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George Papadopoulos Was Trying to Hide Evidence He Thought Might Amount to Treason When He Lied to the FBI

Chuck Ross’ description of a September 2016 conversation between Stefan Halper and George Papadopoulos has evolved over the course of his reporting on it. In March, he described it this way:

According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?”

Papadopoulos told Halper he didn’t know anything about emails or Russian hacking, said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. The professor did not follow up on the line of inquiry.

In his next story on the exchange, Ross described it this way:

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of their meetings said Halper randomly asked Papadopoulos whether he knew about Democratic National Committee emails that had been hacked and leaked by Russians.

Papadopoulos strongly denied the allegation, sources familiar with his version of the exchange have told TheDCNF. Halper grew agitated and pressed Papadopoulos on the topic. Papadopoulos believes that Halper was recording him during some of their interactions, sources said.

The very next day, here’s how Ross described it:

During one of their dinners, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the Russian theft of Democrats’ emails, sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ account have told TheDCNF. Papadopoulos denied the allegation, saying that stealing emails would be treason.

Halper grew frustrated, according to sources.

This is the first story in this series where Ross describes what Papadopoulos pled guilty to, but he gets it wrong in a key way I’ll describe below.

Finally, Ross offers yet another description in a new story today.

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ version of events say that during one conversation, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of DNC emails. Papadopoulos denied it, telling Halper that hacking emails would be treason. Halper grew frustrated, according to the sources.

Today’s story claims we don’t know what Alexander Downer told FBI. We do know one detail he omitted: That Downer told the FBI that Papadopoulos told him Mifsud said the Russians were going to release the emails to help Trump.

Now, as I said, in yesterday’s story, Ross described the substance of the lies Papadopoulos told the FBI slightly wrong.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals. He did, however, tell the FBI in his initial interviews that Mifsud mentioned Clinton documents.

Ross leans on his misunderstanding of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea to argue today that FBI should have interviewed Papadopoulos back in August, rather than ask a lifelong Republican to ask the same questions while hiding the FBI interest.

Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to the special counsel’s office for lying to the FBI during that interview. As part of his plea deal, Papadopoulos admitted he lied about the timing of his interactions with two Russian nationals and a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos initially told FBI agents that the contacts occurred prior to joining the Trump campaign when, in fact, they occurred after he learned that he would be joining the Trump campaign in March 2016.

FBI defenders could point to Papadopoulos’ deception in the January 2017 interview to argue that he would have lied had he been questioned earlier in Crossfire Hurricane. But that argument is undercut by what else Papadopoulos said in his FBI interview.

According to a statement of offense Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed, Papadopoulos told FBI agents that Mifsud mentioned the stolen Clinton emails.

And sources familiar with Papadopoulos’s version of the FBI interview say he claims that he, and not the FBI agents, first mentioned Mifsud during the interview, which was conducted in Chicago without lawyers present.

That is, Ross argues that because Papadopoulos offered up that he met a weird guy named Mifsud who told him the Russians were offering dirt in the form of Hillary emails, he could be trusted to have been honest had the FBI asked him in August.

As I said, though, Ross’ first description of Papadopoulos’ guilty plea is wrong in several ways. Ross hides how important Papadopoulos said Mifsud seemed; the FBI describes Papadopoulos claiming Mifsud was just BSing. The former Trump aide similarly denied having any relationship with the Russian woman Mifsud introduced him to. Both those details make Papadopoulos’ lies about the timing more important: he lied about how important he believed these two were and he lied about the way their outreach to him tied to his role on the campaign.

In Ross’ first description of his plea, however, he suggested that Papadopoulos affirmatively lied “about the timing of his encounters with Mifsud and two Russian nationals,” the second of whom we know to be Ivan Timofeev. That’s wrong. In the first interview, Papadopoulos (successfully) hid the entire existence of Timofeev. That’s key because Papadopoulos was forwarding communications from Timofeev, a Russian official, talking about setting up meetings with campaign officials. He was forwarding these emails to the campaign in the weeks leading up to the June 9 meeting. Indeed, Papadopoulos told Timofeev that Trump’s first campaign speech was a sign that the candidate was willing to meet. By hiding Timofeev, Papadopoulos was hiding high level campaign knowledge of the outreach (including Paul Manafort).

