Nigel Farage is a “person of interest” in the US counter-intelligence investigation that is looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Guardian has been told.
Sources with knowledge of the investigation said the former Ukip leader had raised the interest of FBI investigators because of his relationships with individuals connected to both the Trump campaign and Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder whom Farage visited in March.
WikiLeaks published troves of hacked emails last year that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign and is suspected of having cooperated with Russia through third parties, according to recent congressional testimony by the former CIA director John Brennan, who also said the adamant denials of collusion by Assange and Russia were disingenuous.
Farage has not been accused of wrongdoing and is not a suspect or a target of the US investigation. But being a person of interest means investigators believe he may have information about the acts that are under investigation and he may therefore be subject to their scrutiny.
Sources who spoke to the Guardian said it was Farage’s proximity to people at the heart of the investigation that was being examined as an element in their broader inquiry into how Russia may have worked with Trump campaign officials to influence the US election.
“One of the things the intelligence investigators have been looking at is points of contact and persons involved,” one source said. “If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage.
“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.”
The source mentioned Farage’s links with Roger Stone, Trump’s long-time political adviser who has admitted being in contact with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker whom US intelligence agencies believe to be a Kremlin agent.
Farage’s spokesman said he had never worked with Russian officials, and described the Guardian’s questions about Farage’s activities as “verging on the hysterical”.
“Nigel has never been to Russia, let alone worked with their authorities,” the spokesman said. But he did not respond to questions about whether Farage was aware of the FBI inquiry; had hired a lawyer in connection to the matter; or when Farage first met Trump.
The spokesman also declined to comment on whether Farage had received compensation from the Russian state-backed media group RT for his media appearances. RT, which has featured Farage about three times over the last 18 months, also declined to comment, citing confidentiality.
On Thursday Farage dismissed the story as “fake news”. He said he visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in March at the behest of LBC Radio “with a view to conducting an interview”.
He added: “I consider it extremely doubtful that I could be a person of interest to the FBI as I have no connections to Russia.”
Farage has said he only met Assange once has but declined to say how long the two have known each other.
The FBI’s national press office said it had no comment on Farage.
The former Ukip leader has voiced his support for the Russian president, calling Vladimir Putin the leader he most admired, in a 2014 interview. Ukip also has history with Assange: Gerard Batten, a Ukip member of the European parliament (MEP), defended the Wikileaks founder in a speech in the European parliament in 2011.
One source familiar with the US investigation told the Guardian that the examination of Farage’s activities was considered especially delicate given his role as an MEP.
Neither Farage nor Trump have made a secret of their admiration for one another. They emerged as unlikely winners last year in contests that have reshaped the world order: Britain’s vote to leave the EU and Trump’s surprise ascendency to the White House.
Both men credited their ability to tap into the worries of struggling and neglected citizens for their victories. But at the heart of the US investigation lies a deeper question: whether Trump campaign officials and people close to the former reality TV star sought to work with state players in Russia to try to influence the US election result.
According to an account by the Ukip donor Arron Banks, Farage first met Trump at a campaign stop in Mississippi in August, where he spoke at a Trump campaign event.
But Farage’s relationships with people close to the US president began years earlier. Farage first met Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist and former campaign chief executive, in the summer of 2012, when Bannon, who was interested in rightwing movements in Europe, invited the then Ukip leader to spend a few days in New York and Washington, according to an account in the New Yorker magazine.
There Farage was introduced to, among others, the staff of the then senator Jeff Sessions, who is now the US attorney general. Speaking of his longtime admiration for Bannon, Farage told the New Yorker last year: “I have got a very, very high regard for that man’s brain.”
Two years later, in 2014, Breitbart News, of which Bannon was executive chair, opened an office in London. A top editor, Raheem Kassam, later went on to work as Farage’s chief of staff.
In 2015, Breitbart News arranged a dinner in Farage’s honour at “the embassy”, the nickname for the house the news group rented in Washington. According to a report in Bloomberg, attendees were “blown away” by Farage’s speech at the event, which was also attended by Sessions.
Then, on 24 June last year, the day after the UK voted to leave the EU, Farage thanked Bannon during an interview for Breitbart News’s coverage of the leave campaign. Bannon, in turn, congratulated Farage on his victory, saying he had led an extraordinary “David v Goliath” campaign.
