Even before his inauguration, President Donald Trump and his administration have been hammered left and right, day in and day out, about allegations his 2016 campaign colluded with Russian interests.
The story goes that the Russian government and the Trump campaign worked hand in hand to elect him while simultaneously scamming 2016 Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Now, details are emerging that seem to paint that narrative as patently false. Or, rather, at least not as clear-cut as some would want it. And to date, no one has explained how the Russians actually influenced the 2016 election. We are still trying to get past the day a Trump staffer suggested in a meeting, “Hey! Let’s call the Russians! They know all about American elections!” Smart move, there.
One of the more central figures of the whole scandal (and one of the main reasons for Robert Mueller’s investigation) may be George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts.
One day in London, a couple of months before the 2016 election, he was approached by another professor, who had Russian friends in high places, about “thousands of emails” from Hillary Clinton’s servers. Some days later, he goes to a bar, gets drunk, and, like a typical young adult man, spouts it off to the then-Australian high commissioner to the U.K., Alexander Downer, who then passed it on to the Obama Department of Justice and the FBI.
Papadopoulos may have very well been set up, FBI style. The FBI is a master of setting up people it wants to hurt. From Donald Trump himself to Martin Luther King Jr., the FBI has had a history of being extrajudicial in proceedings.
The FBI had tapped and spied on the civil rights leader for years on trumped-up beliefs, all because he threatened the status quo. In one instance in 1964, MLK had been sent an anonymous letter from the FBI, blackmailing him on his alleged affairs.
“You are done,” it threateningly reads. “King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is.” It did not say exactly, but King suspected, with good reason, that his life was in danger … Government is used to doing what government wants, legally aside. This is a nonpartisan fact.
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Papadopoulos, perhaps, was mousetrapped, the oldest and surest means the FBI uses to entrap someone they don’t like. Nixon’s White House and re-election campaign orchestrated the spying on the Democratic National Committee located in the Watergate hotel, but this is government spying on private American citizens. And who ordered the FBI to spy on Trump’s campaign? Enquiring minds want to know.
Rush Limbaugh recently put it succinctly: Papadopoulos, then in his 20s and young and full of ambition, “was a nothing. He was a nobody, which made him a perfect mark. He was a young guy who wanted to go places.” He was naïve, easily impressed, and in way over his head.
That made him the perfect target for Stefan Halper. It has been reported that Papadopoulos received an offer from Halper, out of the blue, with no word or warning, to receive $3,000 to go to London and write a foreign-policy paper.
It was completely random and odd, he recalled later, and he wondered why he of all people — a no one on the Trump foreign-policy advisory team — would be picked. But it was an offer he took. Halper then planted the idea, along with another professor, in George’s mind that the Russians had dirt on Hillary’s campaign.
Is Halper is a mole for the FBI? Even Salon is reporting on the rumors. In September of 2016 and July of 2017, Halper received over $400,000 total from the “Washington Headquarters Services” (WHS), according to USAspending.gov.
Further, he has connections to both CIA and MI6, making him the perfect bumbling spy right out of The Pink Panther. It was less than a month before the first payment of $282,295 that Halper first contacted Papadopoulos.
A little too convenient, isn’t it? In total, Halper has received nearly $1 million for various foreign-policy projects over the past several years. Though WHS is more connected to the Department of Defense than the FBI, it shows Halper has government allies. Halper himself has had CIA and FBI connections for years.
Halper, a bulky backbencher of long standing, a moderate Republican, and a self-questioning neocon, was a low-level aide in the Nixon White House, a low-level aide in the Ford White House, and a low-level aide in the Reagan Administration (though he did not work in the Reagan White House as his Wikipedia bio says). And, for a time, he ran the Palmer Bank in Washington.
Palmer Bank was famed for Ollie North’s running money through it to fund his scheme, which later became known as “Iran-Contra.” For a time, Halper was also a business partner of David Keene, a GOP consultant and fellow veteran of the 1980 Bush presidential campaign.
While in Washington, Halper tried to navigate through the backwaters of Republican and conservative politics, but was never considered a player or front-line operative, a sort of hanger-on that Washington often sees.
His close association with the Bushes and the elitist GOP and foreign-policy Establishment would have ensured his deep hostility to the anti-Establishment and anti-elitist Trump, a “new money” sort of guy versus the “old money” ways of the elite Bushes. Still, he was more akin to the bumbling Inspector Clouseau than the smooth James Bond.
So, in short: Halper supposedly contacts Papadopoulos. Tells him about his research project in London. While there, he plants the idea of stolen Clinton emails. Halper meets the impressionable young man several times, even having dinner.
Papadopoulos hears it again from someone else. Goes to a bar, gets drunk, and brags about it to the Australian diplomat (who also has extensive intelligence community links), who then tells the United States government that the Trump campaign knows about stolen emails from the Russians.
And that, supposedly, is where it all started. The Christopher Steele dossier turned out to be a fake. So now they’re saying it was Papadopoulos who provoked the investigation. What? Is the investigation as confusing for Mueller and team as it is for the American public?
Will that, too, be exposed as a fake? A government lie? James Clapper, former head of the NSA, lied to Congress about spying on private American citizens. Lying to Congress is a federal crime, but Clapper is walking around, free as a jaybird.
The FBI routinely lies, too. Government corruption and abuse is nothing new, from the sleazy whiskey lobbyists during Washington’s term to the appalling abuse of power by the IRS’s Lois Lerner of the last administration. If this current abuse of power by the permanent bureaucracy is fully exposed, it could shape up as worse than Watergate.
To be clear, Vladimir Putin has no moral character by any means. Did Russia and Putin have an ineffectual hand in the United States election? Probably. They’ve done it in the past, as written recently.
No one country elects a leader without the world watching and waiting.
But we probably have had as much of an ineffectual hand in the Russian elections. Didn’t Putin just win re-election with 107 percent of the vote (that’s only a little bit of a hyperbole)? No one country elects a leader without the world watching and waiting.
Did Putin have a preference? Of course. Was it Trump? Maybe, but that could be for any number of reasons, including the fact that Trump would be the most divisive of the candidates. Whatever tries to make a weak United States, he’d support.
But Putin has been dehumanized from a tyrant and oligarchical boss into an actual boogeyman. Perhaps the real threat to our democracy isn’t Russia, but the enemies of democracy and free elections from within.
Finally, it has been falsely reported in several news reports that Halper had a role in the theft of the Carter Briefing Books during the 1980 presidential campaign against Reagan. He did not. The details are in my book, “Rendezvous with Destiny,” and the theft was orchestrated by a Kennedy operative, Paul Corbin, as a means to exact revenge on Jimmy Carter for beating Ted Kennedy for the 1980 Democratic nomination.
Craig Shirley is a New York Times best-selling author and presidential historian. He has written four books on President Ronald Reagan, along with his latest book, “Citizen Newt: The Making of a Reagan Conservative,” about the early career of former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. He lectures frequently at the Reagan Library and is the Visiting Reagan Scholar at Eureka College in Illinois, the 40th president’s alma mater. He also wrote the critically acclaimed “December 1941.” Scott Mauer is a research assistant for Craig Shirley.
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