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How the FBI began investigating a Trump campaign adviser in 2016

President Trump has long claimed U.S. intelligence agencies spied on his 2016 campaign. This week, he considered himself vindicated by a story in The New York Times detailing an FBI effort to covertly gather information from a Trump campaign adviser. Judy Woodruff talks to reporter Adam Goldman about what sparked the investigation and whether it appears to have followed standard processes.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    After months of President Trump accusing the U.S. government of spying on his 2016 campaign, the president responded positively Thursday to a story by The New York Times with new details on the FBI's effort to covertly gather information from a Trump campaign adviser.

    We're joined now by one of the article's reporters. He is Adam Goldman. He covers the FBI and national security for The Times.

    Adam Goldman, welcome again to the "NewsHour."

    So tell us on what basis it was. The story is about an FBI investigator meeting covertly with a Trump campaign adviser. Tell us, how did this come about? How unusual was it?

  • Adam Goldman:

    Well, I don't think it's particularly unusual, if the FBI believes there's wrongdoing and they need to get to the bottom of this.

    They typically might send an investigator like this woman in alongside an informant to figure out what happened. And that's exactly what they were trying to do. The FBI was trying to understand, you know, was George Papadopoulos, this foreign policy, this campaign adviser for Trump, in some way working with the Russians?

    And they thought that because they had received an allegation that, in fact, he was. So they moved quickly and aggressively to try to figure out, before the election ended, was he, in fact, working with the Russians?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what was the basis they were using? What evidence did they have that there was a reason to try to get in and know more about what he was up to?

  • Adam Goldman:

    I think, at its core, the Australian government provided information that George — that the Russians had essentially made George Papadopoulos an offer, saying they had hacked e-mails, Democratic e-mails, and they could help him release them and coordinate the timing of that.

    And Papadopoulos had told that to the Australian ambassador at the time in London, and that information was relayed to the FBI, months later, in fact. And that was the genesis of the FBI's Russia investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    And just in terms of parlance, as somebody who follows the FBI all the time, what's the difference between investigating someone, as they did in this case — and they acknowledge it — and spying on someone, which was the term the attorney general used at one point and the president is using?

  • Adam Goldman:

    I mean, you typically don't hear law enforcement officials use the word spying. You know, it's court-ordered or court-approved surveillance.

    That seems to become — that seems to have become a loaded term, a pejorative term. You know, Attorney General William Barr said earlier this week that it was a fine English word, and he had no problems using it.

    But for critics of Trump, they see this as a way to, you know, delegitimize, you know, the FBI's efforts to try to figure out what was going on in this really hectic period before the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, as you say, the Trump administration attempting, many of them, to say that this wasn't a legitimate move on the part of the FBI.

    Who would have had to approve it before it took place?

  • Adam Goldman:

    And this was a sensitive operation taking place in London. And, as I have said, the British authorities were notified, MI5.

    And that would have gone to the highest levels of the bureau and the Justice Department itself. This was a very, very sensitive operation they were running in London. And a lot of people would have known about it and it would have required approvals at the highest, highest levels of the Justice Department.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In other words, multiple layers of authorization, which makes it easier or harder for it to have been politically motivated?

  • Adam Goldman:

    Right, exactly, with career prosecutors making those decisions.

    You know, the inspector general of the Justice Department is looking at what happened in London and the use of this informant who the FBI deployed to brush up against Papadopoulos. And, as part of that, they will probably look at this government investigator and what she was doing, too.

    And, ultimately, the I.G. will come down and say whether this was inappropriate or not. So far, nobody's provided evidence that it was somehow illegal or unjustified.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Adam Goldman with The New York Times on a story that's getting a lot of attention.

    Thank you, Adam.

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