The New York Times provided us an introduction to FBI reasoning in launching the Trump-Russia Inquiry – drunken comments from George Papadopoulos:
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.
The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?
The Papadopoulos/Downer meeting has been portrayed as a chance encounter in a bar. That does not appear to be the case. Papadopoulos was introduced to Downer through a chain of two intermediaries. Papadopoulos knew an Israeli embassy official in London named Christian Cantor who introduced Papadopoulos to Erika Thompson. Thompson was a counselor to Downer and served in Australia’s London embassy.
On May 4, 2016, Papadopoulos gave an interview to the London Times in which he stated then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize to Trump for negative comments. The interview was not well-received. According to the Daily Caller, Thompson reached out to Papadopoulos two days after the story appeared and said Downer wanted to meet with Papadopoulos. The meeting between Papadopoulos and Downer took place on May 10, 2016. Downer reportedly told Papadopoulos to “leave David Cameron alone.”
We know Papadopoulos mentioned “thousands of emails” in his FBI Interview regarding his April 26, 2016 meeting with Mifsud. That comment is noted in the July 28, 2017 Affidavit and the October 5, 2017 Statement of the Offense. However, there is nothing regarding comments made to Alexander Downer in either document.
What does Alexander Downer have to say about the May 10, 2016 meeting. From a news.com.au article:
We had a drink and he (Papadopoulos) talked about what Trump’s foreign policy would be like if Trump won the election.
He (Trump) hadn’t got the nomination at that stage. During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.
“We didn’t know anything about Trump and Russia and we had no particular focus on that,’’ Downer says of the Papadopoulos meeting. “For us we were more interested in what Trump would do in Asia.”
Downer told The Australian. “He [Papadopoulos] didn’t say dirt; he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.”
“By the way, nothing [Papadopoulos] said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton. It was just that this guy, [Papadopoulos], clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton — but whether Trump knew or not? He didn’t say Trump knew or that Trump was in any way involved in this. He said it was about Russians and Hillary Clinton; it wasn’t about Trump.”
Interestingly, the Schiff Memo appears to back this account up. From page two:
Papadopoulos’ disclosure 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’ plea that the information the Russians could assist by anonymously releasing were thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.
Despite initial reporting to the contrary, it appears neither “political dirt” nor Clinton emails were ever mentioned at the Papadopoulos/Downer meeting. Notably, Papadopoulos didn’t mention anything to indicate Trump knew of the Clinton information, or had any role in its collection or potential distribution.
There’s been some confusion over how Papadopoulos’ comments made their way to the FBI. Downer stated in his interview that he reported the conversation back to Australia almost immediately:
Well, it was worth reporting,’’ he said. “It wasn’t the only thing we reported. We reported (back to Australia) the following day or a day or two after … it seemed quite interesting.’’
Early reporting by the Sydney Herald noted the following:
The ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey personally steered Australia’s dealings with the FBI on explosive revelations of Russian hacking during last year’s presidential campaign. Mr 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.
On May 31, 2018, Kimberley Strassel of the WSJ reported a differing sequence of events:
A diplomatic source tells me Mr. Hockey neither transmitted any information to the FBI nor was approached by the U.S. about the tip. Rather, it was Mr. Downer who at some point decided to convey his information – to the U.S. Embassy in London.
At this point it’s worth noting a critical disclosure made by Devin Nunes. There was no official intelligence used in the opening of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Investigation on July 31, 2016:
Nunes: There was no intelligence that passed through the Five Eyes channels to our government. There was no Five Eyes Intelligence Product as it’s been reported. There was no product.
The ramifications of this are important. Australian Intelligence did not alert the FBI.
According to Strassel, the “Downer details landed with the embassy’s then-chargé d’affaires, Elizabeth Dibble, who previously served as a principal deputy assistant secretary in Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.” Where the information went from there remains unknown.
Which brings us to the first Memo in the Dossier – written by Christopher Steele on June 20, 2016. From the opening summary, first page, fourth bullet point:
A dossier of compromising information on Hillary Clinton has been collated by the Russian Intelligence Services over many years and mainly compromises bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls…It has not yet been distributed abroad, including to Trump.
The June 20, 2016 Steele Dossier Memo appears to contain exactly the same type of information Papadopoulos mentioned to Alexander Downer.
Perhaps a simple coincidence but Downer’s background raises further questions.
Downer has long-standing ties to UK Intelligence firm Hakluyt, having served on the Advisory Board of Hakluyt’s Parent Company Holdingham from 2008-2014. Hakluyt’s top officials come from MI6. Several Board Members, like Sir Iain Lobben, come from GCHQ – the UK’s NSA. Former MI6 Head Richard Dearlove has a number of ties to Hakluyt as well.
Australian High Commissioner to the UK Alexander Downer had been on the advisory board of the London-headquartered firm since 2008 when he was a UN special envoy but was forced to give up the position when he was appointed to head the Australian diplomatic post in London in 2014.
But it can be revealed Mr Downer has still been attending client conferences and gatherings of the group.
Created by former MI6 British Secret Service agents, Hakluyt is an ultra secretive firm whose client list reads like a who’s who of the business world with corporations retaining their services for strategic intelligence and advice.
Downer also arranged one of the largest foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation – $25 million from the Australian government. There have been reports the donation is now being looked into by the FBI.
Interestingly, at the time of the Downer/Papadopoulos meeting, the FBI’s Head of Counterintelligence Bill Priestap appears to have visited London. The purpose of Priestap’s visit remains unknown.
Another coincidence to be added into the mix.
In the official version, the FBI was informed on July 22, 2016, of the Papadopoulos/Downer conversation. This was the first time Papadopoulos landed on the FBI’s radar. Just over a week later, on July 31, 2016, the FBI opened a massive Counterintelligence Investigation into an opposing presidential candidate’s campaign based solely on this single conversation.
A conversation that differed little from details contained in the June 20, 2016 Steele Memo the FBI already had in their possession since early July.
The Steele Dossier is nothing more than a collection of standalone documents. By July 30, 2016, the Steele Dossier was 12 pages long and about one-third its final length. It contained a number of serious allegations in addition to the Russian information on Clinton. This information was apparently insufficient to initiate the Trump-Russia Investigation.
But a casual conversation in a London bar worked just fine.