The False Statements George Papadopoulos Made about “Dirt” Were Designed to Hide Whether He Told the Campaign about the Emails

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Other outlets have now caught up to this post I wrote on Monday showing that a footnote in George Papadopoulos’ plea, describing a May 21, 2016 exchange between Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, probably means Manafort was trying to hide the campaign’s outreach to Russia rather than tamp it down via a low level staffer.

I want to turn now to some other details that become clear when similarly comparing Papadopoulos’ plea with the complaint, written two months earlier. In the plea, Papadopoulos’ false statements are listed as:

  1. PAPADOPOULOS met the professor and learned about Russian “dirt” before he joined the campaign
  2. PAPADOPOULOS’s contacts with the professor were inconsequential
  3. PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national before he joined the campaign, and his contacts with her were inconsequential

That is, the plea describes these false statements to pertain to the timing and significance of Papadopoulos’ communications with Professor Joseph Mifsud and the still unnamed woman that Papadopoulos once believed was the niece of Vladimir Putin (this WaPo story has the best descriptions of who is who in the documents). The plea disproves those three false statements by focusing on the timing of his meetings with the two (and his complete silence about Russian International Affairs Council program director Ivan Timofeev) and the sheer volume of his communications with the two. Significantly, the plea focuses on the impact of “omitt[ing] the entire course of conduct with the Professor and [Timofeev] regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.”

As I have noted, the grand jury testimony of at least one other person, Sam Clovis, appears to have downplayed that latter point, the assertiveness with which the campaign tried to set up meetings with the Russians. That and the limited hangout of these details shared with the WaPo in August suggests Trump people, collectively, know that email records show evidence the campaign was trying to set up meetings, and that more than one person has been lying to downplay how assertive they were.

The false statements as laid out in the affidavit supporting the complaint, however, have a significantly different emphasis. False statements 1 and 2 (as I’ve numbered them) were treated as one discussion under the heading “False Statements by PAPADOPOULOS Regarding Foreign Contact 1.” The first three paragraphs of the discussion look like this:

13. During the course of his January 27, 2017 interview with the FBI, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, acknowledged that he knew a particular professor of diplomacy based in London (“Foreign Contact 1”). Foreign Contact 1 is a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean and an associate of several Russian nationals, as described further below. PAPADOPOULOS stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.

a. PAPADOPOULOS told the Agents that, in the early part of 2016, Foreign Contact 1 “actually told me that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me.” PAPADOPOULOS further stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians “have dirt on her,” meaning Clinton, and that “they have thousands of emails.”

b. PAPADOPOULOS, however, claimed to have received this information prior to joining the Campaign. He told Agents: “This isn’t like [Foreign Contact 1 was] messaging me while I’m in April with Trump.”

c. PAPADOPOULOS stated that he did not tell anyone on the Campaign about the “dirt” on Clinton because he “didn’t even know [if] that was real or fake or he was just guessing because I don’t know, because the guy [Foreign Contact 1]  seems like he’s … he’s a nothing.”

Laid out this way, the description of the false statements makes the import of them far more clear (import that the Special Counsel seems to want to obscure for now). Papadopoulos lied about the circumstances of his conversations with Mifsud — the FBI appears to have believed when they arrested him in July — as part of a story to explain why, after having heard about dirt in the form of thousands of emails from Hillary, he didn’t tell anyone else on the campaign about them. Laid out like this, it’s clear Papadopoulos was trying to hide both when he learned about the emails (just three days before the DNC did, as it turns out, not much earlier as he seems to have suggested in January), but also how important he took those emails to be (which in his false story, he tied to to a false story about how credible he found Mifsud to be).

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

Between the time they arrested Papadopoulos and the time he pled guilty, he became more forthcoming about his extensive efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and the Russians, something Mifsud made clear was a high priority for the Russians. Mueller is perfectly happy — after securing the testimony of people like Clovis — to let everyone know that.

But Mueller is still hiding the pretty obvious answer to the question about whether Papadopoulos lied about Mifsud specifically to hide that he told people on the campaign that Russians had emails to deal in conjunction with such meetings.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

36 replies
  1. Axit says:

    As part of a story to explain why, after having heard about dirt in the form of thousands of emails from Hillary, he didn’t tell anyone else on the campaign about them.

    You may be confusing the later reported and occurring DNC hack with widespread speculations that Hillary’s non-secured personal email system was hacked and accessed by numerous parties. The purpose of the document writer may be to exactly confuse that matter.  But the Hillary’s-emails-are-in-Russian-etc.-hands theme started around March 2015. Trump’s statement in July 2016 about Russia maybe having Hillary’s missing 30,000 emails was about the millionth time anyone said that.

