Demands for the Justice Department to reveal the name of a confidential FBI source ignore the serious national security implications in the latest battle between the president and his allies, and Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Last week, reports emerged of the existence of a U.S. citizen who provided the CIA and FBI with intelligence in Mueller’s Russia probe. This was then bolstered through news that “at least one government informant” met several times with former Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.
The New York Times has identified the source simply as an “American academic who teaches in Britain,” reporting that late in the summer of 2016 the source made contact with the two Trump campaign aides. The source also reportedly met with Trump’s future national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Questions about the role of this informant are now at the heart of what’s being called an “explosive theory” that the FBI under James Comey planted a mole, or spy, inside the 2016 Trump campaign in order to take down the Republican presidential candidate.
Early Friday Trump took to Twitter. “Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he argued. “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true – all time biggest political scandal!”
However, later that day one of Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph Giuliani, acknowledged that Trump and his legal team did not know with certainty whether the FBI had actually implanted a spy in Trump’s 2016 campaign as alleged.
Speaking on CNN, Guiliani said: “I don’t know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one… For a long time, we’ve been told there was some kind of infiltration.”
Now, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has subpoenaed the Justice Department in a push for information about who the FBI source might be.
But as the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner (VA), warned Friday evening in a statement: “It would be at best irresponsible, and at worst potentially illegal, for members of Congress to use their positions to learn the identity of an FBI source for the purpose of undermining the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in our election.”
“The first thing any new member of the Intelligence Committee learns is the critical importance of protecting sources and methods,” Warner continued. “Publicly outing a source risks not only their life, but the lives of every American, because when sources are burned it makes it that much harder for every part of the intelligence community to gather intelligence on those who wish to do us harm.”
And it is this point that is key to understanding the latest news about a potential FBI informant.
As former FBI agent and senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University, Asha Rangappa, pointed out in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, the investigation into possible campaign ties with Russia began as a counterintelligence probe, “not a criminal one.”
The goal of such a probe, Rangappa writes, is to “identify, monitor and neutralize foreign intelligence activity in the United States.” Rangappa goes on to explain:
Accusations that the FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign – rather than spying on foreign spies, which is its job – erase the important distinctions between counterintelligence and criminal investigations. It also displays a shocking ignorance of the devastating consequences to our national security if the Justice Department hands over the information that Nunes is demanding: “Burning” the FBI’s purported source and exposing how it obtained intelligence against Russia’s efforts only helps Russia cover its tracks, change tactics and improve its future operations against the United States.
Trump and his supporters, Rangappa concludes, “should be glad to know that the FBI appears to have been trying to thwart a hostile country’s efforts to infiltrate his campaign.”