Britain was aware the FBI was covertly approaching one of Donald Trump’s campaign advisers in London before the 2016 US election, The New York Times has reported.
UK intelligence officials were notified about an operation that saw two figures acting for the FBI sussing out George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy aide, according to the paper.
It followed the FBI opening an investigation into Trump campaign links to the Kremlin after Mr Papadopoulos mentioning Russia and Hillary Clinton emails to an Australian diplomat.
Approached for a response by this newspaper about Britain’s reported awareness of the operation, neither the UK Foreign Office nor the FBI commented.
The report risks further inflaming tensions between Mr Trump, who has publicly accused the UK of spying on his election campaign, and British intelligence figures.
Mr Trump and his allies have been demanding an investigation into how the Russia inquiry begun since he was cleared of conspiring with the Kremlin in the special counsel Robert Mueller's recent report.
Many of the meetings that triggered alarm bells and kick-started the inquiry before the 2016 election took place in Britain, which has fulled suspicions from Trump allies.
The New York Times revealed new details about approaches made to Mr Papadopoulos, who advised the Trump campaign on foreign policy, before the November 2016 election.
It was already widely reported that Stefan Halper, a Cambridge University academic and former Republican adviser, had approached Mr Papadopoulos on behalf of the FBI. Mr Halper has not denied the claim.
But the US newspaper also reported that a women called Azra Turk who said she was Mr Halper’s assistant was actually an FBI investigator using a false identity.
Mr Papadopoulos has recalled how Ms Turk met him in a London bar and asked if the Trump campaign was working with Russia.
Ms Turk reportedly exchanged emails with Mr Papadopoulos, saying that meeting him had been the “highlight of my trip” and writing: “I am excited about what the future holds for us :)”
Mr Trump and his allies claim that the FBI overstepped the mark in opening an investigation into a presidential candidate, alleging that those who did so were acting on bias.
But justice and intelligence officials in post at the time have defended the actions, arguing it was correct to look into concerning evidence and insisting they acted in the public interest.
William Barr, the US attorney general, is investigating the origins of the Russia inquiry and has said that there was “spying” on the Trump campaign.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill this week Mr Barr discuss the investigation and the wiretap secured before the election on Carter Page, another former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.
“Many people seem to assume that the only intelligence collection that occurred was a single confidential informant” and the Carter Page warrant, Mr Barr said.
“I would like to find out whether that is in fact true. It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort if that was the counterintelligence effort designed to stop the threat as it’s being represented.”
Mr Trump tweeted about the New York Times story:
Finally, Mainstream Media is getting involved - too “hot” to avoid. Pulitzer Prize anyone? The New York Times, on front page (finally), “Details effort to spy on Trump Campaign.” @foxandfriends This is bigger than WATERGATE, but the reverse!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) 3 May 2019
The FBI declined to comment.