Informants come in all shapes and sizes

Informants come in all shapes and sizes

by digby

There is an important bit of context which you've probably heard if you've been watching cable news but may not have otherwise. This is from The Intercept:

The memo claims that Steele’s dossier is not reliable because an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, hired Steele after receiving payments from a law firm connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Fusion GPS’s clients for its Trump research, however, were not limited to partisan Democratic Party concerns: The firm began its research into Trump at the behest of the Washington Free Beacon, a right-wing news website that initially opposed Trump’s insurgent campaign.

Nunes’s memo also alleges another funding source for Steele: the document states that he was not only paid for his work by Fusion GPS, but also by the FBI. That means the Trump opposition work was funded by partisans of both parties as well as a federal bureaucracy.

Even if Steele’s work was purely at the behest of the Democratic Party, however, that would not historically exclude it from being used as evidence in court. The context missing from the memo is that the FBI routinely deals in information coming from biased sources. FBI informants, who number more than 15,000 today, are often motivated by revenge, money, or idealism, among other drivers. The FBI collects relevant information, no matter the source, and then exerts extensive effort to corroborate the information — for example, by seeking a wiretap of a campaign official thought to be conspiring with a foreign government.

It's absolutely true that all of this is dicey when it comes to a political campaign. Indeed, if this were a domestic warrant they might have a better case, depending on the probable cause for the warrant.

But what should be kept in mind about this particular political case is that this man, who'd until very recently employed by the Trump campaign, had been on their radar as a possible Russian agent for years and the campaign was already under investigation for other contacts and potential infiltration by the Russian government. This was after the Russians were found to have hacked into the DNC, the DCCC and the Clinton campaign's chairman's emails. There was obviously a legitimate reason for them to issue this warrant on Page under these circumstances and for the intelligence and law enforcement community to be concerned. A foreign government was actively involved in a clandestine program to influence the US presidential election. Maybe no laws were broken beyond the hacking, we don't know yet. But if the intelligence community turned a blind eye and failed to follow through on at least investigating what was going on, it would have been unprecedented malfeasance.

We don't know everything. Maybe this whole thing will also turn out to be a "nothing burger" as far as Trump's direct involvement. But even the idea that there shouldn't have been a counter-intelligence investigation in the first place because the Steele dossier was partly financed by Democrats is just daft. Information could have come from Russian mobsters, hackers, bankers, anyone --- and it might have, we don't know! --- and the government would have been justified in asking for a warrant on Page. Indeed, information was coming from other intelligence agencies all all over the world that had nothing to do with Steele. This whole line of argument is ridiculous.