    Here is a helpful page:

    https://www.emptywheel.net/portfolio-item/hillary-clinton-investigation-timeline/

    • emptywheel says:

      Dude.

      You may know so little about this topic as to invite mockery if not banning.

      I am not confusing a damn thing. You’re just a propagandist way out of his depth.

      Want to try again?

    • emptywheel says:

      Axit:

      Let’s make a deal. You go read this post. Come back. Exhibit some proof you’ve read it. And if you do maybe I won’t ban you as a troll. Otherwise?

      • Axit says:

        I read it.

        First off, Marcy, I respect you. Especially in the past.

        I read it. Will you read below what I posted from your own website in 2015?

        If one is talking about “emails of Clinton” before the DNC hack episode, what else would it be than Hillary Clintons’ emails? It would not mean the DNC or Podesta emails.

        Why would the Maltese professor know of any upcoming hacks by Russians of putative servers? Why would Russian intel tell him of this? Isn’t it more likely he is a British agent investigating the dope? Right, I don’t know for sure.

        People talked about finding Hillary’s  missing 30,000 emails all the time since March 2015. The chances that Papadorkus was talking about something else is nil.

         

        • greengiant says:

          You might check out EW’s recent posts and twitter feed, “Why do people believe they know the universe of emails RU, which started hacking in July 2015, had by March (actually April) 2016?”  Check out the Frontline TV episodes last week and Nov. 1.  Just to get an idea of some spins.   I almost fell out of my chair when Putin was quoted as saying who cares if we hacked Clinton,  what matters is what is in the emails.  I was thinking that was only a Putin bot argument.

          Lots of bodies in Putin’s graveyard.  Thinking you are digging one body up and you find another.

          March 14, 2016  GP meets Mifsud

          March 19,  2016   Podesta gets phished with a link to malware.   Someone fails to delete the link.

          March 21, 2016  GP meets Mifsud and Russian national.

          Trump seems to be going to jail over “emails” that were not even clean,  but polluted by Putin.   Additional humor in watching Roger Stone use Guccifer 2.0 to “stop blaming the Russians”  before the *.rtf  metadata salting in Guccifer 2.0’s versions came out and the next revision was “shows Guccifer 2.0 was not Russian”.
          Culturally, there is some feeling that a countryman may rob us and so on,  but a foreigner has no permission to do so.

           

  2. Axit says:

    More examples:

    “The Russians or Chinese might be more inclined than NSA to provide their copies of traffic. Ask nicely and they might provide an analysis of the juicy parts she didn’t turn over too. They’re not likely the only nations/groups to find clintonemail an interesting target and easy pickings.”

    “I think the Israelis are even more likely to have a full set.”

    From:

    NSA Probably Doesn’t Have ALL of Hillary’s Emails … But Maybe Someone Should March 12, 2015

    https://www.emptywheel.net/2015/03/12/nsa-probably-doesnt-have-all-of-hillarys-emails-but-maybe-someone-should/

      • emptywheel says:

        Axit:

        Why does your brain only understand the possibility of one set of emails, when as as my email post lays out there were several other known sets of emails? Your brain can’t admit any new information? It simply has shut down since 2015?

         

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    It is inconceivable that Papa learned about thousands of Hillary e-mails, but told no one else in the campaign about them.  Pursuing such items seems to have been the primary reason why this relative nobody was involved in the campaign in the first place.  That and the supposed connections with Russia he seems to brag about.

    Why Trump, a billionaire who had used Russian-associated money for years to promote his global investments, would need such an inexperienced, low-level conduit except as a cut-out is hard to fathom.  Unless it attests to how few resources Team Trump had and has.

    • Peterr says:

      You may have it backwards. It’s not “why would Trump need . . .” but perhaps “why the Russians would need . . .”. From the Guardian’s timeline of events:

      Early March 2016
      Papadopoulos, a London-based former adviser to the presidential candidate Ben Carson, learns he will become a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, with a focus on improving the US relationship with Russia.
      On or about 14 March 2016
      In Italy, Papadopoulos meets an unnamed professor, based in London, who he understands has “substantial connections to Russian government officials”. The professor is uninterested in Papadopoulos until he learns that Papadopoulos has joined the Trump campaign.

