The most important thing about today’s Russia probe news is this: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos tested out every defense you’ve been hearing from those involved in the campaign: It’s a nothing….it happened before he was part of the campaign…it was just chatter. And none of those defenses worked. That’s the signal being sent by special prosecutor Robert Mueller today. Those lines might work in the court of public opinion — and in fact, President Trump used the ‘it happened before the campaign’ excuse on Twitter today about Paul Manafort.
But Mueller isn’t having it.
Papadopoulos pled guilty three weeks ago to lying to federal agents, it was revealed today. You can read the “Statement of the Offense” filing here from the Department of Justice, and I suggest every American do so. (If you can’t get to it, I’ve pasted my most-interesting-entries below.) But on a day when most people are focused on the Manafort indictment, I’d suggest the surprise announcement about Papadopoulos is the far more interesting and meaningful development.
Before you read on, however, I think it’s possible to read the statement and still come away with, “What crime was committed?” other than lying to federal agents. Papadopoulos clearly is charged with helping the campaign cozy up to Russia somehow. (Unless you believe he’s a rogue free-lancer, which seems pretty fanciful). But that’s not a crime. His interest in incriminating evidence against Hillary Clinton sure feels dirty, but is that a crime, or just rough-and-tumble campaign tactics? Perhaps any Clinton dirt could be deemed an item of value, and that could constitute a violation of law, as campaigns can’t accept anything of value from a foreign government. That’s not a slam dunk, however.
At the moment, I think you’d have to be foolish not to think Trump’s campaign was eager to hear about anything Russians could do to help Trump get elected. As more details about that become clear, what will the court of public opinion say? Will any Trump supporters flip over such revelations? Or will “nothing burger” trump any facts that are unearthed? What we now know is Mueller can’t be swayed by that argument. Perhaps, the American people can be, however.
—– My “hits” from the statement of offense. My notes prefaced be “ME:” —–
- Defendant PAPADOPOULOS acknowledged that the professor (ME: His so far unnamed Russian contact) had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the Campaign. In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS learned he would be an advisor to the Campaign in early March, and met the professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign; and the professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS about the “thousands of emails” on or about April 26, 2016, when defendant PAPADOPOULOS had been a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign for over a month.
- Defendant PAPADOPOULOS understood that the professor had substantial connections to Russian government officials (and had met with some of those officials in Moscow immediately prior to telling defendant PAPADOPOULOS about the “thousands of emails”) and, over a period of months, defendant PAPADOPOULOS repeatedly sought to use the professor’s Russian connections in an effort to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials.
- On or about March 24, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met with the Professor in London. The Professor brought with him a female Russian national (the “Female Russian National”), introduced to defendant PAPADOPOULOS as a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian government officials. (ME: Turned out, she wasn’t related to Putin)
- The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”
- “It’s history making if it happens” (ME: PAPADOPOULOS said this after a meeting, by way of thanking the professor for his “critical help” in arranging a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials)
- (ME: Among the false statements PAPADOPOULOS made to federal agents) “This isn’t like he [the Professor]’s messaging me while I’m in April with Trump”; ” I wasn’t even on the Trump team, that wasn’t even on the radar”; ” I wasn’t even on Trump’s orbit at this time”; and “This was a year ago, this was before I even got with Trump.” He also said it was a “very strange coincidence” to be told of the “dirt” before he started working for the Campaign.
- (ME: After PAPADOPOULOS met with agents a second time)
- The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS deactivated his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005 and which contained information about communications he had with the Professor and the Russian MFA (ME: Ministry of Foreigh Affairs) Connection. Shortly after he deactivated his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account that did not contain the communications with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection.
- On or about February 23, 20 17, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.