeting veered eventually from its purported purpose, foreign policy, to the woman directly asking Papadopoulos whether the Trump campaign was working with Russia to interfere in the election. At that point, investigators had been looking into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties for little more than a month, though the politically fraught probe was still being kept under wraps.
The operation “yielded no fruitful information,” the Times reported, and though FBI officials have insisted their investigatory actions taken before the 2016 election were legal, they are being probed by the Justice Department’s inspector general.
The FBI declined to comment to the Times on the undercover effort.