Ross fails to mention another damning thing the purportedly forthcoming Papadopoulos did the day after his second FBI interview: delete his Facebook account, and with it his communications with Timofeev, and get a new cell phone, presumably destroying secure communications.

There is no way Papadopoulos would have been any more honest with FBI in August 2016 than he was in January.

And if the third and fourth version of Ross’ description of the Halper-Papadopoulos exchange is any indication, then it’s very clear why Papadopoulos would have always lied about the communications: because he considered the very same kind of back and forth with Russians tied to the email release treason.

Papadopoulos was trying to cover up evidence he thought might prove treason.

Schiff Memo Reveals that Mifsud Specifically Told Papadopoulos Russia Would Release Hillary Emails to Help Trump Campaign

“If it’s what you say I love it” – Don Jr., gleefully accepting Russian dirt after George Papadopoulos had been told Russia would release emails to help the campaign

HPSCI just released the Schiff memo responding to the Nunes memo. Mostly, it’s underwhelming.

But there is one piece of important news. The memo provides more details about what George Papadopoulos told Australian Ambassador, Alexander Downer, about the Russian outreach via Joseph Mifsud. That passage reads:

George Papadopoulos revealed [redacted] that individuals linked to Russia, who took interest in Papadopoulos as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, informed him in late April 2016 that Russia [two lines redacted]. Papadopoulos’s disclosure, moreover, occurred against the backdrop  of Russia’s aggressive covert campaign to influence our elections, which the FBI was already monitoring. We would later learn in Papadopoulos’s plea that the information the Russians could assist by anonymously releasing were thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.

While the description of what Papadopoulos said is redacted, the context makes it clear (as does this Adam Schiff tweet) that Papadopoulos didn’t tell Downer specifically what Russia had told him was available, only that they could release it to help Trump.

But that Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russians were thinking of releasing it to help Trump is news, important news. It means the discussions of setting up increasingly senior levels of meetings between Russia and the Trump campaign took place against the offer of help in the form of released kompromat.

Which, particularly given the evidence that Papadopoulos shared that information with the campaign, makes the June 9 meeting still more damning.

Incidental Collection Under Section 702 Has Probably Contributed to Trump’s Downfall, Too

As you’ve no doubt heard, the House passed the bad reauthorization to Section 702 yesterday. The Senate will vote on cloture on Tuesday — though both Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have threatened to filibuster it — and will almost certainly be voted into law after that.

I’ll have comment later on the rising costs, for politicians, for mindlessly reauthorizing these bills in a follow-up post.

Paul Ryan told President Trump Section 702 hasn’t affected his people

But for the moment, I want to comment on the debate that took place in response to Trump’s two tweets. The first tweet, which was clearly a response to a Judge Napolitano piece on Fox News yesterday morning, complaining about FISA.

Then, after a half hour lesson from Paul Ryan on the different FISA regimes (note, for some reason Devin Nunes was conspicuously absent from much of this process yesterday, both the coddling of the President and managing debate on the bill), a follow-up tweet hailing Section 702’s utility for “foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.”

In response to those tweets, many commenters stated, as a matter of fact, that Trump hasn’t been impacted by Section 702, that only traditional FISA intercepts drove key developments in the Russian investigation.

That’s unlikely to be true, and I suspect we already have evidence that that’s not the case.

It is true that incidental collection on a Title I got Mike Flynn in trouble

To defend the case that incidental collection off a traditional FISA order has impacted Trump’s administration, people point to the December 29, 2016 intercepts of communications between Sergey Kislyak and Mike Flynn which were cited in Flynn’s guilty plea. It is true that those intercepts were done under a traditional FISA order. Admiral Mike Rogers as much as confirmed that last March in his efforts to explain basic FISA law to the House Intelligence Committee Republicans who are supposed to oversee it.

