They teach spies not to drink alcohol for fear of spilling secrets in their drunken stupor. Loose lips sink ships was a famous saying during World War II. Yet none of these adages managed to penetrate the brain of Trump foreign policy campaign aide George Papadopoulos when he went drinking in London in May 2016.
His indiscretion during a drinking binge was the fatal mistake that launched the entire investigation of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to tip the U.S. election to the Republican party and Donald Trump according to a bombshell article in The New York Times today.
Papadopoulos was in a toney London bar pounding down the drinks with Alexander Downer, the Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom when he revealed to the Aussie diplomat the then unknown fact that Russia had dirty political secrets on Hillary Clinton. Exactly what he said or how much he disclosed is not yet known, but when emails from Hillary and the DNC started showing up online later in July, Australian diplomatic intelligence officers told their American contacts about the conversation with Mr. Papadopoulos and the rest, as they say, is history. As The NY Times put it:
“The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.”
“If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.”
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The news of the Australian warning to U.S. officials indicates that the infamous “Piss-gate” dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and initiated by a Republican rival to Trump for the nomination was not the initial impetus for the FBI to begin its investigation.
The article in The New York Times goes into great detail about the multiple interactions between Papadopoulos and various Russian connections as well as his role in the Trump campaign and his jockeying for position, influence, and ultimately, a desired job in the White House.
It also details the debate within the FBI on the best way to handle the investigation, with their ultimate decision to keep it secret contrasting with the openly acknowledged probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server at the time. The difference in the public knowledge of the two investigations may have just been the factor that eventually tipped the scales in Trump’s favor on election day.
Despite Trump’s victory, Papadopoulos wound up in the end not only without a job in the administration but being forced to plead guilty to lying to the FBI during its initial investigations. His guilty plea has led most people to believe that he’s become a cooperating witness in Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s larger probe into Russia-gate.
The repercussions of that drunken conversation in London last year still loom large in the worries of the Trump administration as the Russia investigation continues. Now at least we know how the whole thing started.