WASHINGTON — The dialog at a London bar in September 2016 took a wierd flip when the girl sitting throughout from George Papadopoulos, a Trump marketing campaign adviser, requested a direct query: Was the Trump marketing campaign working with Russia?
The girl had arrange the assembly to debate international coverage points. However she was really a authorities investigator posing as a analysis assistant, based on individuals aware of the operation. The F.B.I. despatched her to London as a part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer season to higher perceive the Trump marketing campaign’s hyperlinks to Russia.
The American authorities’s affiliation with the girl, who mentioned her title was Azra Turk, is one beforehand unreported element of an operation that has develop into a political flash level within the face of accusations by President Trump and his allies that American legislation enforcement and intelligence officers spied on his marketing campaign to undermine his electoral probabilities. Final 12 months, he known as it “Spygate.”
The choice to make use of Ms. Turk within the operation aimed toward a presidential marketing campaign official reveals the extent of alarm contained in the F.B.I. throughout a frantic interval when the bureau was making an attempt to find out the scope of Russia’s makes an attempt to disrupt the 2016 election, however might additionally give ammunition to Mr. Trump and his allies for his or her spying claims.
Ms. Turk went to London to assist oversee the politically delicate operation, working alongside a longtime informant, the Cambridge professor Stefan A. Halper. The transfer was an indication that the bureau wished in place a educated investigator for a layer of oversight, in addition to somebody who might collect info for or function a reputable witness in any potential prosecution that emerged from the case.
A spokesman for the F.B.I. declined to remark, as did a lawyer for Mr. Halper, Robert D. Luskin. Final 12 months, Invoice Priestap, then the bureau’s high counterintelligence agent who was deeply concerned within the Russia inquiry, advised Congress throughout a closed-door listening to that there was no F.B.I. conspiracy in opposition to Mr. Trump or his marketing campaign.
The London operation yielded no fruitful info, however F.B.I. officers have known as the bureau’s actions within the months earlier than the election each authorized and punctiliously thought of underneath extraordinary circumstances. They’re now underneath scrutiny as a part of an investigation by Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Division inspector normal. He might make the outcomes public in Could or June, Legal professional Normal William P. Barr has mentioned. Among the findings are more likely to be labeled.
It’s unclear whether or not Mr. Horowitz will discover fault with the F.B.I.’s choice to have Ms. Turk, whose actual title is just not publicly recognized, meet with Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Horowitz has centered amongst different issues on the actions of Mr. Halper, who accompanied Ms. Turk in certainly one of her conferences with Mr. Papadopoulos and in addition met with him and different marketing campaign aides individually. The bureau may also have seen Ms. Turk’s function as important for shielding Mr. Halper’s id as an informant if prosecutors ever wanted court docket testimony about their actions.
Mr. Barr reignited the controversy final month when he advised Congress, “I believe spying on a political marketing campaign is an enormous deal.” He backed off the charged declaration later in the identical listening to, saying: “I believe spying did happen. The query is whether or not it was adequately predicated. And I’m not suggesting that it wasn’t adequately predicated. However I must discover that.”
Mr. Barr once more defended his use of the time period “spying” at a Senate Judiciary Committee listening to on Wednesday, saying he wished to know extra in regards to the F.B.I.’s investigative efforts throughout 2016 and defined that the early inquiry doubtless went past using an informant and a court-authorized wiretap of a former Trump marketing campaign adviser, Carter Web page, who had interacted with a Russian intelligence officer.
“Many individuals appear to imagine that the one intelligence assortment that occurred was a single confidential informant” and the warrant to surveil Mr. Web page, Mr. Barr mentioned. “I want to discover out whether or not that’s the truth is true. It strikes me as a reasonably anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to cease the menace because it’s being represented.”
This account was described in interviews with individuals aware of the F.B.I. actions of Mr. Halper, Ms. Turk and the inspector normal’s investigation. They spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t licensed to debate the topics of a seamless inquiry.
As a part of Mr. Horowitz’s investigation, his workplace has examined Mr. Halper’s previous work as an F.B.I. informant and requested witnesses about whether or not brokers had satisfactory management of Mr. Halper’s actions, individuals aware of the inquiry have mentioned.
Whereas in London in 2016, Ms. Turk exchanged emails with Mr. Papadopoulos, saying assembly him had been the “spotlight of my journey,” based on messages supplied by Mr. Papadopoulos.
“I’m enthusiastic about what the longer term holds for us :),” she wrote.
Weeks earlier than Mr. Papadopoulos met with Ms. Turk and Mr. Halper, the F.B.I. had opened its investigation into the Russia effort — based mostly largely on info that Mr. Papadopoulos had relayed to an Australian diplomat a couple of Russian supply to assist the Trump marketing campaign by releasing 1000’s of hacked Democratic emails.
The F.B.I. obtained the knowledge from the Australian authorities on July 26, 2016, the particular counsel’s report mentioned, and the bureau code-named its investigation Crossfire Hurricane.
Investigators scrambled to find out whether or not Mr. Papadopoulos had any Russian contacts whereas deciding to scrutinize three extra Trump marketing campaign aides who had regarding ties to Russia: Paul Manafort, its chairman; Michael T. Flynn, who went on to be the president’s first nationwide safety adviser; and Mr. Web page.
