We now know the tipping point that prompted the FBI to launch its Trump-Russia investigation
Trump and Vladimir Putin.Thomson
- The FBI decided to investigate whether President
Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia after early
foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos told a top
Australian diplomat that Russia had compromising information on
Hillary Clinton, The New York Times reported.
- Though there were several events that prompted the
bureau to investigate the campaign, Papadopoulos’ conversation
with the diplomat was reportedly the one that led the bureau to
formally launch its probe.
- Newly obtained emails also show that Papadopoulos’
reach and influence within the campaign was greater than
The FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign
colluded with Moscow was not prompted by a dossier compiled by a
former British spy, but by campaign foreign policy adviser George
Papadopoulos boasting to a top Australian diplomat about Russia’s
dirt on then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, The New York
Times reported Saturday.
The Times also obtained new emails which show Papadopoulos’
influence within the campaign and contacts with Russia-linked
individuals was greater than previously known.
The bureau opened its Russia probe in
July 2016. President Donald Trump and his allies have dismissed
the investigation as a Democratic “witch hunt” spurred by the
dossier, which was compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher
Steele, and alleges a number of explosive Trump-Russia ties.
The dossier was originally funded by a group of Republicans
opposed to Trump during the Republican primaries. After Trump
became the party’s nominee, Democrats took over its funding.
Though the document has not been fully verified, some of it has
been corroborated and the FBI and
the Senate Intelligence Committee are using it as a “roadmap” in their
But The Times report indicates that Papadopoulos, not the
dossier, played a pivotal role in driving the FBI to investigate
the campaign’s ties to Russia.
Papadopoulos is one of four individuals in Trump’s orbit who have
so far been charged since special counsel Robert Mueller
began overseeing the Russia probe in May, after Trump fired FBI
director James Comey. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to
one count of making false statements to investigators about his
contacts with Russians during a January 27 interview with the
Papadopoulos told the FBI at the time that his outreach to
the Russia-linked foreign nationals occurred before he joined the
campaign, according to the statement of offense. But his first
interaction with an “overseas professor” with ties to high-level
Russian officials occurred on March 14, 2016, weeks after he
joined the campaign, the document said.
That professor, who was later revealed to be Maltese
academic Joseph Mifsud, wasn’t open to engaging with Papadopoulos
at first, but he became more interested after he learned
Papadopoulos was working on the Trump campaign.
Mifsud and Papadopoulos stayed in touch and Mifsud
connected the Trump campaign adviser with at least two
Russia-linked individuals over the next few weeks: Olga
Polonskaya, a wine company manager based in St. Petersburg, and
Ivan Timofeev, a senior official in the Russian International
Mifsud told Papadopoulos in April 2016, just over a month
after their initial contact, that the Russians had information
that would embarrass Hillary Clinton that came in the form of
“thousands of emails,” the FBI document said.
The next day, Papadopoulos wrote in an email to campaign
adviser Stephen Miller — who now serves as a senior policy
adviser in the White House — that there were “interesting
messages coming in from Moscow” but did not elaborate on what he
In May, Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer, Australia’s top
diplomat to the UK, about Russia’s dirt on Clinton while they
were drinking at a swanky bar in London, according to The
Two months later, when the radical pro-transparency group
WikiLeaks posted a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee
emails online, Australian officials informed their American
counterparts of Papadopoulos’ conversation with Downer, the Times
reported. The FBI began scrutinizing the Trump campaign’s Russia
ties that month.
Papadopoulos’ role appears larger than previously
proposed a Trump-Putin meeting during a March 2016 meeting with
Sessions, Gordon, and other campaign foreign policy
Though the White House has worked to distance itself and the Trump
campaign from Papadopoulos since the charge against him was
unsealed, details in the FBI document and previously undisclosed
emails obtained by The Times paint a different picture of
Papadopoulos’ role and influence within the operation.
According to the statement of offense, when the campaign’s
newly formed foreign policy team met for the first time in March
2016, Papadopoulos said he was connected to people who could
organize a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was serving as Alabama
senator at the time, was at the meeting.
Sessions said initially that he did not disclose the
conversation to Congress because he “did not recall.” Later, he
amended his previous statement and said that he shot down
Papadopoulos’ suggestion because of the aide’s inexperience and
lack of foreign policy credentials.
Papadopoulos’ actions over the next few months during the
2016 campaign indicate that he was either unaware of Sessions’
warning or did not heed it.
Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to Timofeev, the Russian national
with connections to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, via email on
April 18, according to the FBI’s October filing. They had
multiple conversations over the next few weeks to lay the
groundwork for a meeting between the Trump campaign and Russian
Papadopoulos emailed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in
April saying he had received “a lot of calls over the past month”
about how “Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is
right,” according to The Washington Post. He
emailed Lewandowski and another campaign adviser, Sam Clovis, on
May 4 to ask again about setting up a meeting.
“There are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign
officials as a private citizen,” Clovis replied.
A ‘much softer’ position toward Russia
presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a foreign policy speech
at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Wednesday, April 27,
Papadopoulos was also influential enough in the campaign to be
tapped to edit an outline of Trump’s first foreign policy speech,
which he gave on April 27, 2016.
“We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and
China,” Trump said at the time. He added that he wanted to ease
tensions and see “improved relations with Russia,” and that “this
horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon.
Good for both countries.”
He also said that he wanted to “make a deal” that was not only
beneficial to the US, but to Russia as well.
After the speech, Papadopoulos touched base with Timofeev and
said the speech was “the signal to meet,” according to The Times.
Mifsud also agreed and said the address was “a statesman speech,”
and Polonskaya wrote in an email obtained by The Times that she
was glad Trump’s “position toward Russia is much softer than that
of other candidates.”
On July 14, 2016, Papadopoulos emailed one of his foreign
contacts and indicated a meeting had “been approved from our
The meeting, Papadopoulos wrote, would be “for August or
September in the UK (London) with me and my national chairman,
and maybe one other foreign policy adviser and you, members of
president putin’s office and the mfa to hold a day of
consultations and to meet one another.”
Mifsud also reportedly told Papadopoulos he wanted to act as a
campaign surrogate for Trump. According to The Times, Mifsud
suggested in an email to Papadopoulos that he could pen op-eds as
a “neutral” observer and attend Trump’s rallies with press
credentials while also being briefed on the campaign’s inner
Papadopoulos was arrested in July and his guilty plea suggests he
is cooperating with investigators. Three other former campaign or
administration officials have also been charged so far: former
campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former campaign adviser and
Manafort associate Rick Gates, and former national security
adviser Michael Flynn.
Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty in October
after being charged with 12 counts related to money laundering,
tax fraud, and conspiracy against the US. Flynn pleaded guilty earlier this
month to one count of lying to federal investigators about his
contacts with Russians and is likely cooperating with Mueller’s