Did the FBI Have More Than One Informant Contacting the Trump Campaign?

Washington has been roiled by the news that the FBI may not have simply mounted surveillance against Trump aides suspected of being cozy with the Kremlin. The story is that the bureau sent an “informant”—some may be so louche as to even say “spy”—to make nice with the possible malefactors. He was an American professor at a British university, and he brought a young woman along to assist him in his snooping.

Even not counting the assistant, there’s now the possibility there were more agents in play.

“Let me tell you something that I know for a fact,” onetime Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. “This informant, this person that they tried to plant into the campaign…he’s not the only person who came at the campaign.” How does Caputo know this? “I know because they came at me.”

Well let’s hope so. Because if there were going to be clandestine informants trying to suss out Trump connections with the Kremlin, Michael Caputo would have to have been an obvious candidate for the target-list. He had worked for years in post-Soviet Russia and later in Ukraine. If there was an investigation into suspected Russia meddling and the FBI didn’t take a look at Caputo, it would be a strange and troubling oversight.

So let’s assume there was a second confidential informant, might there be a third or a fourth? Why not? In fact, if there weren’t others gathering intel on Trump’s people, you have to ask how serious the FBI was about investigating Russia-Trump rumors in the first place.

House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes has described the introduction of an informant into campaign circles as crossing a “red line.” His point is that intelligence agencies shouldn’t open a counterintelligence probe into a presidential campaign without compelling reasons, especially if the candidacy being investigated is of the opposite party of the incumbent administration.

Did the FBI have the sort of serious evidence that would convince a reasonable person that it was necessary to use covert assets against the Trump campaign? Well, what about Christopher Steele’s dossier on Trump? Oppo research paid for and provided by the opposing campaign is suspect to begin with and hardly the stuff to cross a red line for. But even aside from its corrupted provenance, the dossier cannot be read with a straight face.

But let’s stipulate, as the lawyers like to say, that some such hypothetically compelling reason for sending a spy did in fact exist. Let’s say there was a clear danger that Putin had, or could get, his hooks into Donald Trump or his team. Facing such an appalling threat, what sort of HUMINT assets do US intelligence agencies employ? They send a comically corpulent old don (he could have been played by Sidney Greenstreet if the movie version of the affair were made in the ’40s) to chat up a few peripheral campaign figures.

That’s it?

Applying spycraft to an opposing campaign can only be justified with a damn good reason; but if the reason is that good, it demands the application of serious spycraft. What we know of the professor angling for intelligence tidbits suggests that the scale of the investigation did not jibe with the sort of evidence that would have legitimately compelled such an investigation in the first place. Either the reason wasn’t serious enough or the response wasn’t serious enough.

Unless, of course, there were more intelligence assets being deployed against Team Trump than we know about. Maybe Caputo is right that he was being targeted by a yet unnamed government informant. And maybe there were others—at least one would hope so if the probable cause was not improbable.

Then again, there are reasons to think that key FBI officials—even well into the bureau’s efforts to investigate Trump—weren’t exactly burning with zeal to see it through. Take FBI headquarters pals Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, whose text messages provide a peephole on the bureau’s backbiting bureaucratic culture. Starting out on the probe into Trump, at the end of July, 2016, Strzok enthuses to Page: “And damn this feels momentous. Because this matters.” He dismisses the FBI investigation into Hillary as something that only mattered because of the importance that “we didn’t F something up.” By contrast, “This matters because this MATTERS,” Strzok declares, adding “So super glad to be on this voyage with you.”

So far, so excited. But jump to the next May, when the two of them are being recruited for special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The enthusiasm for the voyage is significantly diminished. Strzok is concerned about what the hours might be, given Mueller’s reputation as a workaholic. “My worry,” Strzok texts to Page, “is that all these attorneys that they’re bringing from the private sector will be used to long hours, because they’re used to law firm salaries. They won’t mind missing the money, but will bring that same expectation of long long hours.”

“They are working very very long hours already,” Page replies. “And every weekend,”

“Sigh,” emotes Strzok, “That’s what I was afraid of.”

Is a government worker’s desire to stick to government hours consistent with the imperative of confronting a Manchurian President? Maybe poor Strzok was just tired after a tumultuous year. Or maybe there wasn’t the evidence in hand needed to keep the old belly-fire stoked.

In any case, what we know so far of the FBI investigation in Trump’s people is that it was either far bigger and more intrusive than was warranted, or not nearly big enough.

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