President Donald Trump has issued a series of tweets and statements about his concerns that elements of the FBI and Department of Justice were spying on his presidential campaign in 2016. On Thursday, Trump said that former National Intelligence Director James Clapper had acknowledged there was “Spying in my campaign.” This came on the same day that congressional leaders and members of the Trump administration met at the White House to receive classified briefings to address earlier reports that a government informant had contacted members of the Trump campaign in 2016. Reportedly, no one at the Trump campaign knew about the informant.
Trump tweeted on Thursday, “Clapper has now admitted that there was Spying in my campaign. Large dollars were paid to the Spy, far beyond normal. Starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history. SPYGATE - a terrible thing!" On Tuesday, Clapper -- who served under then-president Barack Obama -- was asked on ABC’s “The View” about the reports of an FBI informant. "They were spying on — a term I don't particularly like but — what the Russians were doing," Clapper said. "Trying to understand, were the Russians infiltrating? Trying to gain access, trying to gain leverage and influence? Which is what they do." He said the effort was to protect the U.S. political system and "protect the campaign." When show host Joy Behar asked Clapper how Trump should feel about the revelation, "Well, why doesn't he like that? He should be happy,” Clapper answered, "He should be."
Trump tweeted, "'New Bombshell in the Obama Spying Scandal. Did other Agencies SPY on Trump Campaign?'" Even Clapper, worlds dumbest former Intelligence Head, who has the problem of lying a lot, used the word SPY when describing the illegal activities!" Referring directly to Clapper’s remark, the president tweeted, “‘Trump should be happy that the FBI was SPYING on his campaign'" No, James Clapper, I am not happy. Spying on a campaign would be illegal, and a scandal to boot!" The White House confirmed that the president was indeed referring to Clapper’s remarks.
The Washington Post, AP Wire, and NPR offered fact-check articles about the controversy, while all concluded that the president had misrepresented Clapper’s remarks.
A report in Daily Caller identified Stefan Halper, a professor who has long-standing ties to the intelligence communities in the U.S. and United Kingdom, as the man who served the FBI in an as yet unknown capacity by contacting as many as three Trump campaign advisers in 2016, ostensibly as part of the FBI probe into supposed Russian election meddling. Halper was paid almost $300,000 in various Defense Department contracts in September 2016 that extended into 2018.
The Washington Post reported on March 18 that it had “confirmed the identity of the FBI source who assisted the investigation” but refrained from naming him because of “warnings from U.S. intelligence officials that exposing him could endanger him or his contacts.” The Washington Post wrote that the stakes were high for the informant and that “the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity is revealed." The paper revealed that the agency "is taking steps to protect other live investigations that the person has worked on and is trying to lessen any danger to associates if the informant’s identity becomes known ..."
The New York Times also declined to name Halper as the informant because it “typically does not name informants to preserve their safety.” However, NYT claimed that despite Trump’s assertions about spying, Halper was but an “informant” and that his clandestine contacts with the campaign were "not to spy, as Trump claims." Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post clarified the difference between a spy and an informant. NPR also dismissed Trump’s claim that there was spying on his campaign.
Evidence of whether Halper is indeed the informant, or whether there are other informants or spies who cooperated with the FBI in a probe of Russians meddling or Americans colluding, has yet to be released. On Thursday, two briefings were held at the White House, reportedly to examine reports of the informant. In the morning, the top Republican and top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee met with Justice Department officials, while in the afternoon another briefing was held with the so-called Gang of Eight. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the minority lead on the House Intelligence Committee attended both meetings. The meetings were intended to address the issue of the informant by the FBI in a counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. This came after the president and Republicans had demanded that DOJ investigate reports of an informant.
After the second meeting, Schiff told reporters, "Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a spy in the Trump campaign or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols."
Despite dismissive analysis by mainstream media, Clapper did confirm that there was spying on the campaign. Having rejected Trump’s claims, there has been no examination by mainstream media of whether placing an informant in an opposition party’s presidential campaign is justified.
Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.