Rogers: FISA collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do with 702, I just want to make sure we’re not confusing the two things here. 702 is collection overseas against non US persons.

And Speaker Ryan, fresh off his efforts to teach the President basic surveillance law, yesterday clarified — inaccurately — that,

Title 1 of the FISA law is what you see in the news that applies to U.S. citizens. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This is Title 7, Section 702. This is about foreign terrorists on foreign soil.

Whatever the facts about FISA orders targeting Carter Page and Paul Manafort, the intercepts that have done the most known damage to the Trump Administration so far targeted a foreigner on US soil, Sergey Kislyak, and Flynn just got picked up incidentally.

Papadopoulos’ affidavit and statement of offense make different claims about his false claims and obstruction

But as I said, I suspect it is highly likely the Trump Administration has also been brought down by an American being caught up incidentally in a Section 702 tasking. That’s because of several details pertaining to the George Papadopoulos plea which I nodded to here; they strongly suggest that Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Joseph Mifsud were first obtained by the FBI via Section 702, and only subsequently parallel constructed using a warrant. It’s further likely that the FBI obtained a preservation order on Papadopoulos’ Facebook account before he deleted it because of what they saw via Section 702. [Update: KC has alerted me that they may not have gotten a preservation order, but instead were able to access the Facebook account because that content doesn’t all go away when you deactivate an account, which is what the October 5 document describes as happening.]

Compare the two descriptions of how Papadopoulos obstructed justice. The July 28, 2017 affidavit supporting Papadopoulos’ arrest describes Papadopoulos destroying his Facebook account to hide conversations he had with Timofeev.

The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, however, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, shut down his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005. Shortly after he shut down his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account.

The Facebook account that PAPADOPOULOS shut down the day after his interview with the FBI contained information about communications he had with Russian nationals and other foreign contacts during the Campaign, including communications that contradicted his statements to the FBI. More specifically, the following communications, among others, were contained in that Facebook account, which the FBI obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant.

The affidavit makes it clear that Papadopoulos attempted to hide “his interactions during the Campaign with foreign contacts, including Russian nationals.” The descriptions of the communications that Papadopoulos attempted to hide are described as “a Facebook account identified with Foreign Contact 2,” Timofeev.

The FBI recorded both interviews, suggesting they already by January 27 they had reason to worry that Papadopoulos might not tell the truth.

The October 5 statement of the offense describes one of Papadopoulos’ false statements this way:

PAPADOPOULOS failed to inform investigators that the Professor had introduced him to the Russian MFA Connection [Timofeev], despite being asked if he had met with Russian nationals or “[a]nyone with a Russian accent” during the Campaign. Indeed, while defendant PAPADOPOULOS told the FBI that he was involved in meetings and did “shuttle diplomacy” with officials from several other countries during the Campaign, he omitted the entire course of conduct with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

And it describes his obstruction this way:

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 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, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.

In neither document does FBI mention having the content of Papadopoulos’ April 2016 Skype calls with Timofeev and neither one cites data — such as texts — that might have been on his cell phone.

What FBI (probably) learned when

While we can’t be sure — after all, the government may simply be withholding more information from other suspects — the differences between the two legal filings and other public information suggest the following evolution in what the government knew of Papadopoulous’ communications with his interlocutors when. Most importantly, the FBI had learned of Papadopoulos’ communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova before his two interviews, but they had not learned of his communications with Ivan Timofeev.

Late July 2016

In a drunken conversation in May 2016, Papadopoulos told the Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer that he had been told (by Joseph Mifsud, but it’s not clear Papadopoulos would have revealed that) the Russians had dirt on Hillary in the form of emails.

