With all the attention on Paul Manafort, the guilty plea of former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopolous has largely escaped notice, but it is Papadopolous that may prove to be a bigger threat to Donald Trump. The Papadopolous indictment, especially taken together with previous revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian attorney, seems to indicate that at least some elements of the Trump campaign were actively seeking assistance from the Russians.
The indictment against Papadopolous alleges that the campaign advisor met with two Russian agents, the “Professor” and a Russian woman who Papadopolous believed to be Vladimir Putin’s niece. Per the indictment, Papadopolous had numerous contacts with the Russians and kept the campaign up to date with his outreach. In April 2016, the Professor told Papadopolous that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the firm of “thousands of emails.” This information was apparently passed along to the Trump campaign.
Many of the contacts involved a potential meeting between Donald Trump and the Russian government. The Trump campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopolous to make an unofficial visit to Russia, but the trip never took place.
The information in the indictment is not incriminating in and of itself. It isn’t illegal or unusual for a presidential campaign to be in contact with a foreign government. What is unusual and incriminating is for a member of a campaign to lie to FBI agents about such contacts. Yet, in the Trump Administration, there seems to have been mass amnesia about contacts with members of the Russian government.
Aside from the trail pointing toward the Trump campaign, Papadopolous’ guilty plea also indicates that he may have struck a deal with Robert Mueller. The bigger danger to Trump campaign officials is that Papadopolous may be providing information to Mueller’s team that will lead to more high-level indictments.
To be fair, the Russia amnesia seems to have spread across party lines. The Clinton campaign apparently paid for the infamous Trump dossier, at least part of which seemed to stem from Russian informants. At this point, it seems likely that both campaigns were attempting to to collude with the Russians with varying degrees of success.
For their part, the Russians seemed to be playing both sides. By summer of 2016, however, it was apparent that they were working against the Clinton campaign as emails stolen by Russian hackers were dumped online. It is possible that these emails were the same ones that the Professor offered to Papadopolous. With attempts made by Papadopolous, Donald Trump, Jr. and the candidate himself to get access to the stolen emails, if the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russian government, it was not for lack of trying.
Whether the collusion was successful and whether it rose to the level of criminality remains to be seen, but the smart bet is that Mueller has cards left to play. The arrests of Manafort, Gage and Papadopolous are likely only the beginning.