The Trump family has dangerously blurred the lines between foreign lobbying and espionage: Ex-FBI agent
Former FBI special agent Clint Watts/MSNBC screen shot

Former FBI special agent Clint Watts told MSNBC on Thursday that it almost didn't really matter if sex spa owner Cindy Yang's interactions with President Donald Trump amounted to espionage or lobbying -- the real issue is that everyone, including foreign countries, sees the president and his family as "open for influence."

"In this case, Ms. Yang, you can't tell what's influence, you can't tell what's espionage, you can't tell what is just good political donations," Watts said. Lobbying, he added, was traditionally a "very formalized" process. "But in this case, we just see open doors and access."

"We've even seen reports of foreign countries saying 'we should go at Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, they are open for influence, let's try and nudge up to them,'" Watts continued. "Doesn't necessarily mean it's a spy. It's a great way to advance your interest for a very low cost, and the doors seem to be wide open on this White House."

That radical departure from established norms was the reason so many of Trump's associates were running afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Watts said.

"I think that's why you're seeing from the Mueller investigation this reoccurring theme of going after the FARA act, and are we going to enforce it or not," he said, adding that the "focus on Ms. Yang" was a dead end, and offering advice for Congress.

"I know that is a sensational story, but I think a better question Congress can be asking when it comes to counterintelligence is just go to the intelligence community and ask one simple question," Watts said. "'How many times since the Trump Administration started have we seen espionage targets that we believe are trying to penetrate the U.S. government show up at the White House, or Mar-a-Lago, with Trump campaign people.' You don't need to be specific on those but it will tell you the severity of the problem."

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