President Donald Trump on Friday called revelations that the FBI sent an undercover investigator to meet with an aide to his 2016 campaign “bigger than Watergate,” praising one of his most frequent media foes, The New York Times, for its reporting.
“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!”
Story Continued Below
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.
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 illegally surveilled.
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, into 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.
In the wake of Mueller concluding his investigation earlier this year without finding a conspiracy to collude with Russians, Trump and his allies have clamored for an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, calls Attorney General William Barr has said he supports.
Barr came under fire last month when he told lawmakers it was possible there was “spying” on the Trump campaign that should be looked into. He has since defended his use of the term “spying,” arguing that there was likely more involved in the probe’s genesis than what is publicly known.
Though the Russia investigation was triggered by Papadopoulos’ disclosure to an Australian diplomat that he’d been told Russia had “dirt” on Trump’s opponent Hillary Clinton, the president has repeatedly and incorrectly claimed that it was based off an unsubstantiated dossier claiming Russia had compromising information on him that was funded by his political opponents.
Late Thursday however, Trump appeared to call for dropping an investigation into his investigators before returning to his insistence that the Russia probe had been rigged.
“OK, so after two years of hard work and each party trying their best to make the other party look as bad as possible, it’s time to get back to business,” he wrote in a pair of tweets. “The Mueller Report strongly stated that there was No Collusion with Russia (of course) and, in fact, they were rebuffed at every turn in attempts to gain access. But now Republicans and Democrats must come together for the good of the American people. No more costly & time consuming investigations.”