An interesting situation has begun to develop following concurrent articles from the New York Times and Washington Post about an FBI informant that allegedly met with Trump advisors.
The media response has been fractured with several different narratives being told.
With so many different accusations being thrown around, it can be difficult to cut through the bias and find the truth, so let’s dive in and see what the press is saying.
Prior to the Articles Being Published
The Intercept (Center) in their great analysis describe the situation prior to the NYT and WaPo articles:
Over the past several weeks, House Republicans have been claiming that the FBI during the 2016 election used an operative to spy on the Trump campaign, and they triggered outrage within the FBI by trying to learn his identity. […]
In response, the DOJ and the FBI’s various media spokespeople did not deny the core accusation, but quibbled with the language (the FBI used an “informant,” not a “spy”), and then began using increasingly strident language to warn that exposing his name would jeopardize his life and those of others, and also put American national security at grave risk. […]
What is so controversial about all of this?
The controversial aspects of the case center around a a few key points:
- Is there culpability in revealing the FBI informant? The FBI and DOJ have been refusing to name the informant, insisting that doing so would endanger lives. Several accusations are being thrown around regarding the culpability of revealing his identity.
- Were the FBI informant’s interactions with Trump advisors aboveboard, or were they somehow politically motivated? The FBI informant appears to have been contacting Trump advisors prior to the date established by the NYT and FBI as the start of the investigation. This would seem to contradict their earlier statements about why the investigation was started, and raise more questions about the motivations behind the investigation.
What the NYT and WaPo Articles Said
The NYT and WaPo articles both state an unnamed FBI informant made contact with several Trump advisors during his campaign. Halper allegedly met with several Trump advisors, including George Papadopoulos.
The NYT article is mainly focused around the informants interactions with George Papadopoulos. For the uninitiated, Papadopoulos had bragged to an Australian Diplomat about having access to hacked DNC emails prior to their public release, an event the NYT had claimed back in December began the FBI’s inquiry into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The Washington Post article, however, mentions several interactions between the informant and Carter Page, who Trump had named as his foreign secretary advisor, and appears to contradict the NYT timeline of the investigation.
Exactly when the professor began working on the case is unknown.
The FBI formally opened its counterintelligence investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 campaign on July 31, 2016, spurred by a report from Australian officials that Papadopoulos boasted to an Australian diplomat of knowing that Russia had damaging material about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The professor’s interactions with Trump advisers began a few weeks before the opening of the investigation, when Page met the professor at the British symposium.
Several conservative outlets confirmed** the informant** met **Page **prior to **Papadopoulos **bragging to the Australian minister. Breitbart says:
[..] the problem with that account is that the FBI informant had approached Trump campaign adviser** Carter Page before that email release on **July 22, 2016, and before the Australians came forward with the information.
The informant first approached Carter Page at a Cambridge symposium on the U.S. presidential election in London on July 11–12, 2016. Page was invited to the symposium in June 2016 by an unnamed doctoral student at Cambridge who knew Halper, according to a source.
This would seem to imply that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign before the date they had previously indicated.
Is there culpability in revealing the source?
Several of the far left outlets are attempting to frame the story around the idea that revealing the source has somehow been a national security risk.
Salon published an article saying the event has sparked a debate on treason, which ironically doesn’t actually feature the word “treason” aside from the title.
ThinkProgress also published an article implying that not only did revealing the source create a security risk, but that Republicans were somehow responsible.
Who Actually Revealed The Source?
Neither the New York Times or the Washington Post explicitly named the source, but they did list several specific details that allowed him to be identified, including:
- “an American academic who teaches in Britain”
- “also met repeatedly in the ensuing months with the other aide, Carter Page.”
- who met with Page “at a symposium about the White House race held at a British university.”
Indeed, shorty after the articles were published, The Daily Caller was able to identify the source as Stephen A. Halper.
While neither the NYT or the WaPo explicitly named the source, other outlets generally agree they published enough information for the source to be identified. The Intercept notes:
[..] both the Washington Post and New York Times — whose reporters, like pretty much everyone in Washington, knew exactly who the FBI informant is — published articles that, while deferring to the FBI’s demands by not naming him, provided so many details about him that it made it extremely easy to know exactly who it is.
Was revealing the source a national security risk?
The Intercept also notes how absurd the claim that revealing **Halper’s **identity posed a national security risk is.
Earlier this week, records of payments were found that were made during 2016 to Halper by the Department of Defense’s Office of Net Assessment, though it not possible from these records to know the exact work for which these payments were made. The Pentagon office that paid Halper in 2016, according to a 2015 Washington Post story on its new duties, “reports directly to Secretary of Defense and focuses heavily on future threats, has a $10 million budget.”
It is difficult to understand how identifying someone whose connections to the CIA is a matter of such public record, and who has a long and well-known history of working on spying programs involving presidential elections on behalf of the intelligence community, could possibly endanger lives or lead to grave national security harm.
It seems likely, then, that the idea that revealing this source was some sort of a security risk, is an attempt by several of the more left leaning outlets to distract from the legitimate concerns that are surfacing.
Were the FBI informant’s interactions with Trump advisors aboveboard, or were they somehow politically motivated?
The primary question around all of this is whether the informants interactions with the Trump campaign were part of a legitimate investigation, or if they were politically motivated.
Because the intent is so critical in this case, the media on both sides have been attempting to frame the incident in a way that supports their narrative.
