The outing of Stefan Halper as the FBI source who had contact with three members of the Trump campaign has sparked a lot of discussion about when the Russian probe began. That is all based on the fact that the Washington Post reported that “In mid-July 2016, a retired American professor [Halper] approached an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at a symposium about the White House race held at a British university.” It wasn’t until July 31, following a report to the FBI about an Australian diplomat’s meeting with George Papadopoulos, that a document was created officially marking the beginning of a counterintelligence investigation.
It is therefore worth taking a moment to note some of the information that is publicly available about members of the Trump campaign that would have triggered concerns in the intelligence community. Here is a timeline of those events prior to July 31, 2016:
Feb. 26, 2016
Reuters reported that Flynn “has been informally advising Trump” on foreign policy during the presidential campaign. In December 2015, Flynn had been been paid $45,000 to be Vladimir Putin’s guest for the 10th anniversary celebration of Russia Today.
March 21, 2016
During a meeting with the Washington Post, Trump named Carter Page as a member of his foreign policy advisory team. In 2013, Russian operatives had attempted to recruit Page.
March 29, 2016
Paul Manafort officially joined the Trump campaign as the convention manager and was subsequently named campaign chairman on May 19. Manafort was a known associate of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a Putin ally.
What we see is that before the FBI learned about what Papadopoulos told the Australian diplomat, they already knew about at least three members of the Trump campaign with ties to Russia that would be cause for concern. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch described one option that was discussed following the announcement that Carter Page was a member of Trump’s foreign policy advisory group.
Lynch told the House Intelligence Committee that she, Comey, and McCabe discussed whether to provide a “defensive briefing” to the Trump campaign. That would entail having an FBI official meet with a senior campaign official “to alert them to the fact that … there may be efforts to compromise someone with their campaign,” Lynch said.
Ultimately they decided against providing a defensive briefing and perhaps substituted a contact with Page by Stefan Halper.
All of this is now being spun by Trump and his enablers into some giant conspiracy theory about a politically motivated infiltration of the campaign by the FBI.
A sane take on what happened is that there was cause for concern that the Trump campaign was being infiltrated by the Russians. The response from the intelligence community was to gather information on whether this posed a threat to the Trump campaign and U.S. national security…which is basically their job.