The FBI informant assigned to spy on Trump associates came up empty, according to the Justice Department’s inspector general report, which for first time discloses snippets of secretly recorded conversations.
The report discloses that the FBI dispatched against Trump allies multiple unnamed FBI informants known as confidential human sources (CHS). The most publicized was Stefan Halper, a longtime Washington national security figure and Cambridge University professor. He ingratiated himself to George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, while also attempting to engage with a senior Trump campaign official in New York.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz’s Dec. 9 report says that rather than hearing incriminating statements, Mr. Halper (whom he did not identify) recorded conversations that could be seen as exculpatory.
Mr. Horowitz rapped the FBI for not including them in four sworn affidavits agents presented to federal judges to authorize Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) electronic and physical spying on Mr. Page.
In his book “Deep State Target,” Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, recounted how Mr. Halper contacted him by email “out of the blue” with the promise of a $3,000 energy study if he came to London. Mr. Halper introduced him to Azra Turk, whom he described as an office assistant.
Mr. Page, also a campaign adviser, was invited to a Cambridge conference where he met Mr. Halper in early July, weeks before the FBI formally opened Crossfire Hurricane. They engaged in subsequent discussions at Mr. Halper’s Virginia farm.
The Papadopoulos London networking had begun that spring. He met another professor, Joseph Mifsud, who held academic posts in Rome and the United Kingdom. After a panel appearance at a think tank in Russia, Mr. Mifsud said he had heard the Kremlin owned Hillary Clinton emails. A month later, in May 2016, Papadopoulos relayed some of the information over drinks to an Australian ambassador.
After WikiLeaks released stolen emails, the Australian government notified the U.S., prompting the FBI to officially open the Trump-Russia probe on July 31, 2016.
Attorney General William Barr says the FBI started the investigation on flimsy grounds. He has tapped John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to conduct an inquiry into the origins of Crossfire Hurricane.
“To lead to the conclusion that it showed knowledge of a later hack into the DNC [Democratic National Committee] was a pretty aggressive conclusion,” Mr. Barr told Martha MacCallum on Fox News’ “The Story” last week. “I just think that by the time the president entered office — around that time — [it was] becoming clear that there was no basis to these allegations not just the [Christopher Steele] dossier falling apart, but the information that they were relying on as to Page and to Papadopoulos.”
According to special counsel Robert Mueller, no evidence ever surfaced that Papadopoulos acted on the Mifsud tip: He didn’t try to obtain emails and never told the campaign. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about when he began talking to Mr. Mifsud. A judge sentenced him to 14 days in jail. He now is running for Congress in California.
The Mueller report paints Mr. Mifsud as a Russian messenger. Papadopoulos believes he is a Western intelligence informant. So does Mr. Mifsud’s lawyer, who says his client vanished after the Mueller report debuted in March. There has been no independent confirmation that Mr. Mifsud worked for a Western spy service.
Mr. Durham has been looking into Mr. Mifsud and, according to a defense attorney court filing in a criminal case, his office took possession of two cellphones used by the Maltese professor.
Here is the general picture drawn by Mr. Horowitz on the FBI’s use of confidential human sources (CHS) against Trump associates.
There were “several,” the report said, assigned to all four initial subjects: Mr. Page, Papadopoulos, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
“Other” informants were dispatch against Papadopoulos besides Mr. Halper but made no inroads, the IG said.
‘No one’s collaborating’
The report also confirms for the first time that the FBI had CHS who played roles in the Trump campaign and as outside associates. One provided Crossfire Hurricane with general information on Mr. Page and Manafort.
The IG report said: “We also identified several individuals who had either a connection to candidate Trump or a role in the Trump campaign, and were also FBI CHSs, but who were not tasked as part of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. One such CHS did provide the Crossfire Hurricane team with general information about Crossfire Hurricane subjects Page and Manafort, but we found that this CHS had no further involvement in the investigation.”
The Papadopoulos-Halper meeting, as he wrote in “Deep State Target,” began in September 2016, when he received an email from Mr. Halper “out of the blue” to return to London and conduct a Mediterranean energy study. The reward: $3,000.
He immediately was invited for a drink by Azra Turk, identified as Mr. Halper’s office assistant.
