The FBI sent an informant to talk to two Trump campaign advisers after it learned that they had suspicious contacts with Russia, The New York Times reported Friday.
The informant was an American professor who taught in Britain, according to the Times.
The professor "made contact" in the summer of 2016 with George Papadopoulos and also "met repeatedly" over several months with Carter Page, who was already under FBI scrutiny for his Russian ties.
The Washington Post also reported Friday that the informant met with Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis for coffee in Northern Virginia, "offering to provide foreign-policy expertise to the Trump effort."
The Times sourced its report on "people familiar with the matter," while the Post cited "people familiar with his activities."
Both news organizations reported that they learned the informant's identity but were not disclosing it.
However, "no evidence has emerged that the informant acted improperly when the FBI asked for help in gathering information on the former campaign advisers, or that agents veered from the FBI's investigative guidelines and began a politically motivated inquiry, which would be illegal," according to the Times.
The informant "is well known in Washington circles, having served in previous Republican administrations and as a source of information for the CIA," the Times reported, citing "one person familiar with the source's work."
In addition, "details about the informant's relationship with the FBI remain scant," the Times reported. "It is not clear how long the relationship existed and whether the FBI paid the source or assigned the person to other cases."
President Donald Trump has cited the informant in his attacks on the Russia probe in recent days.
"Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president," Trump tweeted on 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!" the president said.
In addition, Trump personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani said Friday that neither the president nor his legal team knew definitively that the FBI had implanted someone within Trump campaign.
"I don't know for sure, nor does the president, if there really was one," Giuliani told CNN. "For a long time, we've been told there was some kind of infiltration."
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are demanding documents about the informant from the Justice Department, citing concerns over whether federal investigators were abusing their authority.
Justice Department officials have refused, saying that doing so would imperil the informant's anonymity and safety.
Democrats, meanwhile, argue that the GOP's true aim is to undermine Russia special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
According to the Times, FBI agents were wary of further disrupting the 2016 campaign after former Director James Comey reopened the probe into Democrat Hillary Clinton's private email use.
However, agency officials concluded they had the authority to begin a Russia investigation after learning that Papadopoulos was told that Moscow had compromising information on Clinton via "thousands of emails," months before WikiLeaks published hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee and other party officials.
Agents opened the Russia probe a month after the Clinton disclosure and "took steps … to ensure that details of the inquiry were more closely held than even in a typical national security investigation," according to the report.
The FBI also began investigating Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn, who would serve briefly as President Trump's first national security adviser.
According to the Times, the FBI wanted specifics on what Papadopoulos knew about the hacked emails, so the informant approached him under the guise of writing a research paper "on a disputed gas field in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, a subject of Mr. Papadopoulos' expertise."
The informant offered Papadopoulos $3,000 and a paid trip to London — and he arrived in London two weeks later to meet with the academic and his assistant.
During one dinner, the informant raised the subject of the hacked Democratic emails, asking Papadopoulos whether he knew anything about Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Papadopoulos replied that he had no insight into the Russian campaign, though he was told "months earlier" that the Russians had the hacked Clinton emails, according to the Times.
In a separate conversation, the assistant brought up Russia and the emails to Papadopoulos, and "again he denied he knew anything about Russian attempts to disrupt the election," the Times reported.
Papadopoulos then returned to the U.S., wrote a 1,500-word research paper and received payment.
He did not hear again from the informant, the Times reported.
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