Why George Papadopoulos Is More Dangerous Than Paul Manafort31 October 2017 | 15:14 | The New York Times
Buried in the first wave of blockbuster reports about the indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates was the revelation that a close foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with Russians. Most Americans had never heard of the adviser, George Papadopoulos, before Monday afternoon, but his is the name to remember. That’s because his guilty plea is far more immediately ominous to the president and his inner circle than the charges against Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates.
Why? Though the White House will surely try to deny it — indeed, on Monday, its spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, insisted that Mr. Papadopoulos was merely a volunteer — the plea agreement says plainly that Russia reached out to Mr. Papadopoulos because of his status as a named foreign policy adviser to the campaign. For all of the talk about collusion with Russia since Mr. Trump’s election, this is by far the most damning evidence of it.
For starters, the plea describes Mr. Papadopoulos’s efforts to gather negative information on Hillary Clinton from officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry and a Russian professor who told Mr. Papadopoulos that Moscow had “thousands of emails” of “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton. This paints perhaps the clearest picture so far of Russia’s attempt to provide assistance to the Trump campaign — and the willingness of at least some campaign staff members to accept that assistance.
A footnote in Mr. Papadopoulos’s plea agreement includes a detail that is particularly damning when combined with previously reported information: Mr. Manafort wanted to be sure that Mr. Trump himself would not accept a Russian invitation to travel to Russia. In March 2016, George Papadopoulos sent an email to seven campaign officials, including Mr. Manafort and the campaign manager at the time, Corey Lewandowski, saying that Russian leadership wanted to meet with the Trump team. Mr. Manafort forwarded that email to Mr. Gates with a note saying: “We need someone to communicate that D.T. is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Second, while Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates’s Eastern European misadventures, beginning in 2005, were extensive and seamy, they have no immediate link to Mr. Trump’s campaign activities or even to his many financial adventures in Russia before he was a candidate. Connecting the dots to Mr. Trump’s own financial misdeeds — if there are any dots to connect — will be a long and laborious process. Not so with Mr. Papadopoulos.
Third, a paragraph in the plea agreement indicates that Mr. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 and the plea was sealed so that he could act as a “proactive cooperator.” The meaning of that phrase is unclear. But one nerve-racking possible implication is that Mr. Papadopoulos has recently worn a wire in conversations with other former campaign officials. This will surely have members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle agonizing about the possibility and wondering who else might have been similarly cooperating with the investigation.
Fourth, the plea agreement makes clear the Trump campaign knew about the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails well before it was publicly revealed. The email account of the chairman of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, John Podesta, was hacked March 19, and Mr. Papadopoulos was approached with the offer of thousands of emails on April 26, at least a month before it was generally known and several months before WikiLeaks released any of the emails.
Fifth, the episode that prompts the guilty plea is a virtual carbon copy of the infamous July 9, 2016, meeting that Mr. Manafort, Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. attended with a Russian lawyer. That meeting was set up through an email exchange between Mr. Trump Jr. and one of Donald Trump’s former business associates who told the younger Mr. Trump that a senior Russian government official had documents “that would incriminate Hillary” and that “would be very useful to your father.” Mr. Trump Jr.’s email response: “I love it.”
If any of the principals in the July 9 meeting lied to the F.B.I. about what transpired, they are in immediate criminal jeopardy for the same reasons for which Mr. Papadopoulos had to plead guilty. No doubt Mr. Kushner and Mr. Trump Jr. are huddling with their lawyers and wondering if they are next.
While Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates are much bigger fish than Mr. Papadopoulos, his case may the more portentous one. He clearly has a wealth of information on the campaign and Mr. Trump’s inner circle. And much more important, he is already providing it.
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