U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before departing the White House for New York in Washington, U.S., December 2, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler...
JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN

New details undermine key Trump claim about Russia scandal probe

Updated

For those who tuned out over the holiday weekend, this front-page New York Times story, published on New Year’s Eve, is worth considering in detail.

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.

When some of the stolen materials were released to the public, Australian officials notified the FBI about Papadopoulos’ comments. As the Timesreport added, the Trump campaign adviser’s claims, coupled with the theft of the Democratic documents, led the bureau “to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.”

Why is this important? A few reasons, actually.

1. Donald Trump and his allies continue to insist the Christopher Steele dossier was the initial basis for the FBI’s investigation. The New York Times’ reporting points in a very different direction: the bureau apparently began its probe months before Steele shared his findings.

2. After Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, Trump World eagerly dismissed his relevance, with one former Trump confidant describing the campaign adviser as an inconsequential “coffee boy.” This line of defense has now effectively been discredited: low-level, coffee-distributing aides do not play active roles trying to broker meetings between presidential candidates and the president of Russia, while “keeping senior campaign officials abreast of his efforts.”

3. The FBI was investigating Trump’s political operation for the months leading up to the presidential election, but never told the public. Voters were, however, kept apprised of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. The idea that the bureau was somehow anti-Trump, taking steps to help the Democratic ticket, is obviously impossible to take seriously.

4. The FBI heard from Australian intelligence officials, but didn’t hear from the Trump campaign – despite the FBI’s explicit warnings.

5. At the risk of sounding reductive, the Trump campaign apparently learned quite early on that Russia had stolen Democratic documents. The Republican campaign then covered for their Russian benefactors and lied repeatedly about the communications between Trump World, its allies in Putin’s government, and its associates.

Watch this space.