President Donald Trump has been quick to point out when he sees the media as being unfair to him, but as he demonstrated Friday, he’s also quick to point out when it’s not.
On Thursday, the New York Times posted a story headlined “F.B.I. Sent Investigator Posing as Assistant to Meet With Trump Aide in 2016,” by Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Mark Mazzetti.
The piece described how the FBI sent a woman to London to try to entrap George Papadopoulos, a low-level Trump campaign aide, into saying the Trump campaign was working with the Russians to undermine the candidacy of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump saw the story in the predawn hours of Friday and tweeted: “Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved – too “hot” to avoid. Pulitzer Prize anyone? The New York Times, on front page (finally), “Details effort to spy on Trump Campaign.” @foxandfriends This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!”
Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved – too “hot” to avoid. Pulitzer Prize anyone? The New York Times, on front page (finally), “Details effort to spy on Trump Campaign.” @foxandfriends This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 3, 2019
As of mid-morning on Friday, the tweet had been retweeted nearly 12,000 times and liked nearly 38,000.
The Times story still seemed written to cast doubt on Trump’s allegation that he was spied upon and infiltrated – on orders of President Obama and on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign – by the Department of Justice and FBI.
“The FBI sent her to London as part of the counterintelligence inquiry opened that summer to better understand the Trump campaign’s links to Russia,” the Times wrote in describing how this woman came to meet Papadopoulos in a bar in London and almost immediately start querying him about whether the Trump campaign was working with Russia.
“The American government’s affiliation with the woman, who said her name was Azra Turk, is one previously unreported detail of an operation that has become a political flashpoint in the face of accusations by President Trump and his allies that American law enforcement and intelligence officials spied on his campaign to undermine his electoral chances,” the Times wrote. “Last year, he called it Spygate.”
Does Trump have a point that this effort to infiltrate his campaign amounts to spying? No. What it “shows is the level of alarm inside the FBI during a period when the bureau was trying to determine the scope of Russia’s attempts to disrupt the 2016 election,” the Times wrote. But it “could also give ammunition to Trump and his allies for their spying claims.”
With this sentence, the Times implies it knows the aims of the FBI were legitimate here, but the claims this amounts to spying merely “give ammunition to Trump and his allies” for their “spying claims.”
Turk represented an effort by the bureau to bring out the big guns, according to the Times. She was working with the longtime informant Stefan Halper, whom the FBI used to attempt to infiltrate the Trump campaign, and her trip to London to meet Papadopoulos “was a sign that the bureau wanted in place a trained negotiator for a layer of oversight, as well as someone who could gather information for or serve as a credible witness in any potential prosecution that emerged from the case.”
This was no spy operation or FBI conspiracy against Trump, the Times reported – and it knows this because Bill Priestap, the FBI’s top counterintelligence agent and who was “deeply involved in the Russia inquiry,” said so in a closed-door hearing.
In fact, her purpose seems to have been to keep an eye on Halper. “The bureau might also have seen Ms. Turk’s role as essential for protecting Mr. Halper’s identity as an informant if prosecutors ever needed court testimony about their activities.”
And anyway, all this sneaking around was to benefit Trump, the Times reported. “Had the investigation into Trump’s advisers’ contacts with Russia become public, it could have devastated the Trump campaign. And top bureau officials were enduring fresh attacks over their handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.”