Before January 27, 2017

  • Papadopoulos might lie and so should be recorded
  • Papadopoulos had interesting communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova
  • Since Timofeev did not come up in the interview, FBI appears not to have learned of those conversations yet

Before February 16, 2017

  • Papadopoulos’ Facebook was interesting enough to sustain a preservation request but (because FBI still didn’t know about Timofeev) FBI had not yet accessed its content via Papadopoulos [Though see update above]
  • FBI had not yet accessed Skype, which would have shown call records between Timofeev and Papadopoulos
  • FBI did not have a warrant on Papadopoulos’ phone and never obtained one before February 23

By July 28, 2017

  • FBI had obtained a warrant for Papadopoulos’ email
  • FBI had read the Facebook content Papadopoulos tried to delete, discovering the communications (and the relationship) with Timofeev
  • FBI had identified the Skype conversations that had taken place, but not in time to collect them using 702

By October 5, 2017

  • FBI had obtained far more email from the campaign side
  • FBI had discovered that, in addition to destroying his Facebook account, Papadopoulos had also gotten a new phone number (and, I suspect, a new phone), thereby destroying any stored texts on the phone

FBI probably tracked Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud before February 16

Again, this is just a guess, but given the evolution of FBI’s understanding about Papadopoulos laid out above, it seems highly likely that FBI had obtained some (but not all) of Mifsud’s communications before February 16, had submitted preservation requests to Papadopoulos’ providers, but had not yet obtained any legal process for content via Papadopoulos. Given that Papadopoulos’ Facebook content was preserved even in spite of his effort to destroy it, it seems clear the government had reason to know its content was of interest, but it did not yet know about his Facebook communications with Timofeev. This is how FBI routinely launders Section 702 information through criminal process, by getting a warrant for the very same content available at PRISM providers that they already obtained via PRISM. They key detail is that they appear to have known about the content of some but not all of Papadopoulos’ Facebook messages in time to preserve the account before February 16.

This strongly suggests the FBI had obtained Mifsud’s Facebook content, but not Papadopoulos’.

Once FBI opened a full investigation into the Russian ties — which we know they did in late July, in part because of that Papadopoulos conversation about the Mifsud comments — it could task and obtain a raw feed of any known PRISM account for any foreigner overseas associated with that investigation. Once it identified Mifsud as Papadopoulos’ interlocutor — and they would have been able to identify their common relationship from their common front organization, the London Centre of International Law Practice — they would have tasked Mifsud on any identifier they could collect.

And collecting on Facebook would be child’s play — just ask nicely. So it would be shocking if they hadn’t done it as soon as they identified that Mifsud was Papadopoulos’ interlocutor and that he had a Facebook account.

Incidental collection under 702 may have led to the preservation of evidence about the Timofeev relationship Papadopoulos tried to destroy

If all this is right — and it is admittedly just a string of well-educated guesses — then it means FBI’s ability to incidentally collect on Papapdopoulos by targeting Mifsud may have been what led them to take action to preserve Papadopoulos’ Facebook content, and with it evidence of ongoing communications with Timofeev that he had tried to hide.

And the fact that he did try to hide it is what led to Mueller flipping his first cooperating witness.

So if all this is right, then incidental collection on Papadopoulos under Section 702 may be every bit as central to Trump’s legal jeopardy right now as the incidental collection on Flynn under Title I. They’re both critical pieces in proving any hypothetical case that Trump traded policy considerations for the release of Hillary emails.

This is how Section 702 is supposed to work, and could be done under USA Rights

Let me be clear: I’m not saying the discovery of Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud and through them his Facebook communications with Timofeev is an abuse. On the contrary, this is how 702 is supposed to work.

If we’re going to have this program, it should be used to target suspect agents of a foreign power located overseas, as Mifsud clearly was. If he was targeted under 702, he was targeted appropriately.

But there is no reason to believe doing so required any of the more abusive uses of 702 that USA Rights would limit. Unless Mifsud was already tasked at FBI when they opened the investigation in July 2016, there’s no reason to believe this account could have been found off of a back door search at FBI. Mifsud may have been tasked at NSA or even CIA, but if he was, searching on Papadopoulos because the government suspected he was being recruited by a foreign power would fall under known justifications for back door searches at those foreign intelligence agencies (especially at CIA).

