President Trump on Friday dinged The New York Times for “finally” reporting that the FBI sent a “spy” to meet with a member of his 2016 campaign staff to see if the campaign was working with Russia.
“Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved — too ‘hot’ to avoid. 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!” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump’s tweet followed the publication on the Times’ front page of a story headlined “F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet With Trump Aide in 2016.” The story said in September 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation dispatched a woman to meet with then-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to gather information on allegations that the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia to alter the outcome of the presidential election.
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 American government’s affiliation with the woman, who said 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. Last year, he called it Spygate.
The Times calls the woman an “investigator,” not a “spy.”
Attorney General William Barr has asserted that spying did, in fact, occur, and during his testimony before a Senate committee on Wednesday defended his use of the word.
“I’m not going to abjure the use of the word ‘spying.’ I think, you know, my first job was in CIA. And I don’t think the word ‘spying’ has any pejorative connotation at all,” Barr said in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “I think ‘spying’ is a good English word that in fact doesn’t have synonyms because it is the broadest word incorporating really all forms of covert intelligence collection.”
In another hearing last month, Barr said “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal.”
“I think spying did occur,” the Attorney General said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. But I need to explore that,” he said, vowing to look into both “the genesis and the conduct” of the FBI probe.
But the Times said in its report Friday that the FBI was “alarmed” and had to act.
The decision to use Ms. Turk in the operation aimed at a presidential campaign official shows the level of alarm inside the F.B.I. during a frantic period when the bureau was trying to determine the scope of Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election, but could also give ammunition to Mr. Trump and his allies for their spying claims.
The paper also cited FBI officials who called “the bureau’s activities in the months before the election both legal and carefully considered under extraordinary circumstances.”
But the Bureau’s actions are now under investigation by Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, and his findings are expected to be released this month or next.