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President Trump has grown increasingly convinced that the FBI used an informant to spy on his 2016 campaign, and has now demanded a Justice Department investigation:

A tweet previously embedded here has been deleted or was tweeted from an account that has been suspended or deleted.

The back story: There has been a growing amount of speculation by conservative writers that an FBI source spied on the Trump campaign, and might have even planted a spy inside. It's now clear from multiple news reports that the FBI had an informant who talked to two campaign advisers, but not that the informant was planted on the inside. That talk is based on suspicions — not evidence.

Between the lines: This all started with House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes' fight to get the Justice Department to turn over documents about an intelligence source who helped the Russia investigation.

The Washington Post reported on this source earlier this month, and the New York Times reported last week that the informant — an American academic who teaches in Britain — met with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, but only after the FBI was looking into their contacts with Russia.

The Wall Street Journal identified Stefan Halper as the suspected informant on Sunday, but neither the White House nor the FBI have confirmed it. Axios' Jonathan Swan reports that Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro recommended Halper for a senior role in the Trump administration.

Beyond that, the columns read a lot into what the source could have been doing.

Here's what the Wall Street Journal's Kimberley Strassel wrote in a May 10 column:

"When government agencies refer to sources, they mean people who appear to be average citizens but use their profession or contacts to spy for the agency. Ergo, we might take this to mean that the FBI secretly had a person on the payroll who used his or her non-FBI credentials to interact in some capacity with the Trump campaign.
This would amount to spying, and it is hugely disconcerting."

National Review's Andrew McCarthy got more specific in a May 12 piece, noting that Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, testified to a Senate committee that former British spy Christopher Steele told him the FBI had a "human source" inside the Trump campaign —and then tried to walk it back. McCarthy believes Simpson got it right the first time.

And when he appeared on Fox and Friends last week, McCarthy went farther: "There's probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign." That's the line Trump quoted in a tweet declaring the possible spying was "bigger than Watergate."

The bottom line: We still have no evidence that the FBI actually planted a source inside the Trump campaign, and the reports from the New York Times and CNN concluded that it didn't. If there's any evidence that contradicts that, we won't know more unless it surfaces from the Justice Department inspector general's investigation into whether there was "any impropriety or political motivation" in the FBI's Russia investigation.

The other way we could learn more is if Nunes gets his information on the source. But if he discloses any of it, intelligence officials are warning that he could put the source in danger, per the Washington Post.

Until that gets resolved, this story is likely to be stuck in an uncomfortable limbo, with no evidence to back up the suspicions of questionable FBI surveillance — but no way to put them to rest, either.

This story has been updated to include Trump's demand for an investigation and more reporting on the FBI source.

Go deeper

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COVID time warp

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The start of the COVID-19 pandemic seems like a lifetime ago to some, and just yesterday to others. Scientists are beginning to unpack the way people processed the passage of time amidst the stress, uncertainty and isolation of the 1 year, 8 months and 21 days since WHO declared a pandemic.

Why it matters: The pandemic's global effects on how people experience time could provide new insights into the brain's ability to perceive and predict time — a fundamental feature of life.

Mitt Romney calls Ray Dalio's China investments a "sad moral lapse"

Sen. Mitt Romney walks to a Senate Republican caucus meeting at the Capitol on Oct. 7. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Thursday criticized billionaire Ray Dalio's investments in China, writing in a tweet that "his feigned ignorance of China's horrific abuses and rationalization of complicit investments there is a sad moral lapse."

Driving the news: Romney's comments come after Dalio's firm, Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world, raised $1.3 billion in November for a new private fund in China, Bloomberg reports.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: First known U.S. case of Omicron variant identified in California — America probably won't lead the effort to understand Omicron — CDC prepares tougher testing rules for international travelers.
  2. Politics: Omicron travel bans are sign of what's to come — Meta removes accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China.
  3. Vaccines: Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters — Moderna loses patent battles tied to COVID vaccine.
  4. World: Germany approves new restrictions for unvaccinated people — Omicron variant detected in more countriesWHO advises people 60 or older to postpone travel due to Omicron
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.