A Trump campaign adviser’s drunken conversation with an Australian diplomat last year was one of the catalysts for the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
That’s according to a new report from The New York Times on Saturday.
According to the newspaper, Trump campaign volunteer George Papadopoulos told Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in May 2016 that the Russian government had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Papadopoulos was with Downer, Australia’s top diplomat to the U.K., in an upscale London bar.
A month prior to that encounter, Papadopoulos claims he was told by a London-based associate named Joseph Mifsud that Russian government officials had obtained Clinton emails. It is unclear whether Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old energy consultant, told anyone in the Trump campaign about alleged Clinton dirt.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his encounters with Mifsud and at least two Russian nationals. As part of his plea deal, Papadopoulos agreed to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
The FBI caught wind of Papadopoulos’ claims more than two months after the London meeting with Downer. The Australian government decided to share the information with U.S. investigators after emails stolen from Democrats began to be released by WikiLeaks.
According to the Times, current and former law enforcement officials said that the Papadopoulos lead — and not the infamous Steele dossier — was what sparked the counterintelligence investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin operatives.
Former British spy Christopher Steele met with the FBI in July 2016 to share some of his findings from an investigation he was conducting of Trump on behalf of Fusion GPS, an opposition research firm that was working for the Clinton campaign and DNC.
Republican lawmakers have questioned how heavily the FBI relied on the dossier for the Russia probe and for a secret surveillance warrant obtained in Sept. 2016 against Carter Page, another Trump campaign adviser.
Page is accused in the dossier of being the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Kremlin. He denies the allegation.
The Times reported earlier this year that the FBI’s investigation was also sparked by a trip that Page made to Moscow in July 2016, while he was still with the Trump campaign.
The Times also provided new details about Papadopoulos’ interactions with an alleged source for the dossier. According to the newspaper, Papadopoulos met several times during the summer leading up to the election with Sergei Millian, the chairman of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce. (RELATED: George Papadopoulos’ Fascinating Link To The Trump Dossier)
Millian has been identified as a source for some of the more salacious allegations about blackmail material on Trump and about collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin. Millian, who was born in Belarus, has denied being a source for the dossier.