Was he the coffee boy? Or was he the covfefe boy, masterminding a Kremlin-backed plot to swing the presidential election and change the course of American history forever?
I think Trump crony Michael Caputo is probably right that George Papadopoulos was the coffee boy, or something much closer to that inside the campaign than a linchpin of the vaporous Russiagate plot. It’s borderline preposterous to think that Team Trump would have trusted something as sensitive and momentous as collusion with Russia against Hillary Clinton to a 30-year-old who hadn’t started out with their campaign and whose acumen and loyalty were untested. Like I said yesterday, he reeks of being a young go-getter eager to impress his superiors and biting off more than he could chew in the process.
But that’s not to say that his interactions with that mysterious Russian professor identified in the document yesterday were innocent. On the contrary:
James Gagliano, a retired senior FBI official, said the details revealed in court documents Monday match Russian tradecraft, which relies on seemingly innocuous intermediaries who cultivate potential targets to determine whether they might cooperate willingly or could even be coerced to provide assistance.
“Asset recruitment involves having someone ‘safe’ approach you and ascertain your viability: How gullible or naive or desperate you might be. And then, you get passed off from the ‘safe’ approach guy to the more connected and skilled and knowledgeable operative,” Gagliano said. “It’s a classic [counterintelligence] recruitment method. Could the ‘professor’ have been the ‘safe’ entree guy? Speculation. But might be a good bet.”
In a sworn affidavit to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, one of the FBI agents who interviewed Papadopoulos suggested that his experience with the professor was consistent with known Kremlin recruitment tactics.
The Russians may have approached Papadopoulos after he was named an advisor to the campaign expecting that, as a low man on the totem pole, he’d be flattered by the attention and excited about suddenly being at the center of a Russian outreach effort to Team Trump. If so, they were right: Papadopoulos sure did seem jazzed to get Trump over to Moscow in the emails described in yesterday’s document. In addition, whether or not his main job on the campaign was asking people if they wanted cream and sugar, he was significant enough to get his emails returned by major players. Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News says he knows who the “campaign supervisor” and the “high-ranking campaign official” are who were described in Papadopoulos’s pleading as corresponding with him about a Russia trip:
But they quote one unidentified campaign “supervisor” as emailing him in August 2016 that “I would encourage you” to make a trip to Moscow to arrange such a meeting. A Trump campaign source identified the supervisor as Sam Clovis, a conservative radio host who was co-chairman of the campaign. Another “high ranking” official — identified by the source as campaign chairman Paul Manafort — received an email from Papadopoulos saying that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and has been reaching out to me to discuss.” Manafort forwarded that email to his associate Rick Gates and wrote: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Fetching beverages, replacing the printer ink, chatting with the campaign manager about flying to Moscow to discuss kompromat on the other party’s candidate: Such is the humdrum life of a “coffee boy.” If Papadopoulos was enough of a player to chat with Manafort and Clovis back then, conceivably he was enough of a player to get Manafort and Clovis on the phone recently while wearing a wire for Mueller.
The significance of the Papadopoulos pleading is that we now have two discrete attempts by members of Team Trump to get dirt on Hillary from people connected to Russian intelligence, the other, of course, being Donald Trump Jr’s meeting with the Russian lawyer. What we don’t have (yet), though, is evidence of any successful transmission of that dirt or of any sustained effort by campaign higher-ups to coordinate with Moscow. The Trump Jr meeting allegedly went nowhere; the Papadopoulos trip idea never came off. Why not? If there was serious interest in collusion within the campaign, when do we see the proof of operatives on both sides cooperating with each other to actually do damage to Clinton?
Anyway, it’s very likely that we’ll soon be talking about Mike Flynn instead of Manafort and Papadopoulos. BuzzFeed is right — it’d be odd, frankly, if Flynn didn’t get indicted at this point given that he stands accused of the same things Manafort and Papadopoulos just got pinched for. And Flynn was no coffee boy. Exit question via Business Insider: When Manafort told Rick Gates that someone “low level” should be making a trip to Russia in lieu of Trump, did he mean … Carter Page?