New Book Fills In Gaps On Meeting That Sparked FBI’s Trump-Russia Probe

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Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
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  • A book released on Tuesday provides new details about a May 2016 meeting that led the FBI to open its investigation into the Trump campaign.
  • Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos met with then Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London on May 10, 2016. Downer has claimed that Papadopoulos told him that Russia had derogatory information on Hillary Clinton.
  • Downer initially viewed Papadopoulos’s remarks as an afterthought, according to “The Apprentice.” The FBI did not open its investigation until more than two months later.

The Australian diplomat who sparked the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign initially viewed his interactions with Trump aide George Papadopoulos as an afterthought, according to a book published Tuesday.

In “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy,” Washington Post reporter Greg Miller provides new details of a series of events that led to the culmination of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into links between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

The investigation was opened on July 31, 2016, a week after WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

After the email dump, Alexander Downer, the top Australian diplomat to the U.K. at the time, contacted a U.S. embassy official in London to provide details of a conversation he had two months earlier with Papadopoulos, an energy consultant who joined the Trump team in March 2016.

Downer was put in contact with Papadopoulos through Erika Thompson, another Australian diplomat who had met Papadopoulos in April 2016.

Papadopoulos has accused Downer of working as part of a concerted effort to spy on him during the campaign. But Miller asserts that Downer’s delay in relaying the information to the U.S. government indicates that he was not sent to collect specific information to open an investigation of the Trump campaign.

“Downer understood that it was pointless to expect a comprehensive take on the Trump world view from a cipher like Papadopoulos, but if nothing more, it was an opportunity to take the measure of one of the few identified members of Trump’s foreign policy brain trust,” wrote Miller, whose book is largely critical of Trump.

Papadopoulos met with Downer and Thompson at the Kensington Wine Rooms in London on May 10, 2016.

“Downer was drinking a gin and tonic and doing most of the talking. Papadopoulos struck him as surprisingly young and inexperienced, someone who seemed unlikely to land in a position of real influence in the U.S. government,” Miller wrote. (RELATED: Alexander Downer Describes Barroom Meeting With George Papadopoulos)

Downer asked Papadopoulos what chance Trump had of winning with 2016 election, according to Miller.

Papadopoulos said that the chances were high. Then, according to Downer, Papadopoulos revealed a piece of information that would later catch the FBI’s attention.

“Russia, he said, had ‘damaging’ material on [former Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton and was prepared to release it in the final stage of the election,” wrote Miller.

Two weeks before the Downer meeting, Papadopoulos had met in London with a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulos told the FBI that Mifsud claimed that he had learned that the Russian government had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands” of her emails.

“Papadopoulos didn’t treat this revelation with any conspiratorial gravity; he seemed to view it as juicy diplomatic gossip and a means of showing off,” Miller wrote of the Downer-Papadopoulos meeting. “He didn’t call the material ‘dirt’ or refer to a trove of hacked emails — details he knew from his meeting two weeks earlier with the Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud. Nor did Papadopoulos give any indication that Trump was involved in, or aware of, the Russian plan.”

“It was just that this guy clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton,” he added.

Within 48 hours, Downer sent a report back to the Australian foreign ministry, which in turn shared the document with the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

“But in a measure of how little weight Downer attached to Papadopoulos’s comment about Russia, he treated it almost as an afterthought, mentioning it midway through the report. It was, he later said, ‘just buried in the cable,'” Miller wrote. “The Downer report sat in Australia’s files for two months, viewed as intriguing but uncorroborated, nothing to alert the Americans about. At least not yet.”

Downer did not take action on the information until late July 2016, after the DNC email release.

“I think we better make sure the Americans are aware of this,” Downer told staff members after the document dump, according to Miller.

Downer initially wanted to speak with Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to the U.K. But Barzun was on vacation so the task fell to Elizabeth Dibble, the deputy chief of mission at the embassy.

“Downer came straight to the point, saying that Australia had concerning information it needed to relay to the U.S. government about Russia and the American presidential election,” Miller wrote of the meeting between Downer and Dibble.

Dibble, who retired soon after the meeting, called the top FBI official at the London embassy. The information was soon passed to FBI headquarters.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in the special counsel’s investigation on Oct. 5 to lying to the FBI about the timing of his contacts with Mifsud. Papadopoulos, who was not accused of conspiring to steal or disseminate Clinton emails, was sentenced to 14 days in jail on Sept. 7.

He has denied seeing or handling any Clinton emails.

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