George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, made a startling revelation to Alexander Downer, Australia’s top diplomat in Britain, at a London bar last May: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton. Three weeks earlier, Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Clinton, stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign, the New York Times reports. Two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Papadopoulos to their American counterparts.
The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the FBI to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now a cooperating witness, proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation. The Times says the information that Papadopoulos gave to the Australians helps explain what so alarmed American officials to provoke the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election. It was not, as Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Papadopoulos played a critical role in the drama.