After two years, over 2,800 subpoenas, and nearly 500 search warrants and witness interviews, Special Counsel Robert Mueller "did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election." While the "Trump-Russia collusion" conspiracy theory that has largely driven the mainstream news cycle for two years is dead, the story behind the investigation is getting juicier by the day.
More details about how U.S. intelligence attempted to infiltrate, or "spy" on, the Trump campaign have come to light, including that the FBI used an "attractive" female undercover investigator in an ultimately fruitless attempt to draw out some relevant "collusion"-related information from Trump aide George Papadopoulos.
"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 New York Times reported Thursday. "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."
The role of the woman, who told Papadopoulos her name was "Azra Turk," is "one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flash point in the face of accusations by President Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances," the Times notes.
Trump has decried the FBI's investigation into his campaign as "Spygate" — and the name seems more appropriate with each new revelation. The Times admits as much, noting that the "Azra Turk" wrinkle could give Trump and his defenders "ammunition" about their "spying" allegations.
Turk reportedly joined informant Stefan A. Halper in London because the bureau wanted to make sure they had a trained investigator to oversee the operation. Halper is a Cambridge professor whose role in the Trump campaign "spying" scandal has been known for months. The Times reports (formatting adjusted):
In his book, “Deep State Target,” Mr. Papadopoulos described her as attractive and said she almost immediately began questioning him about whether the Trump campaign was working with Russia, he wrote. 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.
Despite the repeated attempts by two FBI operatives to get something of worth out of Papadopoulos, the operation "failed to glean any information of value from the encounters," the Times notes. (Read the full report here.)
The role of Turk and the FBI's extensive attempt to get information from Papadopoulos does further damage to FBI top counterintelligence agent Bill Priestap's insistence to Congress that the FBI was not going after Turmp and his campaign. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is currently investigating the FBI's handling of the surveillance of the campaign.
Papadopoulos has since tweeted a response to the Times' report, writing: "I agree with everything in this superb article except “Azra Turk” clearly was not FBI. She was CIA and affiliated with Turkish intel. She could hardly speak English and was tasked to meet me about my work in the energy sector offshore Israel/Cyprus which Turkey was competing with."