WASHINGTON • United States President Donald Trump's allies are waging an increasingly aggressive campaign to undercut the Russia investigation by exposing the role of a top-secret Federal Bureau of Investigation source.
The effort reached new heights on Thursday as Mr Trump alleged that an informant had improperly spied on his 2016 campaign and predicted that the ensuing scandal would be "bigger than Watergate!"
The push begun by a cadre of Trump boosters on Capitol Hill now has champions across the GOP and throughout conservative media - and, as of Thursday, the first anniversary of Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel, bears the imprimatur of the President.
The dispute pits Mr Trump and the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee against the Justice Department and intelligence agencies, whose leaders warn that publicly identifying the source would put lives in danger and imperil other operations.
The stakes are so high that the FBI has been working over the past two weeks to mitigate the potential damage if the source's identity is revealed, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The bureau is taking steps to protect other live investigations that the person has worked on, and is trying to lessen any danger to associates if the informant's identity becomes known, said these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr Trump reacted on Twitter to recent news reports that there was a top-secret source providing intelligence to the FBI as it began its investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election. "Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI 'spied on the Trump campaign with an embedded informant'," he tweeted.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Mr Mueller's office gave a federal court a classified memo describing the extent of his investigation into Russian interference and other related crimes.
The memo was filed in response to questions raised in the court in Virginia two weeks ago by Judge T.S. Ellis over whether Mr Mueller should have "unfettered powers". Judge Ellis demanded to see an unredacted copy of the August 2017 memo written by Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein that defined Mr Mueller's investigative mandate. Judge Ellis will review the memo before deciding whether or not to dismiss charges against Mr Trump's former election campaign manager Paul Manafort.
Mr Mueller has indicted Mr Manafort in federal courts in Virginia and Washington. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS