(Bloomberg) -- U.S. officials are pushing back against allegations embraced by President Donald Trump that the Justice Department planted a spy in his 2016 campaign.
Instead, the two officials said, the FBI and CIA gathered intelligence from a number of people as they began their investigation of Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
Trump and some Republican lawmakers are increasingly pressing the argument that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into the meddling -- and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it -- should be shut down because it was irreversibly tainted by improper actions early in the inquiry, well before Mueller was appointed a year ago.
Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee have advanced concerns about anti-Trump sentiment among some FBI agents and whether a dossier with unverified allegations was used to justify a surveillance warrant on a former campaign adviser. Now, committee chairman Devin Nunes is demanding that the Federal Bureau of Investigation identify a U.S. citizen who served as an intelligence source.
Scandal ‘If True’
“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president," Trump said on Twitter Friday. “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!"
There was, in fact, an American who had communications with some officials on Trump’s campaign and was a source of information for the FBI and CIA regarding the Russia investigation, according to the two officials, who asked to not be identified speaking about a confidential source. The officials added that the FBI doesn’t infiltrate political campaigns.
Relying on confidential informants is one of the tactics agencies and their investigators often use to gather and corroborate information, especially early on in something like the Russia probe, one of the officials said.
Several Democratic congressional officials have said the House Intelligence Committee has long known there were at least three government informants tied to Trump, and that even Trump associates have long been aware of some of this.
“When the chips are down for the president on this investigation, he pulls another conspiracy theory out there,” said Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois. “The first one was he read Breitbart on a Saturday morning and said they wiretapped Trump Tower. And I had a lot of serious reporters ask me if that were true."
Sater’s FBI Connection
Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, confirmed to the committee during his closed-door interview with the panel that he knew that Felix Sater, a Russian-born businessman and Trump associate, was an FBI informant, one of the congressional officials said.
When Cohen was asked why he continued to do business with Sater knowing that he was an informant, Cohen said simply that Sater was good at real estate, the official said.
The Democratic congressional officials said they aren’t sure which particular informant Nunes and Trump might be referring to. But any claim that this person was placed into the Trump camp by the FBI to report back to the agency was probably not accurate, they said, noting the agency routinely keeps in touch with many sources of information.
Representative Peter King of New York, a Republican member of the Intelligence panel, said Friday that’s not what happened in the case that Trump and his supporters are describing. He said he thinks the White House will get behind Nunes’ push for the Justice Department to turn over to Congress more details of what this informant was doing for the FBI around June or July 2016.
“I hope they will. I believe they will,” said King.
Representative Michael Conaway, the Texas Republican who led the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, said earlier this week that the Justice Department claims this person “is at risk of being killed.”
Even so, Conaway said it’s important for Congress to get information about what this person was doing on behalf of the FBI and Justice Department and why.
Earlier this month, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing Mueller’s investigation, dismissed those he says are trying to intimidate him after a group of House Republicans drafted articles of impeachment unless he turned over internal Justice Department documents on the origin of the Trump probe.
“There are people who have been making threats, privately and publicly, against me for quite some time,” Rosenstein said in a speech on May 1. “I think they should understand by now the Department of Justice is not going to be extorted. We’re going to do what’s required by the rule of law.”
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