      A couple things here:
      (1) Papadopoulos may have been brought into the Trump campaign as a way of trying to get support from Carson and/or his followers. It is a tried-and-true practice for campaigns that are doing well to suck up staff from those doing poorly. Recall that Kellyanne Conway came to Trump via the Cruz campaign. Sometimes it is because the frontrunner actually recruits the staffer from that other campaign, because of what they can bring, and other times it’s the price of getting an endorsement from the candidate dropping out. I’d put Kellyanne in the first category and Papadopoulos is more likely in the second.
      (2) This reads as if the Russians recruited Papadopoulos, indicating that they were interested in getting some kind of connection with the burgeoning Trump campaign. Maybe I’ve read too much John LeCarre, but “The Professor” sounds like a Russian talent scout, on the hunt for potential sources for his masters in Moscow.
      Remember, in early 2016, not only the US media and political punditry but also every foreign ministry staffer and every spook in every corner of the world was increasingly wondering what kind of positions Trump might hold on all kinds of foreign policy issues. Yes, we all know he wanted Mexico to pay for a Yuuuge Beautiful Wall, and he made a fair number of generic “America First” noises, but how much of that was serious and how much was for domestic US consumption? Who will Trump look to for foreign policy advice and choose as his secretary of state, national security advisor, secretary of defense, NATO ambassador, UN ambassador, and a dozen other key foreign policy positions.

      When The Professor discovers he’s talking to someone with ties inside the foreign policy shop of the Trump campaign, his eyes light up. Yes, Papadopoulos doesn’t look like someone with deep foreign policy chops, but then the Trump campaign doesn’t look like an ordinary campaign. To a spook with a brief for recruiting sources and agents, Papadopoulos looks mighty mighty interesting. Even the possibility that Papadopoulos is overselling himself isn’t enough to dissuade The Professor. His job, at that point, is to string him along, keep him talking, and keep him engaged. But how?

      Two words: Hillary. Emails.

      Russia wanted information, and Papadopoulos appeared to be an unwitting conduit for getting it. What Trump wanted, at that point, was immaterial.

      Where things went from here is another story, but as for “who needed whom?”, at the beginning of this story the impetus lies with what the Russians needed.

       

      • orionATL says:

        so it was the russians who wanted info about trump that led them to search out trumpsters.

        now that’s an interesting new argument.

        • Peterr says:

          I’m not sure I’d go that far.

          From the sounds of what Mueller has put out, it’s not that the Russians searched out Papadopoulos, but when The Professor realized what a gift Papadopoulos might be, he simply took advantage of what fell into his lap and brought the story of this initial meeting back to his bosses. “Here’s what I stumbled onto . . . what should I do?”

          As a scout, The Professor would know what kinds of information would interest his bosses, and Trump’s foreign policy thoughts certainly would have been on that list, but he wouldn’t necessarily know that much about specific ongoing operations. That’s not his job. Thus, once he made the initial contact and set the hook in his subject, his job is to pass the subject off to someone who would run whatever operation that the bosses might like to run. Enter The Russian Woman.

          • orionATL says:

            i understand more precisely now.

            still, it’s nice to have things turned upside down in my head occassionally.

  4. Axit says:

    is hard to fathom.

    The prosecutors are being obtuse.  When you consider that, it is clear they know Papa was talking about the Hillary private server emails everyone was already talking about. They chose to avoid clarity. If they had clearly signaled what emails Papa was talking about, people would demand to know how much Mueller spent pursuing this particular piece of crap. Lawyers churning fees.

    Thus, as a product of the prosecutors’ conduct, many feel the document vaguely suggests that what Papa was talking about foreshadowed a knowledge of the later DNC hack.

     

     

    • orionATL says:

      axit –

      you’re an obscurantist, an agent-apologist for generalissimo trump, and a troll.

      and this is a particularly stupid argument:

      “… If they had clearly signaled what emails Papa was talking about, people would demand to know how much Mueller spent pursuing this particular piece of crap. Lawyers churning fees…”

      so where the e-mails came from that a single indictee said he had been told were available from russians would cause “people” to question the cost of interrogating papadopoulos?

      care to specify who might those “people” be and why they’d especially care to know this detail?

      + public lawyers don’t “churn fees”.

      • Axit says:

        “public lawyers don’t “churn fees

        You are one hundred percent wrong in this particular case. They’re all private hired by Mueller.

        Why don’t you address my point, that the “emails of Clinton” (which never turned up) conversation is likely about the so-called missing 30,000 of Hillary Clinton.

        You guess, I can guess too. The Maltese professor was more likely a British asset than a Russian one. Malta and Britain have an extremely close relationship.

         

         

        • Anon says:

          Umm, Malta and Russia also have a close working relationship. As do Malta and Greece, Malta and Turkey, etc. That alone does not prove that the professor was a British asset. The guy might even be a con artist. At this point all that we have to go on is Papadopolous’ assertions that he promised russian connections and the other contents of Meuller’s documents as well as the interesting but circumstantial evidence that WaPo has found.

          At this point the validity of the asset claims either way depend entirely on whatever else comes out. But none of that proves what I think is your argument that this is a double bluff or that they were after the missing mails as opposed to well anything else.

        • orionATL says:

          i’ve noticed thst your use of english is just a bit off. polish it up and you’ll be a better troll.

