Since this will be pretty much the only story the mainstream media wants to tackle this weekend, I suppose we’d better briefly dig into the latest New York Times bombshell (from anonymous sources identified only as “four current and former American and foreign officials”) regarding a drunken George Papadopoulos and some Australian diplomats in May of last year. You’ll remember George as the “coffee boy” who variously worked or volunteered for the Trump campaign in its early stages and is now a cooperating witness in the Russia, Russia, Russia probe after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI. The story sounds like a bunch of cloak and dagger stuff but, assuming it’s true, it will provide at least some new twists in Bob Mueller’s investigation.
The short version involves Papadopoulos getting drunk with some Aussies in London and letting slip that the Russians were sitting on some “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. The Times sets the scene.
During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.
About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.
Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.
Just to set this in the timeline, the London meeting would have taken place a couple of months before the DNC even knew they’d been hacked. After George was named a campaign adviser on foreign policy, Joseph Mifsud and Olga Polonskaya (who we’ve heard about before) took a keen interest in him. At some point in April, Papadopoulos was allegedly made aware of the pile of hacked emails. There’s no indication that he told anyone about them on the campaign, but it would be pretty remarkable if he didn’t, particularly for a young guy with limited background and contacts in political circles trying to get a leg up.
So what does this mean to the investigation and, if anything, to Trump himself? Tough to say. First of all, in terms of “collusion” between the Russians and the campaign, this only seems to reinforce the idea that somebody in Russia cooked up the plan on their own and George only found out about it after the fact. There’s also nothing to point to the idea that any of Trump’s people were involved in getting the emails to WikiLeaks. (And this is all still assuming that that’s where they came from since others have claimed to have gotten them directly from somebody at the DNC.)
It does, however, offer a bit of leverage to those who are fighting the idea that the entire FBI investigation was kicked off because of the phony dossier. Of course, where the investigation started has really never struck me as a relevant factor in all of this. If you’re in the intelligence community, whether your lead is rock-solid recordings of a double agent or a rumor about some guy cheating on his wife who turns out to be dating a spy, you still go after the spy. The real question here seems to be the classic one of who knew about it, what did they know and when did they know it.
If this was Papadopoulos going off freestyle on his own and he didn’t give any details of it to the campaign (unlikely if this scenario is true) then he’s basically walking the plank alone. If others on the campaign were in on it, up to and including Trump, it gets more interesting. It still sounds like whoever did the hacking did so independently and there’s no indication that the Trump campaign facilitated releasing the emails, but there’s one more question on the end of that chain. If you knew, or at least had reason to strongly suspect that the Russians had hacked into the DNC servers and stolen tens of thousands of documents, why didn’t you report that to the FBI?
That seems to be the bottom line here. If Team Trump found out about the emails at the same time as everyone else (when they hit Wikileaks) then nobody is going to blame them for doing a victory lap over the news. But if they sat on that information for months, it may not amount to “collusion” but a failure to report the crime could cause a lot of trouble. In the end, it all comes down to what else Papadopoulos knows beyond what we’re being told and how much of it he’s given to the FBI. So this story isn’t looking like a complete nothingburger, but it’s also lacking enough meat to say that the Grim Visage of Doom is lurking outside the Oval Office door right now.