Louise Mensch: the former British MP who scooped US media on Trump's Russian ties
the investigation into the Trump team’s contacts with Moscow – one of the biggest scoops came from an unexpected source: the British former MP and novelist Louise Mensch.n the journalistic race to get to the bottom of one of the most closely guarded secrets in Washington –
Mensch has lived in New York since resigning as the Conservative MP for Corby in 2012 so that she could spend more time with her children and her American husband, Peter, the manager of the heavy metal band Metallica.
Now 45, the woman born Louise Bagshawe in London who once dominated the chick-lit bestseller lists in the UK has reinvented herself once more: working as an executive for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp by day, and probing Donald Trump’s Moscow connections by night.
On the eve of the November election, Mensch published a sensational story reporting that a special intelligence court in Washington had granted a warrant to allow the FBI to conduct surveillance of “US persons” in an investigation of possible contacts between Russian banks and the Trump organisation.
At the time, the story did not cause much of a ripple. It was published on Heat Street, a libertarian-leaning website run by News Corp, and an unknown quantity in journalism. So was Mensch, whose recent public profile consisted mainly of a string of angry Twitter spats.
Meanwhile, the combined investigative forces of the US media had spent months seeking to prove a secret connection between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin and had come up with very little.
The online magazine Slate had published an article at the end of October about mysterious pings that had been detected between a Russian bank, Alfa, and a server connected to the Trump organisation, but the New York Times quoted FBI officials as saying they had looked into it and decided there “there could be an innocuous explanation” for the computer contacts.
Two months later, however, the BBC put out a story echoing Mensch’s original report about the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Fisa) court warrant issued in October to allow the justice department to look into transfers and communications between the Russian banks and Trump associate – and that US intelligence agencies were investigating the link.
The Guardian separately confirmed the original request for a Fisa warrant, which had been turned down earlier in the summer, and former officials said they believed that the Mensch and BBC account of the Fisa warrants was correct.
In mid-January, the McClatchy news agency said one of its sources had also confirmed the report, and the New York Times’ public editor, Liz Spayd, published an assessment of its coverage of the Trump-Moscow link on 20 January, arguing that it had been “too timid”. The Times, Spayd argued, “knew several critical facts: the FBI had a sophisticated investigation under way on Trump’s organization, possibly including Fisa warrants”.
The full facts about the connections between the Trump camp and the Kremlin are not yet known. Trump now has authority over all the intelligence agencies that were investigating the Russian connection. Investigations have been officially launched in the Senate, but there too, Republicans are in command, and only a handful of senators seem ready to break party ranks to inquire further.
However, it seems increasingly clear that Mensch landed an extraordinary scoop that had eluded the best investigative journalists in the US. Her explanation is that her vocal advocacy on behalf of UK and US intelligence agencies since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance led her sources to trust her.
“They gave me one of the most closely guarded secrets in intelligence,” she said in a telephone interview. “People are speculating why someone trusted me with that. Nobody met me in a darkened alley in a fedora, but they saw me as someone who has political experience and is their friend. I am a pro-national security partisan. I don’t have divided loyalties.”
Mensch said she gained her reputation among intelligence professionals on both sides of the Atlantic as a result of her furious criticism of the Guardian’s handling of the NSA files leaked by Snowden when he walked out of his NSA job in Hawaii and fled to Hong Kong.
The files included large amounts of information about the UK electronic surveillance agency, GCHQ, and Mensch argued that moving the files around the world constituted trafficking in stolen state secrets that put the lives of British intelligence officials at risk.
The Guardian has maintained that the revelation of the extent of mass surveillance in the UK and the US was in the public interest, that the data was shared responsibly and securely among journalists, and that nothing was put in the public domain that would be a threat to the lives of GCHQ workers.
Mensch presented herself as an advocate for intelligence professionals, who were unable to defend themselves because of the secret nature of their work. She frequently uses the hashtag #TeamBond. “I am a patriot in the service of the intelligence community,” she said.
A few weeks after her Fisa scoop, Mensch was moved from her job running Heat Street, but she said she had asked for the job as she was keen to develop new digital projects for News Corp.
Mensch continues to investigate the Trump administration’s links with the Russian government, but now in her own time, publishing her theories in tweets and a blog. She has lately been tracking the flights of private planes linked to Russian oligarchs and Trump associates. She insisted that she had not come under any pressure to stop from Murdoch or senior management of the largely pro-Trump News Corp. She says she prefers the free hand self-publishing provides.
“I didn’t want to be subject to an editing process,”she said. “Editors would ask: who are your sources? And I can’t tell them.”
In her tweets Mensch is unsparing when it comes to making allegations, and she has repeatedly denounced some figures in the Trump circle as traitors. She insists she has no fear of being sued for libel. “I’ve never been sued because I’ve never been wrong,” she said.