Fox News’ flagship morning show, Fox & Friends, is attempting to scandalize recent reports that a confidential informant for the FBI made contact with at least two of President Donald Trump’s campaign advisers as part of an ongoing counterintelligence investigation of Russian links to his 2016 campaign. As Fox & Friends continues to express shock and dismay over the so-called “surveillance of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration” throughout the presidential race, The New York Times noted that the FBI chose to dispatch a confidential informant “to talk to two campaign advisers only after they received evidence that the pair had suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign,” which intelligence experts have deemed to be standard operating procedure for a counterintelligence investigation.
In an almost breathless attempt to scandalize the U.S. intelligence community’s efforts to thwart a possible Russian infiltration of a major political party’s presidential campaign, Fox & Friends has tried to cast the counterintelligence efforts during the 2016 campaign in a political light, referring to the investigation as “surveillance of the Trump campaign by the Obama administration.” Following in lockstep with other right-wing attempts , Fox News contributor Mollie Hemingway complained while appearing on the show that “the Obama administration behaved in a really reckless fashion” when the FBI dispatched a confidential informant. From the May 23 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:
Hemingway went on to say that such action should be taken only with “really good cause” and that “we’re not seeing any evidence that there was good cause or anything approaching it.” Moreover, Fox & Friends co-host Steve Doocy objected to the FBI’s actions, saying, “If somebody was going to put a spy into a president's campaign, it would be the Russians, right? It would be the Russians putting somebody in, not our own FBI.”
Except Hemingway and Doocy failed to mention that the FBI did indeed have “good cause” to be concerned about two Trump campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, and their ongoing “suspicious contacts linked to Russia during the campaign.” As The Washington Post noted, one reason the FBI may have been interested in Page’s position on the Trump campaign in 2016 was because, in 2013, Page “came to the attention of FBI counterintelligence agents, who learned that Russian spy suspects had sought to use Page as a source for information”:
Three years before Page became an adviser to the Trump campaign, he came to the attention of FBI counterintelligence agents, who learned that Russian spy suspects had sought to use Page as a source for information.
In that case, one of the Russian suspects, Victor Podobnyy — who was posing as a diplomat and was later charged by federal prosecutors with acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government — was captured on tape in 2013 discussing an effort to get information and documents from Page. …
In one secretly recorded conversation, detailed in the complaint, Podobnyy said Page “wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language. He flies to Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up. Maybe he can. I don’t know, but it’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money.’’
Moreover, according to The New York Times, “F.B.I. officials concluded they had the legal authority to open the investigation after receiving information that Mr. Papadopoulos was told that Moscow had compromising information on Mrs. Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails,’ months before WikiLeaks released stolen messages from Democratic officials. As part of the operation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, the F.B.I. also began investigating Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his future national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.” As independent national security journalist Marcy Wheeler noted, “At the core of this entire conspiracy theory … is the GOP fantasy that the FBI had no business trying to chase down why Papadopoulos knew of the theft [of emails] before the DNC itself did.” She also tweeted:
I'll write this up when I'm back home.
But this is very simple:
CI investigation into Page: 2014 to 9/17.
CI/Criminal investigation into Manafort: 2014 to present.
CI investigation into Flynn: ?? to 11/17.
CI investigation into Trump, post Papa: 7/16 to present.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 22, 2018
If Trump had 1) done the least bit of vetting 2) cared even half as much abt RU spies as he does abt FBI informants 3) not hired so many assets, the FBI wouldn't have had so much they had to check out.
— emptywheel (@emptywheel) May 22, 2018
While Fox & Friends attempts to scandalize what appears to be a typical counterintelligence probe into possible infiltration of a presidential campaign by a hostile intelligence service, experts such as John Sipher, a career CIA official with 28 years of experience running the CIA’s Russia operations, explained that Trump “and his allies have presented absolutely no credible evidence to support their theory that the FBI and other entities in the intelligence community did anything wrong in the course of conducting a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.” In fact, Sipher writes, the president and his enablers in the media are doing lasting damage to how American intelligence agencies do their job:
These actions will [do] damage to the United States’s ability to collect secret intelligence, protect itself from foreign spies and work with foreign partners—they break the trust necessary for intelligence officers and diplomats to do their work. Who would want to talk to the United States after this? If the leaders of the United States don’t trust their own law enforcement and intelligence agencies, why should anyone else?
The damage from this way of doing business will be broad, and we should add to that list the serious damage to our intelligence process. We may never know what sources will not confide in U.S. intelligence officers due to this contrived faux-scandal. Foreign policy is about credibility, and the United States is throwing its away.