What the right is saying
Right wing sources frequently refer to the informant as an FBI spy, some claiming he was “inside the campaign”.
What the left is saying
The fixation around the use of the word ‘spy’ is especially interesting because the article they are referring to from the NYT is titled “F.B.I. Used Informant to Investigate Russia Ties to Campaign, Not to Spy, as Trump Claims”.
The Intercept points out an odd conversation between CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and the New York Times’ Trip Gabriel that seems to “vividly illustrate the strange machinations used by journalists to justify how all of this is being characterized”.
Several other Liberal outlets are trying desperately to frame the story the same way as the NYT, with responses ranging from the Washington Post claiming the informant was protecting Trump:
To CNN using language like “informant talked to” :
To CBS’ laughably awkward “interacted with”:
Another popular strategy appears to be to attempt to discredit Trumps claims entirely:
What the center is saying
Center outlets are trying to call attention to the lengths both sides are going through to frame the context within their own narrative, and urging readers not to simply dismiss the claims as unfounded, while admitting the scope and intent of the FBI’s use of the informant is currently unknown.
NBC News says the claims may not be unfounded:
But it would not be absurd to think the FBI might have sent informants to speak to suspects in their counterintelligence investigation into whether anyone in the Trump orbit was working with Russia to interfere in the presidential election. In fact, it would have been accepted procedure for the FBI.
The Intercept goes through great lengths to illustrate the bizarre way the media is framing the issue, and points out a huge missing piece of the puzzle: the same FBI informant was used in an unethical and potentially criminal election spying operation in the 1980s, a fact which would have been known by both the NYT and the Washington Post.
The NYT in 1983 said the Reagan campaign spying operation “involved a number of retired Central Intelligence Agency officials and was highly secretive.” The article, by then-NYT reporter Leslie Gelb, added that its “sources identified Stefan A. Halper, a campaign aide involved in providing 24-hour news updates and policy ideas to the traveling Reagan party, as the person in charge.”
[…] Halper, through his CIA work, has extensive ties to the Bush family. Few remember that the CIA’s perceived meddling in the 1980 election — its open support for its former Director, George H.W. Bush to become President — was a somewhat serious political controversy. And Halper was in that middle of that, too.
[…] So as it turns out, the informant used by the FBI in 2016 to gather information on the Trump campaign was not some previously unknown, top-secret asset whose exposure as an operative could jeopardize lives. Quite the contrary: his decades of work for the CIA — including his role in an obviously unethical if not criminal spying operation during the 1980 presidential campaign — is quite publicly known.
The Intercept also points out this raises several questions that should not be ignored:
THERE IS NOTHING inherently untoward, or even unusual, about the FBI using informants in an investigation. One would expect them to do so. But the use of Halper in this case, and the bizarre claims made to conceal his identity, do raise some questions that merit further inquiry.
While it’s not rare for the FBI to gather information before formally opening an investigation, Halper’s earlier snooping does call into question the accuracy of the NYT’s claim that it was the drunken Papadopoulos ramblings that first prompted the FBI’s interest in these possible connections. And it suggests that CIA operatives, apparently working with at least some factions within the FBI, were trying to gather information about the Trump campaign earlier than had been previously reported.
Then there are questions about what appear to be some fairly substantial government payments to Halper throughout 2016.
Before finally concluding:
Whatever else is true, the CIA operative and FBI informant used to gather information on the Trump campaign in the 2016 campaign has, for weeks, been falsely depicted as a sensitive intelligence asset rather than what he actually is: a long-time CIA operative with extensive links to the Bush family who was responsible for a dirty and likely illegal spying operation in the 1980 presidential election. For that reason, it’s easy to understand why many people in Washington were so desperate to conceal his identity, but that desperation had nothing to do with the lofty and noble concerns for national security they claimed were motivating them.
The Hill, in an apparent plea to other media organizations, published an article expressing concern over the claims, stating that exposing the truth is in everyones interest.
I have been highly critical of Trump’s attacks on the media. However, that does not mean his objections are wholly unfounded, and this seems one such example. There may have been legitimate reasons to investigate Russian influence before the election. Yet, very serious concerns are raised by the targeting of an opposing party in the midst of a heated election. These concerns will be magnified by the use of a confidential source to elicit information from Trump campaign associates, though officials deny that the FBI actually had an informant inside the campaign.
They go on to offer an excellent summary of why its so important for both sides to cut through the bias and be properly informed about the situation.
Just as it is too early to support allegations of a conspiracy to frame Trump, it is too early to dismiss allegations of bias against Trump. As shown by many of the emails and later criminal referrals and disciplinary actions at the FBI, an open hostility to Trump existed among some bureau figures. Moreover, the extensive unmasking of Trump figures and false statements from FBI officials cannot be dismissed as irrelevant.
As a nation committed to the rule of law, we need a full and transparent investigation of these allegations. All of the allegations. That includes both the investigation of special counsel Mueller and the investigation of these latest allegations involving the FBI. For many Trump supporters, this new information deepens suspicions of the role of the “deep state.” If we ever hope to come out of these poisonous times as a unified nation, the public must be allowed to see the full record on both sides.
To conclude, the Conservative media is trying to frame the event as an attempt by the opposing political party to spy on the Trump campaign.
The Liberal media is trying to discredit or downplay the claims.
The Center media is urging people not to ignore the claims, while at the same time not jumping to conclusions.
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