But the significant question is whether any competent counterintelligence officer would not have seen, in this constellation of facts, serious reason to believe that the Trump campaign was profoundly vulnerable to Russian manipulation, even (or especially) if the candidate himself didn’t know about it. Just imagine if Manafort or Flynn hadn’t had their Russia ties exposed and now occupied positions of trust in the White House. The Kremlin would surely know how to leverage their secrets.
Trump is now taking his usual unbridled umbrage at comments by former National Intelligence Director James Clapper, which the president then misquoted, that he should be glad the F.B.I. was looking into potential Russian infiltration of his campaign. Of course he should be glad: The Bureau has now twice rescued him, first by reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails on the eve of the election, and then by clearing out the Russian stooges in his employ.
That Trump won’t acknowledge this means he’s either profoundly foolish or, in ways we don’t yet understand, dangerously complicit. I still lean toward the former interpretation — just.
Did the FBI Have a Spy in the Trump Campaign?
Something tells me Glenn Simpson did not make a mistake. Something tells me the co-founder of Fusion GPS was dead-on accurate when he testified that Christopher Steele told him the FBI had a “human source” — i.e., a spy — inside the Trump campaign as the 2016 presidential race headed into its stretch run.
The Justice Department’s inability, or at least unwillingness, to reveal exactly how, when, and why the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation has fueled suspicions that a spy who worked for both the FBI and the CIA was deployed against the Trump campaign, probably in Britain — where Papadopoulos had met with suspected agents of the Kremlin, and where Steele compiled the dossier via reports from his unidentified sources.
From painstaking research, Nunes and committee staff believe they have identified such a spy. When they demanded information about this person — whose name remains unknown to the public — the Justice Department’s response was not “No, you’re wrong, there was no spying.” It was first to bloviate that the department would not be “extorted” (Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s unusual understanding of what is more commonly known as congressional oversight) and then to claim that providing the information sought by the committee would risk “potential loss of human lives, damage to relationships with valued international partners, compromise of ongoing criminal investigations, and interference with intelligence activities.”
By now, Nunes has learned that if he is catching flak, he is over the target.
.. Simpson explained that Steele had met with at least one FBI agent in Rome in mid to late September 2016. The former British spy had provided the unverified allegations he had compiled to that point
.. Simpson explained to the Senate committee (my italics):
Essentially, what [Christopher Steele] told me was [the FBI] had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source, and that — that they — my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point — that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump campaign.
.. Sounds like the FBI, with support from the CIA, had some cooperative intelligence venture with British authorities that enabled the Bureau to monitor Trump-campaign figures. That is significant because Papadopoulos has acknowledged meeting in Britain with people who claimed Kremlin ties and who told him Russia had thousands of Clinton’s emails. Did the FBI’s British operation involve using a spy to interact with Trump-campaign figures, such as Papadopoulos, on British soil? Brennan didn’t say.
.. Christopher Steele, the former British spy with extensive British intelligence and FBI connections, told his friend Glenn Simpson that the FBI had penetrated the Trump campaign with a “human source” who was helping corroborate the dossier.
Most important is the claim that he maintained a “covert relationship with Russia,” and that in August 2016 Cohen made a secret visit to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, where he reportedly met with senior Kremlin officials. According to the dossier, whose allegations are so far unproven, the Prague meeting was facilitated by Konstantin Kosachev, who heads the Russian Duma’s foreign-relations committee and who may have attended the meeting in person.
Most explosively, the dossier alleges that Cohen’s meeting in Prague in that late summer of 2016 included “secret discussions with Kremlin representatives and associated operators/hackers,” and that “the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.”
.. Sourced to a “Kremlin adviser,” the dossier report said that the meeting was originally planned for Moscow but was “shifted to what was considered an operationally ‘soft’ EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.” And it adds that Cohen’s wife “is of Russian descent and her father [is] a leading property developer in Moscow.” (Michael Cohen’s wife, Laura, is a Ukrainian of Russian descent, according to the dossier; his brother, Bryan, is also married to a Ukrainian; and, like Manafort, the Cohen family has business ties to Ukraine.)
.. So far, the report that Cohen met with Russians in Prague is unverified. Cohen has vigorously denied it, and he’s shown his passport, which lacks a Czech entry stamp, to reporters. However, according to a report by McClatchy, citing “two [unnamed] sources familiar with the matter,” Mueller “has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign.” The McClatchy report, by Peter Stone and Greg Gordon, two veteran investigative journalists, didn’t say whether Cohen met with Kosachev, but it did say that Mueller’s investigators unearthed the fact that Cohen traveled to Prague via Germany, meaning that his passport would not have needed a stamp from the Czech Republic.
.. Third, Cohen was involved in the still mostly unexplained “Ukraine peace plan” that reportedly ended up on the desk of Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, in February 2017 just before Flynn was forced to resign over his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The plan, organized outside regular diplomatic channels, was concocted by a Ukrainian politician, Andrii Artemenko, reportedly at the behest of top aides to President Putin. The plan, which would have resulted in eliminating or easing Western sanctions on Russia over its annexation of the Ukrainian province of Crimea, was cooked up in conjunction with Cohen and Sater. According to the New York Times report, Sater delivered the written plan to Cohen “in a sealed envelope,” and Cohen placed it in Flynn’s office.
.. Fourth, as The Wall Street Journal revealed in a stunning exposé, Cohen was the attorney who arranged a $1.6 million payoff to quiet a scandal involving an affair between Elliott Broidy, a top Republican Party fundraising official, and a Playboy Playmate. But Broidy has a part to play in the Russia scandal, too: Along with an operative named George Nader, who was picked up by federal agents at an airport and who’s now cooperating with Mueller’s office, Broidy was a principal in a scheme to boost US support for the United Arab Emirates over Qatar, in a tangled dispute among Arab nations of the Persian Gulf. Nader is an adviser to the UAE, and as the Times recently reported, Nader maintains business ties to Russia, including working on arms deals.
.. Meanwhile, the Times reported, Broidy “owns a private security company with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the United Arab Emirates, and he extolled to Mr. Trump a paramilitary force that his company was developing for the country.” And it was Nader who arranged the secret meeting between Erik Prince, top UAE officials, and a Russian wheeler-dealer named Kirill Dmitriev, a meeting that Mueller is now investigating because it was apparently aimed at setting up some sort of back-channel links between Moscow and the incoming administration in Washington.
The F.B.I. agents who raided the office and hotel of President Trump’s lawyer on Monday were seeking all records related to the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Mr. Trump was heard making vulgar comments about women, according to three people who have been briefed on the contents of a federal search warrant.
The search warrant also sought evidence of whether the lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, tried to suppress damaging information about Mr. Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.
.. People close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cohen regard the warrant as an attempt by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to pry into Mr. Trump’s personal life — using other prosecutors as his proxy.