Trump calls report of FBI investigator meeting with campaign aide 'bigger than Watergate, but the reverse'

In a tweet, the president offered backhanded praise for The New York Times.
Image: U.S. President Trump hosts "National Day of Prayer" Service at the White House in Washington
President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on May 2, 2019.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump said Friday that the FBI's decision to send an undercover investigator to meet with a Trump campaign aide overseas in 2016 — reported Thursday by The New York Times — amounted to a scandal "bigger than Watergate, but the reverse!"

In a tweet, the president offered backhanded praise for the news media after The Times published the article.

“Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved,” Trump tweeted, claiming the story was was now “too 'hot' to avoid.”

“Pulitzer Prize anyone?” Trump continued, adding that “This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!”

The Times article, published online Thursday and on the front page of Friday’s print edition, revealed a previously unknown detail about the September 2016 meeting at a London bar between former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, an FBI informant.

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Also present for the meeting was a woman whom The Times reported was posing as Halper’s assistant but was actually an FBI investigator the agency had sent to help with the counterintelligence inquiry that had been opened the previous summer into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia.

According to The Times, the decision to dispatch the woman, who identified herself as Azra Turk, signaled that the FBI wanted another pair of eyes present at the meeting for oversight and to have in place a possible witness if any prosecution arose in the case.

In a tweet Thursday, Papadopoulos said he agreed "with everything" in the article, but said the woman identified as Turk "clearly was not FBI." Papadopoulos claimed she “was CIA” with ties to “Turkish intel.”

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies spied on his presidential campaign — a narrative his latest tweets indicate he feels was advanced by The Times article.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and one of the president's closest allies in Congress, also commented on the report Friday.

"The FBI sent a secret informant, posing as a professor’s assistant, to covertly gather information on a Trump associate: George Papadopoulos," Meadows tweeted.

"But don’t worry. Washington Democrats and media pundits will twist themselves into pretzels to avoid calling this what it is: spying," he added.

Prosecutors say Papadopoulos was solicited by a professor with ties to Russian intelligence, Joseph Mifsud, who told the young Trump aide that the Russians possessed incriminating information about Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails" — before it was widely and publicly known that Russia had stolen Democratic emails.

Prosecutors say Mifsud arranged a meeting in a London cafe between Papadopoulos and a young woman he falsely described as Russian President Vladimir Putin's niece.

Papadopoulos relayed the talk of Democratic emails to an Australian diplomat during what The Times has described as a night of heavy drinking at another London bar in May 2016. The diplomat reported the conversation to his American counterparts, which prompted the opening of the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Russia's election interference operation — an investigation that was taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017.

Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in jail for lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russia-connected individuals, including giving a false account of the timing of his interactions with Mifsud. He initially told the FBI those meetings happened before he started working for Trump, while actually it was afterward.