Are Republicans right about the Russia probe?

Steele’s information didn’t get much high-level attention at first. But bells began ringing in July, after Australian intelligence told the FBI about an unusual conversation two months earlier between Australia’s London high commissioner and George Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser. As the New York Times reported last month, Papadopoulos had told the Australian official that Russia had damaging political information about Clinton. The Australians decided to share this intelligence with the FBI after hacked Democratic emails were published in July.

The FBI was now very interested. Based on the Australian account, knowledgeable sources say, the bureau requested another meeting with Steele to dig deeper. That encounter took place around Oct. 1 in Rome with Steele’s old FBI contact. At this meeting, the FBI official asked Steele if he had ever heard of Papadopoulos, according to an official familiar with the meeting. Steele hadn’t.

What does this narrative tell us? Far from a yarn concocted by Steele, the FBI probe was driven by its own independent reporting about Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last October to lying about his Russia contacts. The bottom line: There may be something in tatters at the center of this investigation, but it isn’t the FBI.