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Possibly because Paul Manafort’s indictment has nothing to say about the allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians which are the central focus of the Russiagate scandal, the emphasis in today’s media reporting has switched to the completely different indictment of George Papadopoulos, a much more junior Trump foreign policy aide who has also been indicted today.
A copy of the indictment against Papadopoulos can be found here.
The key point about this indictment is that Papadopoulos has NOT been charged with colluding with the Russians to steal the Presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump, which is the central allegation in the Russiagate scandal.
Instead he has been charged with lying to the FBI about certain contacts he had with certain people who appear to have had some connection to Russia, a crime to which he has pleaded guilty.
As it happens, if one turns to the facts set out in the indictment they actually provide further proof that no collusion in fact took place.
The facts briefly are these: following his appointment as a foreign policy aide for the Trump campaign in March 2016 Papadopoulos was approached by an academic based in London who he and the FBI believe has top level contacts with the Russian government.
I should say that I have no idea who this academic is and I am not going to guess.
This academic introduced Papadopoulos to various well-connected Russians – including it seems officials from the Foreign Ministry – and to a Russian woman who Papadopoulos appears to have believed was President Putin’s niece (there is no indication that she was, and the fact that the indictment does not actually identify her as such strongly suggests that she was not).
Over the course of the next few weeks Papadopoulos conducted an intense dialogue by email and Skype with some or all of these people with a view to building the foundation for a better relationship between the US and Russia. Most of his efforts seem to have focused on setting up a meeting between Russia’s President Putin and then US Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
These efforts came to nothing, with no meeting between Putin and Trump taking place. The indictment in fact suggests Papadopoulos found it difficult to get the Trump campaign interested in what he was doing.
Over the course of these contacts in April 2016 Papadopoulos was told by the academic who had initiated these contacts that the Russians had “lots of dirt” on Hillary Clinton including “thousands of emails”.
Papadopoulos in turn reported this comment to the Trump campaign headquarters, eliciting a brief message thanking him for his good work.
That seems to have been the end of the matter. The indictment suggests there was no follow-up, which in relation to the academic’s comment means no collusion took place.
This is a very sad case.
Papadopoulos comes across as a well-meaning man anxious to do good according to his lights by doing what he could to help to help with a rapprochement between the US and Russia by setting up a meeting between Putin and Trump.
He was however clearly out of his depth, and gravely compounded his error of getting involved in this sort of high-level diplomacy by meeting with the FBI in January 2017 without a lawyer present to advise him.
As a result he said things which were untrue in an effort to diminish his role, landing himself in far greater trouble than he would have been in if he had simply told the truth.
This is sad because on the facts in the indictment there is nothing to suggest that he did anything wrong or broke any law.
It is not a crime to talk to Russian officials (or people whom Papadopoulos thought were Russian officials) in order to try to set up a meeting between President Putin and then-candidate Trump. Nor is it a crime to be told by a third party that the Russians might have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and to pass this information on to the headquarters of the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos was clearly not a person qualified to conduct high-level diplomacy – which is why his efforts came to nothing – but since the meeting he was trying to set up between Putin and Trump would have had to be held in public it is impossible to see how he can be accused of doing anything sinister or wrong.
As for the academic’s comment in April 2016 about the Russians possessing “lots of dirt about Hillary Clinton” in the form of “thousands of emails”, since there appears to have been no follow-up this comment it is not evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians but on the contrary the opposite.
Some are seizing on words in the indictment to the effect that the Special Counsel has more information than he is providing to imply that there is more information about this matter than the indictment says.
However the wording of the indictment clearly shows that what this wording refers to is further information to prove the charge itself – that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI – and not further information to prove some other charge eg. one involving collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Given that Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to the charge which was brought against him, the Special Counsel had no need to outline all the facts in his possession to prove the charge, and that is all these words in the indictment mean.
As to the truth of the academic’s comment about the Russians having “thousands of emails”, it is important to say that there is no information in the indictment about what was the academic’s source for this comment.
In April 2016 Hillary Clinton was under investigation by the FBI for her use of a private email server whilst Secretary of State and in March 2016 (ie. just before the academic made his comment) Wikileaks launched a searchable archive for over 30 thousand emails and email attachments sent to and from Hillary Clinton’s private email server while she was Secretary of State.
Perhaps the academic simply guessed that the Russians were in possession of these emails – including the emails which had gone missing – and his comment may have amounted to no more than that.
At this point it is worth remembering that the emails which were published by Wikileaks which are at the heart of the Russiagate scandal are not Hillary Clinton’s own emails but are those of John Podesta and the DNC.
Though the language of the indictment is not clear, the impression it gives is that the academic was referring to Hillary Clinton’s emails, in which case his comment has no bearing on the Russiagate case.
This episode of George Papadopoulos and his dealings with the Russians reminds me strongly of the now notorious meeting between Donald Trump Junior and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
That too was seized on at the time by partisans of the Russiagate conspiracy as ‘proof’ of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. As I however pointed out at that time, in reality it did the opposite, providing more evidence that no collusion in fact took place.
As the true significance of the Donald Trump Junior/Veselnitskaya meeting has gradually sunk in the media has largely stopped talking about it.
I suspect the same will prove to be the case with the George Papadopoulos indictment.