          “.. You are one hundred percent wrong in this particular case. They’re all private hired by Mueller…”

          no.

          some were hired from the private sector, some were seconded from gov’t agencies. none follow private law firm pay rules. mueller’s pay as special councel is around $160k.

    • rp says:

      You are purposefully misleading the jury. The hack of Podesta’s email account occurred on 3/16/16, which were, of course, not from Hillary’s private server. Precisely because (and in your own words) “everyone was already talking about” Hillary’s emails, it was these new DNC related Podesta-hacked emails that had real value to the Trump campaign, and “coffee boy” Papadoupolos was the first point of contact the Russians made with the campaign regarding having these emails and their willingness to trade them.  The majority of emails from Hillary’s server had been released by the State Dept by March 2016 and Wikileaks published over 30,000 of those released (NOT hacked) emails on its website as part of Julian Assange’s personal (though, also, likely coordinated) campaign against the Clinton campaign within 5 days of Papadoupolos’ first meeting with the newly assembled national security team. So, it seems you’re the one being obtuse.

    • orionATL says:

      tx.

      this is interesting. i always wonder with info like this if alfa bank could be involved here. i still can’t buy the business about alfa bank servers pointlessly targeting trump tower.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Nice catch.  Thanks.  A major hack undetected for four years?  Not much in the way of computer security or even accounting auditing.  What did this guy learn at Wharton’s real estate program besides how to cut classes?  Everything Donald touches turns to lead.

  5. Maybe ryan says:

    Media have disposed of “Putin’s niece” by pointing out he has no sister. But his ex has a sister. Is there some more definitive source for Putin having no niece?

    • Peterr says:

      It’s not necessarily that Putin has no nieces, but that The Russian Woman isn’t his niece. My assumption of the reporting that she isn’t Putin’s niece is that intelligence sources have identified her as a Russian intelligence agent who used that as bait. Mueller isn’t going to reveal how they know that, mind you, but it seems clear to me that she’s been IDd as a spook, not a relative.

      • Anon says:

        I have yet to see evidence presented that she was a spook. Not a relative yes but spook possibly but not necessarily. It is possible that like the lawyers that Kushner and Don Jr. met with this pair were not necessarily running an operation for the intelligence services but were seeking access for business reasons (i.e. Magnitsky). In that event they may not have had any emails at all but were just fishing with the only bait they had.

        I agree that the timing of things makes this very suspect but given how weak Papodopolous’ credibility is I am going to reserve judgment on these two being superspies until more is known.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The niece characterization lacks basic credulity, and says a great deal about how well the Russians have gauged the level of savvy of their targets.  Only Trump, among major world leaders, would be daft enough to send a real child, nephew, niece or son-in-law of his to do dirty work influencing foreign targets.

        The next missive I expect the Russians to send Donald is a breathless e-mail, telling him he can half of a Nigerian prince’s found money if he sends his bank particulars to a blind e-mail account.

        • Peterr says:

          Given how Trump privileges the advice and efforts of relatives in his companies and his administration, positioning The Russian Woman as a putative relative of Putin seems a deft bit of tradecraft aimed at getting Trump and thus Papadopoulos to accept her.

  6. maybe ryan says:

    I may be daft. But if Axit is just a propagandist, can someone explain whose interest is served by convincing us that Mifsud must have been referencing Hillary’s missing emails?

    If that’s even what Axit is saying. I have to say, his email is so much more interested in being tendentious than being clear that it’s hard for me to see what his point is.

    The only thing in the whole exchange that I could entirely grasp is that Mifsud is Maltese. I now see that that’s been in a number of articles, but I had missed it. I have a friend married to a Maltese diplomat who has been off-and-on posted in London. Can’t wait to see if they have any gossip.

  7. harpie says:

    Just something that’s been bugging me about the GP charging [correct term?] document:

    “14. On or about April 26, 2016, defendant Papadopoulos met with the Professor […]  [who] told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”

     
    So, 1] “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”, 2] “the Russians had emails of Clinton”, and 3] “they have thousands of emails” seem to be direct GP quotes. [?]

    Is GP a native English speaker? Because “the Russians had emails of Clinton” is a very awkward formulation.  I guess it could be an FBI transcription error or typo…but that would be pretty sloppy in a direct quote. Wouldn’t someone normally say “emails of Clinton” someones or somethings? [ie: campaign staff]

     

  8. Rugger9 says:

    With respect to the Corn hacker story, would it be possible (let’s stipulate it’s true solely for this discussion point) that some of its material would have been swept up in some NSA / FBI / 702 collection? IIRC, several of the players I see noted in the story are ones I would expect to be under some kind of surveillance for naughty behavior.

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