The Other McCain

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This Might Be News: Another Plot Twist in the Mystery of ‘The Maltese Professor’?

Posted on | January 6, 2018 | Comments Off on This Might Be News: Another Plot Twist in the Mystery of ‘The Maltese Professor’?

Given the proliferation of “fake news,” it’s hard to know what to believe, but this story certainly seems interesting:

It was a chance romantic encounter by George Papadopoulos that set in train the events that led to the Australian government tipping off Washington about what it knew of Russian hacking efforts to swing the US presidential election.
Fairfax Media can reveal a woman in London with whom Papadopoulos became involved happened to know Alexander Downer and told the Australian High Commissioner about Papadopoulos, a newly signed staffer for Donald Trump. Downer, being a canny diplomat, followed it up and arranged a meeting with the young American, who was mostly living in London at the time.
What followed was the now infamous May 2016 conversation over many glasses of wine at the swanky Kensington Wine Rooms, during which the 28-year-old Papadopoulos spilled to Downer that he knew of a Russian dirt file on the rival Clinton campaign consisting of thousands of hacked emails.

Let’s ask questions: Did this actually happen Papadopoulos described it? That is to say, were “thousands of hacked emails” from the Clinton campaign (a) obtained by hackers who were (b) working in the service of the Russian government and (c) making these emails available to the Trump campaign in the form of a “dirt file” of which (d) Papadopoulos had obtained “inside” knowledge through his connections to the Trump campaign? We know that DNC emails were released by WikiLeaks in July 2016, but I have yet to see proof that this was a Russian government operation, nor am I aware that this alleged “Russian dirt file,” of which Papadopoulos reportedly boasted to Downer, actually existed as described. What the hell are we to make of this?

Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. In his January interview, he didn’t deny knowing Joseph Mifsud, a mysterious Maltese professor with links to the Russian government, nor having met with Russian officials to whom Mifsud introduced him. Nor did he deny that Mifsud had told him the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails”.

It’s like a 1940s film noir — The Maltese Professor — with these weird characters involved in a Byzantine plot full of double-crosses and intrigue, including a romantic liaison between Papadopoulos and a woman who “happened to know” this Australian diplomat who ratted him out. The officially reported facts of the Papadopoulos-Mifsud connection don’t really answer the fundamental questions:

The court filings say that on April 25, 2016, after “multiple conversations” with a Russian national connected to Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Papadopoulos told Miller that “the Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities,” he said.
On April 26, Papadopoulos met with Joseph Mifsud — identified in the court filings as an “overseas professor” — for breakfast at a London hotel. There, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that he had learned from high-level Kremlin officials during his recent trip to Moscow that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” the filings say.
Papadopoulos emailed [Trump aide Stephen] Miller the next day.
“Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right,” he wrote, the court filings say.

(Papadopoulos wanted to arrange a Trump-Putin meeting, for some unknown reason thinking this would be good P.R. for the campaign.)

Papadopoulos also emailed Paul Manafort on April 27 asking “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump.” . . .
“Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right,” Papadopoulos told Manafort. . . .
[T]he young adviser continued to pitch a Trump-Putin meeting to high-level campaign officials, including Sam Clovis, the national cochairman . . . and Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager.
On April 30, Papadopoulos thanked Mifsud for his “critical help” in facilitating a meeting that would be “history making if it happens,” the filings say.
About four days later, Papadopoulos’ contact at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told him that the ministry was “open for cooperation.” Papadopoulos forwarded that email to Manafort, asking, “Is this something we want to move forward with?”
On May 5, Papadopoulos called Clovis. After their phone call, he forwarded Clovis the ministry contact’s email with a new subject line: “Russia updates.”
Papadopoulos’ efforts to arrange the Trump-Putin meeting continued through June.
“Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss,” Papadopoulos wrote to Manafort on May 21.
Manafort forwarded that email to his longtime business associate Rick Gates and said, “Let’s discuss.”
“We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” Manafort wrote. “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

What is revealed by the Papadopoulos case is not “collusion,” because what Papadopoulos was trying to do was to set up a Putin-Trump meeting that never happened. It is evident that this “newly signed staffer” was acting on his own initiative, an enthusiastic amateur trying to impress his bosses with his London-based connections. For nearly a month, it seems, the top campaign officials were reluctant to tell Papadopoulos to stop his activity until Manafort firmly declared that Trump “is not doing these trips.” This would seem to indicate that Papadopoulos’s efforts were never authorized by the candidate or his top staff, and there is nothing — absolutely nothing — we have seen so far to indicate that the alleged “Russian dirt files” actually existed, or that the Trump campaign ever obtained them if they did exist. The Maltese Professor had claimed to Papadopoulos that “high-level Kremlin officials” told him they had these emails, but where is the smoking-gun evidence that this unverified claim led to “collusion”?

Here’s a question: Was this discussion of “dirt files” actually a reference to the DNC emails later released by WikiLeaks? Or to put it another way: What did The Maltese Professor actually know?

If indeed what Mifsud was telling Papadopoulos was that Russia had obtained those DNC emails, this is smoke, but the question is, was the Trump campaign in any way responsible for the fire? We don’t even know — however much it may seem a common-sense deduction — that the DNC emails were what Mifsud was talking about, but as a matter of fact, it was WikiLeaks that released those emails, and we have no evidence that the Trump campaign had anything to do with that.

You picture Bogart as detective Sam Spade in The Maltese Professor, a cigarette dangling from his lip, trying to make sense of it all. As obvious as it may seem that (a) Putin didn’t want Hillary Clinton to win the election, and (b) this Mifsud-Papadopoulos connection was part of an official Russian effort to influence the election, what actually happened as a result? You may surmise there was intent to “collude” on the part of some Trump aides — i.e., they were willing to accept Russian assistance — but beyond that, what do we have?

“Nothing,” says the detective, opening his desk drawer to pull out a pint of whiskey and pouring himself a stiff drink. “A whole lot of nothing.”

Mueller and his team will keep investigating, of course, but unless and until they actually find something, it’s still just a bunch of nothing.



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