The Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a government investigator posing as a research assistant to meet with former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and question him about the campaign’s ties to Russia in London in September 2016, according to a report.
The woman, who called herself “Azra Turk,” had set up the meeting to “discuss foreign policy issues,” but she there as part of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia, according to the New York Times.
At the meeting, which was at a London bar, she asked Papadopoulos whether the Trump campaign was working with Russia.
The Times acknowledged that the new revelation, as described by “people familiar with the operation,” would bolster President Trump’s claims that the former administration spied on his campaign:
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. [emphasis added]
The revelation comes as the Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz readies the release of his findings this month or next on whether the DOJ or the FBI acted improperly during the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign.
It also comes as Attorney General William Barr announced Wednesday he has put together a team to review whether the FBI had a proper reason for “spying on” the Trump campaign.
Democrats have blasted Barr’s use of the word “spying” to describe the previous administration’s surveillance efforts against the Trump campaign.
However, it has been publicly reported that the FBI asked Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper to reach out to members of the Trump campaign and act as an FBI informant. It has also been reported that the FBI obtained four warrants to surveil another Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page.
It is not clear whether Barr already knew of the FBI’s use of “Turk” when he made his comments.
“Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant” and the FISA warrant against Page, Barr said at a hearing on Wednesday.
“I would like to find out whether that is in fact true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.”
The Times report said Horowitz has looked into the activities of Halper.
Indeed, the FBI tasked “Turk” to work with Halper, according to the report. She accompanied Halper in one his meetings with Papadopoulos and met with him and “other campaign aides” separately.
The two exchanged emails while she was in London in 2016, according to the report. She emailed Papadopoulos, saying that meeting him was the “highlight” of her trip to London.
She also wrote, “I am excited about what the future holds for us :).”
In his book, Deep State Target, Papadopoulos describes her as “attractive” and said she almost immediately began questioning him about whether the Trump campaign was working with Russia.
The report said that an FBI agent — a “seasoned counterintelligence investigator out of New York” had asked Halper, a trusted FBI informant, to set up a meeting in London with Papadopoulos.
He asked to meet with him to discuss a Mediterranean natural gas project, and offered $3,000 for his time and a research paper. Turk was to pose as his assistant.
Papadopoulos wrote that Halper also questioned him about hacked emails and whether Russia was helping the campaign.
The Times report said, “British intelligence officials were also notified about the operation,” but it was “unclear” whether they provided assistance. The British government has denied spying on the campaign.
The F.B.I. failed to glean any information of value from the encounters, and Ms. Turk returned to the United States.
Halper also met with Page and another campaign aide, Sam Clovis.
Page has said he first met Halper at a conference he was invited to in London in July, before the FBI said they had a reason to launch a counterintelligence investigation. The Times reported that that meeting was coincidental.
Halper would later be invited to be part of a group of China experts to meet with White Hosue advisers in 2017. He informed the FBI of the invitation, the report said.
The Trump administration would later consider Halper for an ambassadorship, according to Axios.