A couple of days ago, a RedState diary concluded that the FBI burned the identity one of their informants, and the claim was made again in a follow-up post. The question I have is this: What is the evidence? The three main media outlets that provided relevant information on the FBI informant were the New York Times, the DDID* and, in my opinion, Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller.
The NYT cited “people familiar with the matter”, which could be FBI or DOJ but could also be White House staff. On May 2nd, to give one example, “senior FBI and intelligence officials” met with Chief of Staff Kelly (who later consulted with Trump) to discuss Nunes’ demand for information on the FBI informant, so this knowledge was within the walls of the White House. “People familiar with the matter” could also be persons on or working for the House or Senate Intelligence Committees. After all, it was just eight days before the Times/DDID pieces that Nunes and Gowdy were briefed by DOJ officials on the FBI informant, and they already knew who the guy was for at least a couple of weeks prior, hence Nunes April 24th letter. There could also be a British MI6 connection. It could’ve been people who followed up on Mr. Ross’s reporting. It could have been more than one–or some combination–of the above.
The DDID also used “people familiar” language as the sources for their story, which is intentionally vague. At the Daily Caller, Mr. Ross named the FBI informant (which, as of last Friday, was about as secret as Dick Cheney’s running-joke “undisclosed location”) and went with this:
But instead of a GOP-orchestrated exposure, it appears that [the informant] was essentially outed through leaks from the Justice Department or FBI.
Emphasis mine. “Appears” is speculation, not confirmation, which is curious because Mr. Ross had more definitive sources a couple of months ago in a piece with some real investigative reporting, where he rightfully suspected that an American (whom he correctly named) might’ve been working for the feds and trying to elicit information from George Papadopolous and Carter Page. This part caught my attention.
[The informant’s] intentions are unclear, while a source familiar with the investigations into Russian meddling told TheDCNF [the informant’s] name popped up on investigators’ radar. There is no indication of any wrongdoing on his part, and it is not clear if he has been in touch with investigators.
If Mr. Ross were conferring with Mueller’s investigators, it is more than probable that Mueller’s team already knew about the FBI informant; there would no “popped up”, so I take Mr. Ross’s words to mean House or Senate investigators (or those who were familiar with what those investigators were doing). Since the Daily Caller is a pro-Trump media organization and Nunes is a pro-Trump partisan, the easy guess is that they were investigators for the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, but it’s still a guess.
I’ll also say this. Even though he was paid hundreds of thousands by our federal government, the fact that Papadopolous grew suspicious tells me that the FBI informant wasn’t all that good at his “job”.
Mr. Ross isn’t the only one who suspected and named this FBI informant. This blog is one example, which identified the FBI informant eight days before the Times/DDID pieces were published, so it was really just a matter of time before this information would out. Last Thursday, Laura Ingraham named him on her FoxNews show, and so did Conservative Treehouse a couple of days prior, so the name has been knocked around in conservative circles.
As a corollary to “who leaked”, the next question I have is why. As in, why would the FBI blow the cover of this asset, especially if he was involved in ongoing investigations? Why would law enforcement officials commit an illegal act–violating the 1982 Intelligence Agencies Protection Act–and damage the credibility of the very agency they work for? Going back to the DDID.
The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source’s identity were revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter. The bureau took steps to protect other live investigations that he has worked on and sought to lessen any danger to associates if his identity became known, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence operations.
Emphasis mine again. How does the FBI or DOJ benefit from exposing the identity of this fellow? Why would a prospective informant want to work for the FBI if he/she faced the real risk of being exposed? It seems to me that, going by the paragraph above, the FBI was taking steps to minimize the outfall in the event someone else outed their asset. Why would Trump’s hand-picked FBI Director say this:
“The day that we can’t protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe,” Wray told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Human sources in particular who put themselves at great risk to work with us and with our foreign partners have to be able to trust that we’re going to protect their identities and in many cases their lives and the lives of their families.”
Blowing this guy’s cover can only hurt the FBI and DOJ. There’s no upside.
So who is motivated to release the FBI informant’s identity? Donald Trump, as long as the leak doesn’t splash back on him.
Trump has pushed back against the FBI/Mueller investigations constantly, taking a page right out of the Bill Clinton playbook on Ken Starr, which has been to impugn the investigation so that, when the finished product is ready, public perceptions are that the allegations are a WITCH HUNT! and CORRUPT! Further allegations that there was a “mole” in the Trump campaign (and outing that person) is all part of this ongoing politics of personal destruction.
So, while one diary says that the FBI definitely did it and another one is convinced that the president and House Intelligence Committee burnt the informant, I’d like to see the evidence. But considering the motivations of the parties involved, I’m more inclined to believe that it wasn’t the FBI or DOJ who leaked the FBI informant’s identity, except for perhaps one scenario: If the FBI or DOJ leaker is so pro-Trump that he/she would risk breaching the sanctity of keeping informants confidential in order to get this information out there.
One final thing. All the way back in 2003, the Prince of Darkness outed Valerie Plame, who was a CIA operative under non-official cover before her identity was blown wide open. Outing an informant’s or operative’s cover is serious business and deserves a serious investigation. While I don’t disagree with the Inspector General investigating the matter of the FBI informant, I believe it’s just as relevant for the IG to also investigate who leaked the informant’s identity, get full cooperation from all parties that may be involved, and let the chips fall where they may.
* I can’t bring myself to call it the Washington Post with that ridiculous and stupid “Democracy Dies in Darkness” subhead.