George Papadopoulos, the first person to plead guilty in the Mueller Investigation, a former adviser to President Trump and HUD secretary Ben Carson and the author of (Diversion Books, 2019), talks about his theory of the Russian investigation.
In 2018, impunity came to an end.
Ever since the 2016 election, it’s been common for some people to refer to whatever year we’re in as a synonym for dystopian weirdness. (Last year, for example, CNN’s Jake Tapper tweeted “Peak 2017” about a headline saying, “US ambassador denies own comments, then denies denial.”) The world has felt continuously off-kilter, like a TV drama whose writers developed a sudden fondness for psilocybin. Last month astronomers at Harvard wrote that a strange oblong space object “may be a fully operational probe sent intentionally to Earth vicinity by an alien civilization,” and it barely made a ripple in the news. There was simply too much else going on.
Amid this ceaseless barrage, things many of us have taken for granted have been called into question, including the endurance of liberal democracy, the political salience of truth and the assumption that it would be a big scandal if a president were caught directing illegal payoffs to a pornographic film actress. Often it feels like in American politics, none of the old rules still apply.
.. But in 2018, they did. (At least some of them.) Alien probes aside, this was a year in which things started to make sense again. The Democratic landslide in the midterms proved that the laws of political gravity haven’t been suspended; Trump’s incompetence, venality and boorishness had electoral consequences. Further, it was a year of justice and accountability for at least some of those who foisted this administration on the country. An awful menagerie of lowlifes was swept into power by Trump’s victory two years ago. In 2018, at least some of them started to fall back out again.
.. At the beginning of 2018,
- Michael Cohen was still Trump’s loyal personal lawyer.
- Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sleeping in his own bed at night.
- Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, had not yet made a plea deal with Robert Mueller, the special counsel.
- Mueller’s investigation hadn’t yet sent anyone to prison.
- The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about work he’d done with Gates for the former Ukrainian president, became the first, in May.
- He was followed by Richard Pinedo, seller of fake IDs and fraudulent bank accounts,
- and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
When this year began,
- Scott Pruitt was still indulging in spectacular corruption as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Omarosa Manigault Newman had just been fired from her senior administration job and had not yet revealed her stash of secret recordings.
- Rob Porter, who has been accused of abuse by two ex-wives, was still White House staff secretary.
- David Sorensen, accused of abuse by one ex-wife, was still a White House speechwriter.
At the start of 2018, the
- casino mogul Steve Wynn was the Republican National Committee’s national finance chairman. He resigned after The Wall Street Journal reported that he’d been accused of committing multiple acts of sexual harassment and assault. (Wynn denied assaulting anyone.)
- Elliott Broidy, owner of a private security company, was an R.N.C. deputy national finance chairman. He resigned after The Journal reported that he’d paid hush money to a former Playboy model who said she’d had an abortion after he got her pregnant.
- (Cohen was also a deputy chairman; he resigned in June.)
As this year began,
- Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign head and chief White House strategist, whose sympathy for white nationalists did so much damage in so little time, was still running Breitbart News. He’d not yet burned his bridges to Trumpworld with his comments in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury,” which was published in January. Since then, Bannon has lost considerable pull. He most recently made headlines after he was scheduled to speak at a conference on sex robots; a backlash to his invitation led to the conference being postponed.
- McClatchy reported that the F.B.I. was investigating whether Russia funneled money through the National Rifle Association to aid the Trump campaign. Throughout the year, as evidence of sketchy connections between the N.R.A. and Russia kept emerging, many on the right poo-pooed it. (“This attempt to turn the N.R.A. into another cog in the Russian conspiracy is laughable, but the mainstream media apparently still find it deeply compelling,” wrote Breitbart editor Joel Pollak in March.)
- On Thursday, Maria Butina, a Russian who’d nurtured ties to N.R.A. leadership and to Trumpworld, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as a foreign agent. The plea described how, after arranging a junket to Moscow for a “Gun Rights Organization,” she wrote a message to her handler that was translated as, “We should allow them to express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”
The evidence from the special counsel’s investigation is already damning, but it must contend with a haze of lies, confusion and “alternative facts.”
.. Likewise, George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators and initially cooperated with the special counsel, has shifted in recent months to an aggressively conspiratorial posture. In tweets and appearances on Fox News and other pro-Trump media, he has accused American, British and Australian intelligence agencies of fabricating the Russia scandal.
The allure of a Mueller report lies in its imagined promise of a single, definitive truth capable of cutting through the haze of lies, confusion and “alternative facts.” But Mr. Corsi’s and Mr. Papadopoulos’s antics are a warning that this hope will inevitably fall short. Conspiracy theorists and prosecutors live in different worlds: The first, unmoored from truth; the second, devoted to proving facts beyond a reasonable doubt. Mr. Mueller has the power to charge Mr. Corsi for lying; he has already done so to Mr. Papadopoulos. Rather than crumbling, though, their falsehoods have continued to spread and grow — and they’ve taken root in the media ecosystem in which the president chooses to spend his days.
Ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos wasn’t helpful to the special counsel’s investigation, hurt investigators’ efforts to detain a Russian intermediary and should face at least one month in prison, special counsel Robert Mueller said in a filing late Friday.
.. Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors said Mr. Papadopoulos’s lies hurt investigators’ ability to “effectively question” the professor, Joseph Mifsud, who has been previously described as an honorary director of the London Academy of Diplomacy.
Mr. Papadopoulos admitted he lied about the timing of his meeting with Mr. Mifsud and played down his own assessment of Mr. Mifsud’s connections to high-ranking Russian officials, according to documents filed in connection with Mr. Papadopoulos’s plea agreement.
.. The filing said the FBI located the professor in Washington soon after Mr. Papadopoulos’s January 2017 interview with FBI agents, but didn’t detain or challenge the professor before he left the country on February 11, 2017, because Mr. Papadopoulos had lied to the FBI about him.
“The defendant lied…early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made,” prosecutors said in the filing.
An FBI agent told him at the voluntary interview: “The only thing, we don’t want dis-information” because that would “make…our job a lot harder,” Mr. Mueller’s office said.
.. “The defendant did not provide ‘substantial assistance,’ and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information,” Mr. Mueller’s team said.
.. “the record shows” that he was “attempting to secure a job with the Trump Administration” at the time of the interview and “had an incentive to protect the Administration and minimize his own role as a witness.”.. They cite communications Mr. Papadopoulos had in which he sought to obtain a position with the National Security Council, the State Department or the Energy Department.