Secrecy was paramount for the F.B.I. officers due to the sensitivities of investigating marketing campaign advisers throughout a presidential race. Had the investigation into Trump advisers’ contacts with Russia develop into public, it might have devastated the Trump marketing campaign. And high bureau officers have been enduring contemporary assaults over their dealing with of the Hillary Clinton electronic mail investigation.
One of many brokers concerned within the Russia inquiry, a seasoned counterintelligence investigator out of New York, turned to Mr. Halper, whom he considered as a dependable and trusted informant. They’d a longstanding relationship; the agent had even spoken at an intelligence seminar that Mr. Halper taught on the College of Cambridge, discussing his work investigating a Russian espionage ring generally known as the illegals.
Mr. Halper had the proper résumé for the duty. He was a international coverage skilled who had labored for the Pentagon. He had been gathering info for the F.B.I. for about twenty years and had good contacts in Chinese language and Russian authorities circles that he might use to rearrange conferences with high-ranking officers, based on an individual briefed on Mr. Halper’s relationship with the F.B.I.
The F.B.I. instructed Mr. Halper to arrange a gathering in London with Mr. Papadopoulos however gave him few particulars in regards to the broader investigation, an individual aware of the episode mentioned.
His job was to determine the extent of any contacts between Trump marketing campaign advisers and Russia. Mr. Halper used his place as a revered tutorial to introduce himself to each Mr. Papadopoulos and Mr. Web page, whom he additionally met with a number of occasions. He organized a gathering with Mr. Papadopoulos in London to debate a Mediterranean pure gasoline undertaking, providing $three,000 for his time and a coverage paper.
The F.B.I. additionally determined to ship Ms. Turk to participate within the operation, individuals aware of it mentioned, and to pose as Mr. Halper’s assistant. For the F.B.I., putting such a delicate endeavor within the arms of a trusted authorities investigator was important.
British intelligence officers have been additionally notified in regards to the operation, the individuals aware of the operation mentioned, nevertheless it was unclear whether or not they supplied help. A spokeswoman for the British authorities declined to remark.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed that British intelligence spied on his marketing campaign, an accusation the British authorities has vigorously denied. Final month, the president quoted on Twitter an accusation that the British had spied on his marketing campaign and added: “WOW! It’s now only a query of time earlier than the reality comes out, and when it does, it is going to be a magnificence!”
When Mr. Papadopoulos arrived in London on Sept. 15, he obtained a textual content message from Ms. Turk. She invited him for drinks.
In his ebook, “Deep State Goal,” Mr. Papadopoulos described her as engaging and mentioned she nearly instantly started questioning him about whether or not the Trump marketing campaign was working with Russia, he wrote.
Mr. Papadopoulos was baffled. “There isn’t any means this can be a Cambridge professor’s analysis assistant,” he recalled considering, based on his ebook. In latest weeks, he has mentioned in tweets that he believes Ms. Turk might have been working for Turkish intelligence however supplied no proof.
The day after assembly Ms. Turk, Mr. Papadopoulos met briefly with Mr. Halper at a non-public London membership, and Ms. Turk joined them. The 2 males agreed to fulfill once more, arranging a drink on the Sofitel resort in London’s posh West Finish.
Throughout that dialog, Mr. Halper instantly requested about hacked emails and whether or not Russia was serving to the marketing campaign, based on Mr. Papadopoulos’s ebook. Offended over the accusatory questions, Mr. Papadopoulos ended the assembly.
The F.B.I. didn’t glean any info of worth from the encounters, and Ms. Turk returned to the USA.
Mr. Halper continued to work with the F.B.I. and later met with Mr. Web page repeatedly within the Washington space. The 2 had coincidentally run into one another in July as properly at Cambridge, based on individuals aware of the episode.
On the urging of Mr. Web page, he met one other marketing campaign aide, Sam Clovis, Mr. Trump’s marketing campaign co-chairman, to debate international coverage. Whereas conscious of the contact with Mr. Clovis, the F.B.I. didn’t instruct Mr. Halper to ask him questions associated to the Russia investigation, based on an individual briefed on the matter.
Mr. Clovis recounted his espresso with Mr. Halper in Washington with an Iowa radio station in Could 2018. “There was no indication or no inclination that this was something different than simply wanting to supply up his assist to the marketing campaign if I wanted it,” he mentioned.
Mr. Halper’s connections to the Trump administration strengthened from there. He was invited as a part of a gaggle of China specialists to fulfill with White Home advisers in 2017. Mr. Halper knowledgeable the F.B.I. of the invitation however was not supplied with any steering, individuals aware of the episode mentioned.
The group met briefly with Peter Navarro, the president’s high commerce consultant, who had interviewed Mr. Halper years earlier at Mr. Halper’s residence in Virginia for a documentary. In response to Axios, the administration additionally thought of Mr. Halper for an ambassadorship.
In an interview with Fox Radio, Mr. Navarro mentioned he considered Mr. Halper’s function as an F.B.I. informant as a betrayal, saying he felt “duped.”