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Nigel Farage, the mind behind Brexit, is now an FBI “person of interest” in Trump-Russia

Et tu, Nigel?

Donald Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Jackson, MS (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation appears to have taken another profoundly weird turn. Nigel Farage, the far-right British politician who played a leading role in the vote to leave the European Union, is now apparently being investigated by the bureau.

The Guardian reported on Thursday that Farage is a “person of interest” in the investigation. According to the Guardian, this doesn’t mean FBI suspects Farage of criminal activity — at least, not yet. But Farage has close ties to the Trump campaign, WikiLeaks, and Russia. He’s so close to Trump, in fact, that the president once requested that he be made the UK’s ambassador to the United States:

This suggests that if there was some collusion between Trump and Russia in the plot to give hacked Hillary Clinton campaign emails to WikiLeaks, Farage might have known about it.

“If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage,” an anonymous source told the Guardian. “He’s right in the middle of these relationships. He turns up over and over again. There’s a lot of attention being paid to him.”

This, of course, raises a natural question: Why is a Brexit advocate in Britain so close to so many of the important players in the Trump-Russia saga? What follows is what we know publicly — a record that tells a very weird, and very revealing, story.

Nigel Farage’s strange history with WikiLeaks and Russia

Political Leader React To Local Election Results (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

For a long time, Farage was merely a far-right gadfly. He was the longtime head of the United Kingdom Independence Party, a party dedicated almost exclusively to getting Britain out of the European Union. Somewhat ironically, Farage has been a member of the European Parliament (MEP) on UKIP’s behalf since 1999.

UKIP saw the EU as a danger to British sovereignty; its rules requiring free migration from EU countries were especially dangerous, in UKIP and Farage’s eyes, as it invited in terrorists and degraded British culture. Like many other European far-right politicians with these views, Farage sees Russian President Vladimir Putin as a kind of comrade in the fight against the “globalism” of the European Union. Putin has opposed deeper European integration, seeing it as an effort to gang up on Russia. This makes Putin and Farage into de facto allies.

“I want the EU to be destroyed and it doesn’t matter if God or the Dalai Lama wants it as well,” he said when asked by the German publication Die Zeit about his pro-Putin stance.

Farage has appeared repeatedly on RT, Russia’s English-language propaganda outlet. In 2014, he met with Russia’s ambassador to the UK and, when asked which politician he “most admired,” he pointed to the Russian strongman.

"As an operator, but not as a human being, I would say Putin,” Farage said. "The way he played the whole Syria thing. Brilliant. Not that I approve of him politically. How many journalists in jail now?"

Since then, Farage has repeatedly blamed the Ukraine crisis on the West — painting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and low-level warfare in eastern Ukraine as a response to EU aggression.

“The Ukrainian crisis actually was sparked by the European Union saying they wanted to extend their borders to take in the Ukraine, which Putin took as being a direct threat,” Farage said in a 2016 Fox News appearance. “Now, my view on Putin and the Russians is, don’t poke the Russian bear with a stick. If you do, you’re bound to get a response.”

So while there is no evidence that Farage or UKIP have been directly funded by Putin — unlike other European far-right parties like France’s National Front — there’s at least some evidence of past contact with the Kremlin and longstanding ideological simpatico.

That’s the Putin piece. Here’s the Trump bit.

After the Brexit vote in June 2016, Farage resigned his leadership of UKIP, basically saying his goals had been accomplished. He then shifted some of his attention across the Atlantic: Much as Trump had basically endorsed the Brexit vote, Farage basically endorsed Trump, even appearing on the campaign trail alongside the presidential candidate.

He seems to have bonded with Trump during this time, to the point where Trump called for him to be the UK’s ambassador to the US and invited him to dine privately with the Trump family. He also had meetings with Trump confidantes, like political consultant (and key focus of the FBI Russia investigation) Roger Stone.

And then, to make matters really strange, Farage has longstanding connections to WikiLeaks, who published the emails stolen from Hillary Clinton allies by Russian hackers.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, you may recall, is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London — hiding both from rape charges in Sweden and the threat of extradition to the US. Leaked emails published by Business Insider show contact between UKIP and Assange’s staff going back to 2011, when the Swedish rape charges were first filed.

Then, in March of this year, Farage was photographed leaving the Ecuadorian embassy for an unannounced visit. Farage refused to say who he was meeting there, and most now take for granted that it was Assange.

All of this led members of the British press, such as Observer reporter Carole Cadwalladr, to speculate about Farage’s role in the Trump-Russia saga. Cadwalladr wondered if Farage served as a connecting point between Stone and Assange — that is, whether Stone had coordinated with Assange about the release of emails hacked by Russia, and that Farage had helped set up Assange and Stone. (Farage’s team denied this when she asked.)

“In October, Roger Stone ... told a local CBS reporter about ‘a back-channel communication with Assange, because we have a good mutual friend … that friend travels back and forth from the United States to London and we talk,’” she notes. “Farage’s relationship with [WikiLeaks] is just one of a whole host of questions to which we currently have no answer.”

When recently asked about his ties to Russia and Assange by Die Zeit, Farage walked out of the interview.

This news about Farage’s status as a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation — a term with no clear legal meaning — raises even more questions. But if there were to be another party connecting Trump, WikiLeaks, and Russia, Farage’s history suggests that he’d be a plausible candidate. It makes sense that the FBI would be “interested” in him.

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