Farage’s ties to Stone are also under scrutiny, it is understood. Stone has frequently publicised his relationship with Assange and described him on Twitter as “my hero”.
Stone publicly predicted the 2016 release of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign that now lie at the heart of the federal inquiry. Democrats on the House intelligence committee have named Stone in their hearings and, according to the New York Times, he is now under investigation.
Last summer, just a few weeks before Farage met Trump in Mississippi, Stone bragged about having a “mutual friend” who served as an intermediary between himself and Assange. He also mentioned in a separate tweet that he had dinner with Farage, though the date of the encounter is unclear.
After Trump’s victory, Farage was one of the first foreign politicians to meet and celebrate with the Republican president-elect, and had his picture taken with Trump in front of a golden elevator in Trump Tower just days after the US election.
In November, Trump suggested in a tweet Farage should become the UK’s ambassador to the US.
The tweet prompted a curt response from Downing Street, which pointed out that there was “no vacancy”. A spokesman said: “We already have an excellent ambassador.”
Farage was asked about his relationship with Assange in a recent interview with Die Zeit, the German newspaper, after he was seen on 9 March leaving the Ecuadorian embassy where Assange has lived for years. Farage, who declared he had “never received a penny from Russia”, said he met Assange for “journalistic reasons”.
Pressed on his meetings with Russian officials in the past, Farage initially denied having had any, but then acknowledged that he had met Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the UK, in 2013.
Asked by Die Zeit what he was doing now, and whether he saw himself as a politician or a journalist, Farage concluded: “Changing public opinion. That’s what I have been doing for 20 years. Using television, media. Shifting public opinion. That’s what I am good at.”
A spokesman for Farage told the Guardian he had only met Assange on that one occasion. “The meeting was organised by a broadcaster, they could have easily sent another presenter instead.”
Key players in Russia-Trump investigation
The US president’s campaign team and people close to him are being investigated for possibly colluding with Russian state actors to influence the outcome of last November’s election. Trump, who has called the investigation “fake news” and recently fired the FBI director leading the case, was a staunch defender of Farage’s Brexit campaign and has met the former Ukip leader, whom he proposed several times as a possible UK ambassador to the US. While Trump recently said he would be OK with the US arresting Assange for leaks of sensitive information, he has previously sided with the Wikileaks founder, repeating Assange’s claim that he did not receive support from Russia.
The former Ukip leader was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign and attended the 2016 Republican national convention. He also has links with Steve Bannon, Trump’s White House strategist, and Roger Stone, the president’s decades-long political mentor. Farage has praised Vladimir Putin as a strong leader and has appeared several times on RT, Russia’s English-language propaganda channel. Farage has declined to say how much money RT paid him. Sources say Farage is a “person of interest” in the FBI’s investigation into whether Trump’s associates colluded with Russia during the presidential election.
The president’s chief White House strategist, who served as chief executive of the Trump campaign, has known Farage since 2012, when he was working as a senior editor at Breitbart News, the rightwing news website. The former investment banker – seen as the driving force behind Trump’s “America First” nationalist policies – hosted Farage in the US while he was leading Ukip and introduced him to key US conservatives. Breitbart strongly supported the leave campaign during the EU referendum in the UK and Bannon is seen as the main conduit between Trump and Farage.
The Republican operative, who has known Trump for decades, is at the centre of the FBI investigation. Stone, who reportedly keeps in touch with Trump, boasted last year that he had a “back channel” to Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, and predicted the release by Wikileaks of emails that damaged Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Last summer, Stone tweeted that he had dinner with Farage – confirming the pair’s relationship – and had contact with Guccifer 2.0, who claimed responsibility for the hacking of Democratic party emails.
The editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks played a key role in the release of hacked Democratic party emails, according to US intelligence agencies. They allege Russian hackers working for two Moscow spy agencies – the GRU and the FSB – gave the emails to Assange in London. WikiLeaks then published the leaked emails in July and October. This damaged Clinton’s campaign and helped Trump’s, US intelligence says. Assange denies the emails came from a state. In March, Farage visited Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, just days after he had dined with Trump in Washington.