Who what where when why? The desiderata school teachers drill into their charges trying to master effective writing skills apply also in the effort to understand that byzantine drama known to the world as the Trump-Russia-collusion investigation.
Let’s start with “when.” When did it start? We know that the FBI opened its official investigation on 31 July 2016. An obscure, low-level volunteer to the Trump campaign called Carter Page was front and centre then. He’d been the FBI’s radar for a long time. Years before, it was known, the Russians had made some overtures to him but 1) they concluded that he was an “idiot” not worth recruiting and 2) he had actually aided the FBI in prosecuting at least two Russian spies.
But we now know that the Trump-Russia investigation began before Carter Page. In December 2017, The New York Times excitedly reported in an article called “How the Russia Inquiry Began” that, contrary to their reporting during the previous year, it wasn’t Carter Page who precipitated the inquiry. It was someone called George Papadopoulous, an even more obscure and lower-level factotum than Carter Page. Back in May 2016, the twenty-something Papadopoulous had gotten outside a number of drinks with one Alexander Downer, an Australian diplomat in London and had let slip that “the Russians” had compromising information about Hillary Clinton. When Wikileaks began releasing emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee in June and July, news of the conversation between Downer and Papadopoulos was communicated to the FBI. Thus, according to the Times, the investigation was born.
There were, however, a couple of tiny details that the Times omitted. One was that Downer, an avid Clinton supporter, had arranged for a $25 million donation from the Australian government to the Clinton Foundation. Twenty-five million of the crispest, Kemo Sabe. They also neglected say exactly how Papadopoulos met Alexander Downer.
As it turns out, George Papadopoulos made several new friends in London. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor living in London who has ties to British intelligence. It was Mifsud—who has since disappeared—who told Papadopoulos in March 2016 that the Kremlin had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Then there is Stefan Halper, an American-born Cambridge prof and Hillary supporter. Out of the blue, Halper reached out to Papadopoulos in September 2016. He invited him to meet in London and then offered Papadopoulos $3,000 to write a paper on an unrelated topic. He also pumped him about “Russian hacking.” “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?” Halper is said to have asked him. He also made sure Papadopoulos met for drinks with his assistant, a woman called Azra Turk, who flirted with him over the Chardonnay while pumping him about Russia.
Halper also contacted Carter Page and Sam Clovis, Trump’s campaign co-chair. Is Stefan Halper, the “spy” on the Trump campaign, at the origin of the Trump-Russia meme?
Not really. The real fons et origo is John Brennan, Director of the CIA under Obama. As Trump’s victories in the primaries piled up, Brennan convened a “working group” at CIA headquarters that included Peter Strzok, the disgraced FBI agent, and James Clapper, then Director of National Intelligence, in order to stymie Trump’s campaign.
So much of this story still dwells in the tenebrous realm of redaction. But little by little the truth is emerging, a mosaic whose story is gradually taking shape as one piece after the next completes now this face, now another.
There are details yet to come, but here is the bottom line, the irreducible minimum. A cabal of CIA and FBI operatives, including the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, along with other members of the intelligence “community,” prominently including James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and various members of the Obama administration, colluded to undermine Donald Trump’s campaign.
Like almost everyone else, they assumed that Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in, so they were careless about covering their tracks. If Hillary had won, the department of Justice would have been her Department of Justice, John Brennan would still be head of the CIA, and the public would never have known about the spies, the set-ups, the skulduggery.
But Hillary did not win. For the last 16 months, we’ve watched as that exiled cabal shifted its efforts from stopping Trump from winning to a desperate effort to destroy his Presidency. Thanks to the patient work of Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and a handful of GOP Senators, that effort is now disintegrating. What is being exposed is the biggest political scandal in the history of the United States: the effort by highly placed—exactly how highly placed we still do not know—members of one administration to mobilise the intelligence services and police power of the state to spy upon and destroy first the candidacy and then, when that didn’t work, the administration of a political rival.
It is banana republic behaviour, but it looks now as if those responsible for this effort to undermine American democracy and repeal the results of a free, open, and democratic election will be exposed. Let’s hope that they are also held to account.