Much of the talk this morning has been about the indictment of former Donald Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates for alleged conspiracy and money laundering. While the charges don’t have anything to do with President Trump or his campaign, conventional wisdom/speculation says that the charges could be geared towards cutting a deal whereby Manafort would end up cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s office by coming providing them with relevant information about the campaign. While that may be the case, another former campaign member looks to be far more perilous for Trump right now.
Foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements during a January 27, 2017 interview with the FBI. The topic? His communications with a professor who had ties to the Russian government and who discussed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. According to a court document signed by Papadopoulos, he was in communication with the professor after assuming his role within the Trump campaign, and met with him in London to discuss the supposed dirt on Clinton and a connection in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The 14-page statement of offense paints a clear picture of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. It points to evidence that this individual, in his capacity as a member of the Trump campaign, had repeated contacts with Russian nationals with the purpose of soliciting “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Furthermore, it explains how the Russians attempted to get Trump to travel to Russia in order to have an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials. Most importantly, the statement says that a “Campaign Supervisor” told Papadopoulos, “‘I would encourage you’ and another foreign policy advisor to the Campaign to ‘make the trip, if it is feasible.'”
Now, the feds made Papadopoulos an offer where he won’t face prosecution for anything else related to this. As a result, he’s free to talk all he wants. As LawNewz founder Dan Abrams pointed out as soon as the plea was announced:
George papadopolous pleading should be more concerning to Trump team than Manafort indictment. It almost certainly means he is cooperating.
— Dan Abrams (@danabrams) October 30, 2017
Since then, we learned that he is cooperating. So now you have a former Trump campaign adviser who has admitted to colluding with Russian actors who he believed were tied to the Russian government, and discussing these efforts with Trump campaign officials, including a so-called “High-Ranking Campaign Official” and a “Campaign Supervisor.” If the FBI didn’t know the identity of that high-ranking official yet, there’s a real good chance Papadopoulos has told them now that he has a deal.
The Manafort indictment is making waves because he was at the top of the campaign, but the charges against him really do have nothing to do with the campaign. Papadopoulos, however, admitted that he himself was talking to the Russians and telling senior campaign staff about his activities.
So why is this so important?
We already knew that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian attorney with the belief that he could get dirt on Clinton, and while that might have been troubling, there isn’t anything illegal about the meeting (that we know of yet). So how is this different?
For starters, Trump Jr. discussed non-specific negative information about Hillary Clinton, and reports about his meeting with the Russian lawyer said that he didn’t even get any information. Without any knowledge about what the supposed dirt was, it’s hard to say that it was a thing “of value” that would qualify as an illegal “contribution” from a foreign national under campaign finance law. Papadopoulos’ statement, on the other hand, refers to “thousands of emails” of Hillary Clinton. Such a large volume of data–that would have to have been procured with significant resources–would likely qualify as a contribution if the Russians gave them to the campaign, or if the campaign even asked for them.
Next, you have the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which the campaign may have violated if they worked with Russia to obtain or release hacked emails. Now, the statement indicates that the Russians claimed to already have the emails. If, however, the emails in question included the Democratic National Committee emails or those belonging to Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, and the Trump campaign was involved in coordinating their release, that could be a problem, according to Lawfare Blog.
On top of this, of course, is that there could be tons of information that we’re still not aware of. Even though the information in Papadopoulos’ statement didn’t show that the Trump campaign did anything illegal per se, there are some dangerous signs, and his deal could lead to him giving up information about other activities that were illegal.
It remains to be seen whether the Trump campaign broke the law by colluding with Russia, but if they did, this is the path that will lead to that conclusion.
[Image via NBC screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.