The FBI reportedly decided to open its investigation into the Trump campaign after George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump team, drunkenly admitted to an Australian diplomat the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton, an admission that came weeks before WikiLeaks began publishing its tranche of hacked emails.
Papadopoulos made the revelation in May 2016 to Alexander Downer, the top Australian diplomat in Britain, while he was drinking at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London. Three weeks earlier, a professor with ties to the Russian government told Papadopoulos the Russians had emails that would be damaging to Clinton, according to the New York Times.
Australian officials notified American officials about Papadopoulos’s statements two months later when WikiLeaks began publishing the hacked emails from Democratic officials, American and foreign officials told the New York Times.
According to the New York Times, it was Papadopoulos’s revelation to the Australian diplomat, as well as the hacked emails, that served as the catalysts for the FBI’s probe into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI earlier this year and is said to be cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, who was tapped to take over the investigation in May.
President Trump and his allies, though, have suggested it was a dossier containing salacious details about Trump that was funded in part by the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign and drafted by a former British spy that led the FBI to open its investigation into the Trump campaign in July 2016.
The White House and former Trump campaign officials have downplayed Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign, suggesting he was a “low-level" volunteer and a “coffee boy.”
But emails obtained by the New York Times indicate Papadopoulos continuously tried to set up a meeting with Russian officials in an attempt to eventually broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Jeff Sessions had previously decided not to have Papadopoulos orchestrate the gathering. Papadopoulos also allegedly notified top campaign officials of his continued attempts.
Sessions led the campaign’s foreign policy team and went on to become attorney general.
Papadopoulos also set up a meeting between Trump and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in New York before the election.
Additionally, he edited an outline of then-candidate Trump’s first speech on foreign policy in April 2016.
According to the New York Times, Papadopoulos notified his Russian contacts of Trump’s speech, during which he spoke of improving relations with Russia. The address, he told Ivan Timofeev, a program director for the Valdai Discussion Club, should be interpreted as “the signal to meet,” Papadopoulos told him.
Papadopoulos and Timofeev had previously been communicating about connecting the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
During discussions Papadopoulos had with professor Joseph Mifsud, who had ties to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mifsud suggested serving as a surrogate for the Trump campaign, according to the New York Times. In one email, Mifsud said he could pen op-eds as a “neutral” observer and attend campaign rallies as a reporter.
Mifsud also suggested he receive campaign briefings.
It was Mifsud, the New York Times reported, who told Papadopoulos in late April the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton. The professor said he heard from top Russian officials that Moscow had “thousands of emails,” according to court documents.
It is unknown whether Papadopoulos told anyone in the campaign about the emails. He did, however, tell Downer, the Australian diplomat.