“Azra Turk is a vision right out of central casting for a spy flick,” he wrote. “She’s a sexy bottle blonde in her thirties, and she isn’t shy about showing her curves — as if anyone could miss them. She’s a fantasy’s fantasy.”
She asked him if he was working with Russia. He said no.
He first met Mr. Halper, a portly man known to some as The Walrus, at London’s classic The Travellers Club, a cushioned high-ceiling gentlemen’s hangout for statesmen and ambassadors.
“I go upstairs and find The Walrus sitting in a private room,” Papadopoulos wrote. “He is cartoonishly massive, and the cartoonishly voluptuous Azra Turk is with him.”
There was no Russia chatter that time. But at a second meeting at the swank Hotel Sofitel London St. James, Mr. Halper pulled out his cellphone, placed it on the table and pushed it closer to Papadopoulos. This time, Russia, not Mediterranean gas fields, was on his mind.
“George, you and your campaign are involved in hacking and working with Russia, right?” was one leading question.
The Horowitz report supplies Papadopoulos’ answer, perhaps recorded on that cellphone. WikiLeaks by then had released thousands of Democratic Party emails. U.S. intelligence said the emails were transferred from Russian military agents who did the hacking.
Papadopoulos told Mr. Halper the “campaign, of course, [does not] advocate for this type of activity because at the end of the day it’s … illegal,” according to the IG report.
He also said “our campaign is not. … engag[ing] or reaching out to WikiLeaks or to the whoever it is to tell them please work with us, collaborate because we don’t, no one does that …”
He told Mr. Halper he knew “for a fact” the campaign had no role. Papadopoulos also said that “as far as I understand … no one’s collaborating, there’s been no collusion and it’s going to remain that way.”
The Crossfire Hurricane team, led by agent Peter Strzok, a Trump detractor, didn’t provide this information for inclusion to the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence (OI), which drafted the FISA warrants on Mr. Page.
Mr. Horowitz listed that FBI decision as one of 17 glaring omissions or inaccuracies that misled the FISA judges who signed four surveillance warrants on Mr. Page.
“None of these inaccuracies and omissions were brought to the attention of OI before the last FISA application was filed in June 2017,” the IG said. “Consequently, these failures were repeated in all three renewal applications.”
Concerning Mr. Page, an energy investor who lived and worked in Moscow from 2004 to 2007, he had a discussion with Mr. Halper in August 2016. He made an unequivocal denial of a link to Manafort, saying he “literally never met” the political operative.
This denial was relevant because the FBI included in its sworn affidavit allegations from a source — described by the IG as “Person 1,” who was used by British former spy Christopher Steele to write his Democratic Party-financed dossier.
Person 1 told Mr. Steele that Mr. Page and Manafort worked as a team to coordinate with the Kremlin in election interference.
This charge, like many in the dossier, proved untrue, according to the Mueller report.
Mr. Page also told Mr. Halper that he never met Igor Sechin and Igor Divyekin, two Kremlin operatives, as asserted by Mr. Steele.
That supposed meeting was the meat of the FISA wiretap allegation, which Mr. Horowitz called “central or essential” to the FBI gaining authority.
Mr. Horowitz questioned the entire basis for Crossfire Hurricane, saying the Page and Papadopoulos recorded statements “raised questions about the validity of allegations under investigation.”
The Horowitz report contains some anecdotes on CHS’s who were close to Donald Trump.
There was the one who provided “general information” to the Crossfire team about Mr. Page and Manafort in August 2016.
A senior agent told the IG it was “not what we were looking for.”
That same agent did contact the handling agent for a different CHS who had worked on the campaign.
The agent told the IG the CHS might receive “a position somewhere in the administration,” which would be a “sensitive matter that we would need to handle differently.”
The handling agent later met with the CHS to ask about “insights” on the incoming administration.
The Crossfire Hurricane team sent an email to the handling agent asking that the informant conduct “passive listening.”
The email said:
“After careful consideration, the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE team has decided, at this time, it is best to utilize your CHS as a passive listening post regarding any observations [he/she] has of the campaign so far. Base[d] on current, on-going operations/developments in the CROSSFIRE HURRICANE investigation, we are not going to directly task or sensitize the CHS at this point in time. We appreciate [your] assistance in this matter and remain interested in any campaign related reporting that you guys may receive from the CHS during normal debriefs.”
• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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