Law & the Courts

FBI Official’s Testimony Raises New Questions about Surveillance of Trump Campaign

(Jim Bourg/Reuters)
Deputy assistant director Jonathan Moffa’s testimony, which has been obtained exclusively by National Review, suggests there was more going on than has yet been admitted.

The deputy assistant director at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jonathan Moffa, was involved with the Russia–Trump investigation from the start. He was asked, in a closed-door Capitol Hill interview on August 24, 2018, to describe his role: “I was the section chief over counterintelligence analysis during the period of the election,” Moffa told lawmakers and staff. “And as a result, I had analysts who reported to me who supported the full range of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigations and counterespionage investigations during that period. So in a sense, if there’s a Russian-election-related investigation underway in the division at that point, personnel reporting to me are a part of it.”

Moffa’s congressional interview was private, and no transcript has been released. But National Review has obtained a copy. The interview transcript reveals that the FBI’s use of Confidential Human Sources and other counterintelligence assets was far more extensive than has previously been acknowledged.

Much of the questioning of Moffa was done by Robert Parmiter, the chief counsel for the Republican staff on the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee. He asked Moffa about August 2016 text messages between Moffa and FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was putting together a meeting to discuss the initial organization of the investigation. Even at that early date, Strzok specified that they needed to discuss the use of “CHS” and “liaison.”

Parmiter asked about the acronym CHS: “What does that stand for?”

Moffa replied: “Confidential human source.”

When Parmiter asked Moffa whether Christopher Steele was a CHS, Moffa went off the record to confer with his bureau-provided counsel, Robert Sinton. When they came back on the record, Moffa answered the question: “Yes.”

That was merely confirmation of what had been known for some time — that Christopher Steele was an official informant expecting to be paid by the FBI for his dossier information. Moffa also confirmed that Steele’s status as a CHS had eventually been revoked. Moffa had been at a meeting where “closing” Steele as a Confidential Human Source was discussed, but Moffa declined to answer questions about what Steele did to lose his CHS status.

Steele was hardly the only CHS used in the FBI’s investigation. It has been widely reported that a retired Cambridge professor, Stefan Halper, was a CHS — we’ve all been lectured not to use the word “spy” in describing him.

And now the New York Times has put in print what was long suspected, that the woman Halper presented to George Papadopoulos as his “assistant” was actually something else altogether. “Azra Turk” was an FBI asset sent across the Atlantic with a mission to get incriminating information out of Papadopoulos. It’s not clear whether she counted as a CHS herself, or whether she was an “investigator” with some other official status at the bureau.

So the question remains: Other than the woman whose cover name was Azra Turk (and whose official position may or may not have been as a CHS), were Steele and Halper the only Confidential Human Sources used against the Trump campaign? It doesn’t appear so.

Moffa was asked in the closed-door Capitol Hill interview, “How many CHSs did you have working on this investigation at the time?”

Moffa again conferred with his counsel off the record.

“Okay,” he replied, back on the record. “So I legitimately do not know the total number of CHSs. That’s an operational side decision, but I also don’t want to imply to you that I don’t — I’m not aware of any CHSs, right. So that’s what we were just talking about. But I legitimately can’t tell you the overall number that are engaged. I just don’t know it.”

It’s a curious answer. One would think that if Steele and Halper had been the only Confidential Human Sources used against the Trump campaign, Moffa would have had no difficulty answering that there had been two CHSs, although the second sentence leaves some ambiguity. He was clearly involved in meetings where the use of CHSs was discussed, and he appears to assure lawmakers that he isn’t trying to pretend he’s “not aware of any CHSs.” He just “legitimately can’t tell you the overall number that are engaged.” That he can’t tell “the overall number” of Confidential Human Sources —  that “I just don’t know it” — leaves open the possibility that there were more than just a few.

Then the questioning moved to the next item Strzok had told Moffa they would need to work out at the meeting launching the Russia–Trump investigation. “The next thing that Mr. Strzok mentions in a list of what he’s going to discuss at this meeting, after CHS’s, is liaison,” Parmiter said to Moffa. “What is that referring to?”

Any liaison, Moffa replied, would have been “with either a foreign partner or it could be a USIC partner as well. We would — you know, commonly within the Bureau, you’d use that term for either.”

“And by USIC you’re referring to U.S. Intelligence Community?” Parmiter asked.

“I’m sorry. U.S. Intelligence Community, yep.” Moffa made it clear that a “liaison” in bureau parlance would not be an FBI agent: “We would not use the term ‘liaison’ to refer to an internal FBI person.”

That means from the earliest days of the Russia–Trump investigation the FBI was enlisting not only Confidential Human Sources — and possibly more of them — but also the aid of outside intelligence agencies, whether U.S., foreign, or both.

Call it spying or use your euphemism of choice. But whatever the word is to describe the surveillance of the Trump team, it seems there was a lot more of it going on than has yet been admitted.

Eric Felten writes the "Downtime" column for the Washington Examiner.

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