A previously undisclosed letter from the attorney for Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson surfaced on Tuesday confirming anonymous reports that the FBI had an informant in the Trump campaign.
Leaks to the media in recent weeks fueled speculation that the FBI had an informant interacting with the Trump campaign, but the sources remained anonymous, relegating articles on the subject to the opinion pages.
The only person on the record confirming this was Simpson, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August last year that former British spy Christopher Steele relayed a conversation to him where the FBI told of a source inside the Trump campaign.
“Essentially what [Christopher Steele] told me was they had other intelligence about this matter from an internal Trump campaign source and that—that they—my understanding was that they believed Chris at this point—that they believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization,” Simpson told the committee.
That testimony became public on Jan. 9. Simpson also confirmed the existence of an informant in a New York Times column on Jan. 2. The revelation about the informant in the testimony sparked a media firestorm. Hours later, Fusion GPS more or less retracted Simpson’s statement with a reinterpretation of what he said.
The retraction caught the attention of Sen. Chuck Grassley, one of the committee members who heard Simpson testify. Grassley fired off a letter to Simpson’s lawyer asking why, after having spent 14 hours reviewing the transcripts, the lawyer didn’t bother to correct Simpson’s statement.
Grassley’s letter was published on the committee website, but the response from Simpson’s lawyer was never announced, even though it was emailed to Grassley on Jan. 18. On Tuesday, May 15, the letter surfaced in a National Review article by Andrew McCarthy.
“Mr. Simpson stands by his testimony,” Joshua Levy, Simpson’s attorney, wrote.
The significance McCarthy’s finding was noted by President Donald Trump, who wrote in a Twitter message on Thursday that the revelation is “bigger than Watergate.”
Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI “SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.” Andrew McCarthy says, “There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.” If so, this is bigger than Watergate!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
The still unnamed informant was potentially the genesis of the FBI’s official rationale for starting an investigation into the alleged ties between officials from the Trump campaign and Russia.
The longstanding explanation for the start of the probe was leaked by anonymous American officials to the New York Times for an article published on Dec. 30 last year. The newspaper reported that Australians had passed intelligence to the FBI in July 2016 about a drunken conversation between Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos and the top Australian diplomat in Britain, Alexander Downer. The FBI started the investigation that month, according to the Times’ sources.
Both versions of the events are now questionable because no Australian or American official has ever confirmed the Times report on record. Meanwhile, Chairman of House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes found that the FBI did not put forth any electronic communication records between Australian intelligence agencies and their American counterparts to substantiate its investigation.
This has led Nunes to dig for the ultimate reason for the start of the Russia probe. The Justice Department stonewalled Nunes’ attempts at oversight even under the threat of contempt charges and impeachment, which suggests that the information about the source is damaging. The department finally relented during a meeting last week and agreed to discuss the matter at a later date.
Anonymous sources told The Washington Post that the substance of Nunes’ request deals with a top-secret intelligence source. Nunes denies having used that language. The New York Times also cited anonymous sources in an article published on Wednesday saying that Papadopoulos spoke to “a government informant” several times.
According to Papadopoulos’ guilty plea to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the Trump campaign advisor spoke to a professor in Britain several times. The New York Times revealed that the professor is London-based Joseph Mifsud.
Mifsud told Papadopoulos about Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Weeks later, Papadopoulos told the story to Downer. How intelligence about that conversation made its way to the FBI is still unclear, but is likely to be revealed in the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General’s report, which is expected to be released this month.