USA Rights would permit the use of this 702 information to support the criminal case against Papadopoulos, because it’s clearly a case of foreign government spying.

And no use of the Tor exception would be implicated with this search.

In other words, Section 702 as Ron Wyden and Rand Paul and Justin Amash and Zoe Lofgren would have it would still permit the use of Section 702 as a tool to — ultimately — lead FBI to figure out that Papadopoulos was hiding his contacts with Ivan Timofeev.

As it turns out, the kinds of people Trump’s foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos was chatting up on Facebook — Joseph Mifsud and Ivan Timofeev — are precisely the kind of people the FBI considers “foreign bad guys on foreign land” for the purposes of Section 702, meaning the Bureau could get their Facebook account quite easily.

And the incidental collection of Americans of such conversations can be — may well have been — as dangerous to Donald Trump as the incidental collection of Americans under Title I.

The Papadopoulos Delay

We now know that sometime after July 22, 2016, Australian Ambassador to the US, Joe Hockey, told the FBI that George Papadopoulos got drunk with Australia’s Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer, two months earlier and told him he had learned the Russians had dirt, emails, on Hillary Clinton.

That revelation has led a lot of people to ask why it took so long — January 27, 2017 — for the FBI to interview Papadopoulos.

I don’t have an answer for that. But I want to point to some dates from his arrest affidavit and information that are newly of interest giving that timing.

As numerous people have pointed out, those documents provide the outlines of the dates when FBI first interviewed Papadopoulos, on January 27, when they had a follow-up interview, on February 16, and when, the day after, he deleted his Facebook account. The follow-up would have happened in the wake of FBI interviewing Joseph Mifsud while he was in the US for the Global Ties conference on February 8. They didn’t arrest Papadopoulos until July 27, roughly a year after the Australians first informed the FBI that he had foreknowledge of what may have been the hacked emails.

But I’m at least as interested in how the other dates from the documents on Papadopoulos relate to that timeline as laid out in the two timelines below.

Note that every Facebook message is to Ivan Timofeev — a legal target under 702. Even in the July arrest affidavit, some emails between Americans are cited. Thus, the need for the warrant.

Importantly, there are no texts cited, at all. In the arrest affidavit, just Papadopoulos’ shutdown of his Facebook account is mentioned. The information explains that, “On or about February 23, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using anew number.” Whatever texts he might have had on his phone (including more secure Signal texts) would have been destroyed. While Papadopoulos wasn’t using particularly good operational security (particularly in that he was communicating with Timofeev over a PRISM provider), it is possible that the most sensitive communications with the Trump campaign involved texts that got destroyed after his first interview with the FBI.

My guess is that the FBI didn’t start pursuing warrants against Papaopoulos until after that first interview (remember, he remained involved with Trump up until he wasn’t given the energy portfolio on the National Security Council). It’s possible, too, they used FISA orders at first (which would take some time to obtain, unless they got emergency ones), then obtained search warrants to parallel construct the evidence.

“Emails obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant”

March 24, Papadopoulos to campaign

Papadopoulos: “just finished a very productive lunch with a good friend of mine, [Mifsud] . . . ‐ who introduced me to both Putin’s niece and the Russian Ambassador in London who also acts as the Deputy Foreign Minister.”

“The topic of the lunch was to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump. They are keen to host us in a ‘neutral’ city, or directly in Moscow. They said the leadership, including Putin, is ready to meet with us and Mr. Trump should there be interest. Waiting for everyone’s thoughts on moving forward with this very important issue.”

Early April: Papadopoulos writes multiple emails about his “outreach to Russia.”

April 10, Papadopoulos to Olga Vinogradova

“We met with [Mifsud] in London. The reason for my message is because [Mifsud] sent an email that you tried contacting me.”

“it would be a pleasure to meet again. If not, we should have a call and discuss some things.”

April 11:

Vinogradova: “now back in St. Petersburg” but would be “very pleased to support your initiatives between our two countries and of course I would be very pleased to meet you again.”

Papadopoulos, cc’ing Mifsud: “I think good step would be for me to meet with the Russian Ambassador in London sometime this month” would “like to discuss with him, or anyone else you recommend, about potential foreign policy trip to Russia.”

Mifsud: “This is already been agreed. I am flying to Moscow on the 18th for a Valdai meeting, plus other meetings at the Duma.”

Vinogradova: “I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. . . . As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”

April 12, Vinogradova to Papadopoulos:

I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. The Embassy in London is very much aware of this. As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”

April 18, Mifsud to Papadopoulos, cc’ed to Ivan Timofeev

“long conversation in Moscow with my dear friend [Timofeev] . . . about a possible meeting between the two of you. [Timofeev] is ready to meet with you in London (orUSA or Moscow). I am putting the two of you in touch to discuss when and where this potential meeting can actually take place.”

April 18, Papadopoulos to Timofeev

“try and come to Moscow,” sets up Skype call for 3PM Moscow time 

April 22, Timofeev to Papadopoulos

Thanks him “for an extensive talk!” and proposing “to meet in London or Moscow”

April 22, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

Suggests “we set one up here in London with the Ambassador as well to discuss process moving forward.”

April 25, Papapopoulos to Stephen Miller

“The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.”

April 26: Papadopoulos learns of the “dirt” in the form of emails

April 27, Papadopoulos to Miller

“Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey Lewandowski

“to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet

April 29:

Papadopoulos “I am now in the process of  seeing if we will come to Russia. Do you recommend I get in touch with a minister or embassy person in Washington or London to begin organizing the trip?”

Vinogradova: “I think it would be better to discuss this question with [Mifsud].” 

Papadopoulos:  “0k. called him.”

April 30, Papadopoulos to Mifsud:

Thanks for the “critical help” in arranging a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government

“It’s history making if it happens.”

May 4 [this gets forwarded to Lewandowski, Clovis, and Manafort by May 21]:

Timofeev to Papadopolous “just talked to my colleagues from the MFA. [They are] open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.”

Papadopolous to Timofeev: “Glad the MFA is interested.”

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 5: Papadopoulos has a conversation with Sam Clovis, then forwards Timofeev email, with header “Russia updates.”

May 8, Timofeev to Papadopoulos:

Emails about setting Papadopoulos up with the “MFA head of the US desk.”

May 13, Mifsud to Papadopoulos:

“an update” of what they had discussed in their “recent conversations,” including: “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for a high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation.”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

May 21, Papadopoulos to Paul Manafort, forwarding May 4 email:

“Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump”

“Regarding the forwarded message, Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

May 21, Manafort forwards Papadopoulos email to Rick Gates:

“Lets 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.”

June 1: Papadopoulos to Clovis, after having been told Clovis was “running point” by Lewandowski

“Re: Messages from Russia”: “I have the Russian MFA asking me if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point. Wanted to pass this info along to you for you to decide what’s best to do with it and what message I should send (or to ignore).”

June 9: Trump Tower meeting

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 starts releasing emails

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

July 14, 2016, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

Proposes “meeting for August or September in the UK (London) with me and my national chairman, and maybe one other foreign policy advisor and you, members of president putin’s office and the mfa to hold a day of consultations and to meet one another. It has been approved from our side.”

August 15, Clovis to Papadopoulos

“I would encourage you” and another foreign policy advisor to the Campaign to “make the trip[], if it is feasible.”

Facebook messages “obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant”

July 15:

Papadopoulos: “We can chat on this, this weekend if you can’t tonight.”

Timofeev: 

July 21, Papadopoulos to Timofeev:

“How are things [Timofeev]? Keep an eye on the speech tonight. Should be good.”

July 22: Wikileaks starts releasing DNC emails

July 22, Papadopoulos to Timofeev [Particularly given NYT’s confirmation they spent a lot of time together, I wonder if this is about Sergei Millian?]:

“If you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

October 1, Papadopoulos sends a link to this Interfax article.

Oz on Papadopoulos

I want to use this thread to review certain details about recent George Papadopoulos disclosures.

NYT’s sources cannot be exclusively FBI

First, GOPers have suggested that the NYT story disclosing that Papadopoulos got drunk and told the Australian Ambassador, Alexander Downer, that Russians had dirt on Hillary is an FBI attempt to relieve pressure on Mueller by providing a different explanation for the start of the investigation. But that can’t be true, at least not entirely. Here’s how the NYT describes their sources:

four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role

That is, at least one (and possibly several) of their sources is a foreign official, presumably Australian. The description of these sources as “officials” could also mean they’re current or former members of Congress.

The story also provides a really odd statement about Papadopoulos’ lawyers’ involvement, saying only that his lawyers declined to provide a statement.

In response to questions, Mr. Papadopoulos’s lawyers declined to provide a statement.

This admits the possibility they said something off the record.

Finally, remember that Papadopoulos’ fiancée told ABC that he had a bigger role in the campaign than Trump defenders have claimed; she also said she had emails to prove it.

Mangiante said Papadopoulos “set up meetings with leaders all over the world” for senior campaign officials. He was “constantly in touch with high-level officials in the campaign,” she added. That included direct communication with now-former senior Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn, Mangiante said, adding that she had seen correspondence supporting the assertion.

[snip]

Mangiante said that while she is eager to offer proof that Papadopoulos was a campaign insider, she has been instructed by attorneys to not provide emails or other possible evidence to reporters.

[snip]

She said she believes he will now have a firm place in history as “the first domino in the Russia investigation.”

If I were an enterprising NYT journalist, I’d certainly try to convince her to offer that proof, especially any proof she had that Papadopoulos was “the first domino” in the investigation — the story offered by the NYT.

So there’s no reason to believe the NYT story comes entirely — or even partially — from the FBI. It likely came from Papadopoulos and Australians, perhaps confirmed by former members of Congress.

Turnbull to Trump: Don’t blame me for the investigation

Meanwhile, the Australians are trying to dodge blame for this story coming out, accusing Americans of leaking Downer’s role.

It is also understood there is now annoyance and frustration in Canberra that the High Commissioner to Britain Alexander Downer has been outed through leaks by US officials as the source of information that played a role in sparking an FBI probe into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Moscow.

Note, Downer is in the process of being replaced as Ambassador to the UK, so he may have some reason to make life difficult for Turnbull, who has a trip to the US scheduled for February. That said, the Age cites several other people, both at CSIS, who appear to have some familiarity with the story who could also be NYT’s sources. And even in a piece trying to blame Americans for this story, it reveals that Ambassador to the US Joe Hockey personally worked with the FBI on this tip.

Aussie sources narrowing in on which emails were discussed?

While I don’t take it to be definitive (because a lot of journalists, even in the US, don’t track these details well enough), the Age claims that Papadopoulos described the emails as “hacked Democratic Party emails.”

In May 2016, Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told Mr Downer over drinks at an upscale London wine bar that the Russians had a dirt file on rival candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of hacked Democratic Party emails.

If that is indeed what Papadopoulos told Downer, it would be a key detail in the case against Trump’s team, because it would mean they likely learned specifically what Russia had hacked and leaked.

Delayed reporting

The Age explains why the Aussies didn’t report the conversation to the FBI right away (though, again, I’m not sure this is meant as definitive).

Downer conveyed the conversation to Canberra via an official cable, though apparently not immediately – perhaps because he did not take the 28-year-old adviser’s claims altogether seriously until the hacked emails were released by Wikileaks in late July.

If this reporting is correct, it suggests the delay came on Downer’s side, with Hockey informing the FBI in timely fashion after Downer submitted his report on an official cable. I’d still like to know why the Guccifer 2.0 releases didn’t elicit any reporting. After all, it’s possible that Downer only reported the conversation when it became clear their wayward citizen, Julian Assange, was acting in a way that might affect the elections.

In a follow-up post I’m going to look at some timing details in the Papadopoulos documents.

 

NYT Does Not Have the Smoking Gun on Trump Campaign Email Knowledge

The NYT had a complex story today, reporting three things:

  1. The counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign followed from a drunken conversation George Papadopoulos had in May 2016 with Aussie Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer
  2. Papadopoulos was more influential than Trump’s team has made out
  3. Papadopoulos pitched an April 2016 Trump foreign policy speech as a signal to Russia that Trump would be willing to meet

It’s the first detail that has attracted all the attention. NYT reported it this way:

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.

[snip]

Not long after, however, he opened up to Mr. Downer, the Australian diplomat, about his contacts with the Russians. It is unclear whether Mr. Downer was fishing for that information that night in May 2016. The meeting at the bar came about because of a series of connections, beginning with an Israeli Embassy official who introduced Mr. Papadopoulos to another Australian diplomat in London.

It is also not clear why, after getting the information in May, the Australian government waited two months to pass it to the F.B.I. In a statement, the Australian Embassy in Washington declined to provide details about the meeting or confirm that it occurred.

NYT’s story does pose a good question: why the Australians didn’t tell the US about this conversation until July, after Wikileaks started releasing DNC emails.

But the few GOPers who have responded to this news raise another question: did the Aussies even know what emails Papadopoulos was talking about?

As I noted in October, we actually don’t know what emails Joseph Misfud was talking about when he told Papadopoulos the Russians had dirt on Hillary. Trumpsters are now suggesting these emails might be those Guccifer 1.0 stole from Hillary, but they could be a range of other emails.

This story would be far more damning if the NYT knew for sure that the emails were ones freshly stolen from DNC, John Podesta, or the Hillary campaign itself, but they don’t.

The uncertainty about what emails Papadopoulos learned about — and revealed to Downer — might explain why the Aussies didn’t tell the US right away. If the Australians didn’t know what emails the Russians had, it might explain their lack of urgency. If the emails were known Guccifer 1.0 emails, it wouldn’t be news. But it doesn’t explain why the Aussies didn’t tell the US in June, when Guccifer 2.0 started releasing documents, but instead waited until their own citizen, Julian Assange, started releasing some on July 22.

All this could be a lot more easily explained if we knew the one detail the NYT admits it didn’t confirm: whether and when Papadopoulos told the campaign that the Russians had emails (and whether he knew which emails the Russians had).

In late April, at a London hotel, Mr. Mifsud told Mr. Papadopoulos that he had just learned from high-level Russian officials in Moscow that the Russians had “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” according to court documents. Although Russian hackers had been mining data from the Democratic National Committee’s computers for months, that information was not yet public. Even the committee itself did not know.

Whether Mr. Papadopoulos shared that information with anyone else in the campaign is one of many unanswered questions. He was mostly in contact with the campaign over emails. The day after Mr. Mifsud’s revelation about the hacked emails, he told Mr. [Stephen] Miller in an email only that he had “interesting messages coming in from Moscow” about a possible trip. The emails obtained by The Times show no evidence that Mr. Papadopoulos discussed the stolen messages with the campaign.

NYT makes clear Papadopoulos (who was, after all, remote and traveling a lot) primarily communicated via emails. But the emails they obtained (but didn’t share) don’t include any evidence of him telling the campaign about the emails (much less which ones they were).

Which brings us to a point I made in November: when the FBI arrested Papadopoulos in July, they believed he lied to hide whether he told the campaign about the emails, but they de-emphasized that detail in the October plea deal.

[T]he 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.

The NYT’s sources are described as “four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role,” though this statement — and a past willingness on behalf of Papadopoulos’ fiancée to provide details and emails — suggests that people close to Papadopoulos cooperated as well: ” Papadopoulos’s lawyers declined to provide a statement.”

The point being, we still don’t have the most important detail of this story: whether Papadopoulos told the campaign about the emails, but more importantly, what the emails were.

Thus far, everyone seems intent on withholding that detail.