News Release

“Why the Papadopoulos Plea Isn’t a Smoking Gun”

AARON MATÉ, aaronmate at therealnews.com, @aaronjmate

Maté is a host/producer for The Real News. He has written a series of pieces on “Russiagate” including the just-published “Why the Papadopoulos Plea Isn’t a Smoking Gun” for The Nation. See his past reports including “Did the Russians ‘Meddle’ Just for Clicks?

He writes in his latest piece: “In liberal circles, there seems to be little doubt that the first indictments from special counsel Robert Mueller have resolved the issue at the heart of Russiagate. …

“The main impetus for this certitude comes not from the case against Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and former business partner Rick Gates. The tax-fraud, money-laundering, and conspiracy charges against them have no direct connection to Russia or the 2016 campaign. Instead, it comes from the plea agreement of former Trump foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who has admitted to lying to investigators about his contacts with foreign nationals said to be tied to Russia.

“It is true that Papadopoulos’s plea document details the most tangible link known to date between Trump’s election team and the alleged Russian interference campaign. …

“What we do know is that Papadopoulos has a record of embellishing his credentials. And more importantly, we already know that he reported false claims to the campaign about his contacts as he tried to position himself as the middleman to Moscow. He transmitted one of the false claims knowingly: Papadopoulos e-mailed his superiors that he had met with the Russian ambassador in London, which prosecutors say never happened. He also told them he had been introduced to a ‘Female Russian National’ identified as ‘Putin’s niece,’ who turns out to have no relations to Putin. …

“It is possible that all of Papadopoulos’s claims will prove to be true. If they are, investigators will hopefully determine not just what the Trump campaign knew but what the Russian government had on offer. Both sides — the Clinton camp funding the Steele dossier and meeting with Ukrainian officials, the Trump camp taking a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising incriminating information on Clinton — have shown their willingness to accept ‘oppo’ from abroad. But trafficking in stolen e-mails would raise the bar.

“It is also possible Papadopoulos is lying, or was misled. If the latter, he would be far from alone. As I wrote for The Nation in October, the Russiagate controversy is short on concrete evidence and suffused with innuendo, supposition, and unverified — or even demonstrably false — claims. Mueller may end up reversing that trend, but at this point in his probe, it appears that not much has changed.”