The Rachel Maddow Show / The MaddowBlog
The FBI warning Trump received, ignored, and apparently forgot about
By Steve Benen May 29, 2018
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with press on Sept. 5, 2016, aboard his campaign plane, while flying over Ohio, as Vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence looks on. Photo by Evan Vucci/AP
Donald Trump asked over the holiday weekend why neither the FBI nor the Justice Department contacted him during the 2016 campaign to alert him to the “Russia problem.” Those who haven’t paid close attention to this story might’ve seen the president’s point as having merit.
Indeed, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer declared, “This is a good question that deserves an answer.”
The trouble is, the question was already answered months ago. NBC News had this report in December 2017:
In the weeks after he became the Republican nominee on July 19, 2016, Donald Trump was warned that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign, according to multiple government officials familiar with the matter.
The warning came in the form of a high-level counterintelligence briefing by senior FBI officials, the officials said. A similar briefing was given to Hillary Clinton, they added. They said the briefings, which are commonly provided to presidential nominees, were designed to educate the candidates and their top aides about potential threats from foreign spies.
The candidates were urged to alert the FBI about any suspicious overtures to their campaigns, the officials said.
There are a couple of angles to this to keep in mind. The first is that Trump’s latest complaint – federal law enforcement should’ve given him a heads-up about the “Russia problem” during Russia’s attack on our political system – is difficult to take seriously given the counterintelligence briefing he received in 2016.
But for the president to remind us of this is especially unwise since because Trump did more than just ignore the warning – the Republican and his team also failed to volunteer information that would’ve mattered to the FBI at the time.
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As regular readers may recall, Rachel explained on the show that we’ve kept track of the large roster of Russians connected to Putin’s government who were in contact with the Trump campaign or the Trump transition before the president’s inauguration. It’s not a short list.
And yet, neither Trump nor anyone on his campaign thought to mention any of this to federal law enforcement, even after the FBI warned Trump about Russians possibly trying to infiltrate his political operation.
In fact, by the time Trump received his first classified intelligence briefing, which came a month after the FBI warning, more than a half dozen Trump campaign staffers, including members of his own family, had already taken high-level meetings with Russians and people who were sent as emissaries from the Russian government.
They just didn’t think to tell intelligence officials about any of this. The FBI effectively said, “Let us know about suspicious overtures to your campaigns,” and Trump World, after hearing from a whole lot of Russians who wanted to partner with the Republican campaign, didn’t say anything.
It’s possible, of course, that the campaign’s communications with the Russians were benign. But if so, why not let U.S. officials know about the contacts, especially after the FBI specifically urged Trump and his team to report foreign overtures?
For that matter, what made Trump think it was a good idea to bring all of this up now?