Bait and Snitch

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - JEFF STEIN @Spytalker

WHITE ROOSE SCAN­DALS HAVE A WAY OF turn­ing no­bod­ies into un­for­tu­nate some­bod­ies. So it was 45 years ago in Oc­to­ber with Don­ald Se­gretti, whom The Wash­ing­ton Post ex­posed as a ma­jor cog in a White House dirty tricks pro­gram to de­stroy Maine Se­na­tor Ed Muskie, the lead­ing Demo­cratic can­di­date for pres­i­dent. Se­gretti’s re­ported role added star­tling new con­text to what be­came known as the Water­gate scan­dal. It showed that the June 1972 break-in at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters was part of a much larger cam­paign of sur­veil­lance and sab­o­tage against tar­gets on Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon’s “en­e­mies list”—from re­porters to lib­eral think tanks to dis­si­dent gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials like Daniel Ells­berg, who leaked the Pen­tagon Pa­pers.

Now comes Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, an­other no­body whose name could soon be memo­ri­al­ized on a Triv­ial Pur­suit card for po­lit­i­cal scan­dals. The 30-year-old was yet an­other en­abler in the Krem­lin’s mul­tipronged cam­paign to de­stroy Hil­lary Clin­ton, ac­cord­ing to the grand jury in­dict­ment un­sealed by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller on Oc­to­ber 30. Don­ald Trump once called Pa­padopou­los, his for­mer for­eign pol­icy ad­viser, “an ex­cel­lent guy” but now dis­misses him as “a low-level vol­un­teer” and a “liar.”

Not so much, judg­ing by his guilty plea. With that, Pa­padopou­los be­came just the lat­est name to sur­face in the widen­ing list of Trump as­so­ci­ates un­der scru­tiny by the spe­cial coun­sel—in­clud­ing for­mer cam­paign chair Paul Manafort and his busi­ness as­so­ciate Rick Gates; Trump’s erst­while na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn; and oil con­sul­tant and Trump for­eign pol­icy ad­viser Carter Page (who met with Rus­sians close to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, ac­cord­ing to the con­tro­ver­sial dossier com­piled by for­mer Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer Christo­pher Steele). Page has de­nied any col­lu­sion with Krem­lin fig­ures and said he has noth­ing to fear from Mueller’s probe. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty after they were ar­rested on money laun­der­ing and other charges a few hours be­fore the Pa­padopou­los in­dict­ment and plea deal were un­sealed.

“The big one is the Pa­padopou­los thing,” for­mer CIA and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency Di­rec­tor Michael Hay­den told me hours after the Manafort­gates ar­raign­ments, fol­low­ing a Wash­ing­ton, D.C., panel he led on “Truth Tell­ers in the Bunker,” a ref­er­ence to both the me­dia and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that have re­ported on Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

For Hay­den, the Pa­padopou­los in­dict­ment un­der­scored yet again how ea­ger Team Trump was to col­lude with the Krem­lin when its emis­saries came bear­ing gifts of Clin­ton “dirt.” Over the past year, Trump and his as­so­ci­ates had re­peat­edly dis­missed such

and their fail­ures to re­port them as mere over­sights. Be­fore Pa­padopou­los, the most damn­ing case had been the June 2016 meet­ing be­tween Don­ald Trump Jr., Jared Kush­ner, Manafort and a Krem­lin-con­nected lawyer, Natalia Ve­sel­nit­skaya. The meet­ing oc­curred after an in­ter­me­di­ary promised Trump Jr. doc­u­ments that “would in­crim­i­nate Hil­lary and her deal­ings with Rus­sia.” (“If it’s what you say,” Trump Jr. replied, “I love it.”) At first, Trump Jr. de­nied a re­port of the meet­ing. Later, he in­sisted that “no de­tails or sup­port­ing in­for­ma­tion was pro­vided or even of­fered.”

Like­wise, top Trump cam­paign aide and cur­rent U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions told Congress un­der oath in June that he had “no knowl­edge” of any con­ver­sa­tions by any­one con­nected to Team Trump about “any type of [Rus­sian] in­ter­fer­ence with any cam­paign.” Later, The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that Ses­sions had failed to dis­close two con­tacts with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial race. Four days after the Pa­padopou­los plea deal sur­faced, NBC re­ported that Ses­sions and Trump had both heard out a pro­posal from their young for­eign pol­icy ad­viser in March 2016 to use his “Rus­sian con­tacts” to try to set up a meet­ing be­tween the can­di­date and Putin. Ses­sions “re­jected” the idea, NBC said. “Trump didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no,” CNN re­ported, cit­ing “a per­son in the room” dur­ing the meet­ing. Asked about that as he pre­pared to leave for his Asia swing on Novem­ber 3, Trump told re­porters he “didn’t re­mem­ber much” about the meet­ing, which he called “unim­por­tant.”

Mueller may yet get a chance to re­fresh the pres­i­dent’s mem­ory. He has Pa­padopou­los’s sworn state­ments that a Trump cam­paign of­fi­cial en­cour­aged him to pur­sue Rus­sian “dirt.” That per­son was un­named in the Pa­padopou­los in­dict­ment but soon outed by The Wash­ing­ton Post as Sam Clo­vis, a for­mer con­ser­va­tive talk ra­dio host and co-chair of the 2016 Trump cam­paign. A self-pro­claimed for­mer “Rus­sia ex­pert while serv­ing in the United States mil­i­tary in the Pen­tagon,” Clo­vis with­drew his name from con­sid­er­a­tion for a top Agri­cul­ture De­part­ment post after his con­ver­sa­tions with Pa­padopou­los were re­vealed.

In­stead of rec­og­niz­ing the Rus­sian of­fers as a clas­sic enemy in­tel­li­gence ploy—and call­ing the Fbi—trump’s min­ions wel­comed al­leged Krem­lin agents into their in­ner cir­cle. “How stupid can you be?” Hay­den said of the cam­paign’s ac­tions.

Get­ting ac­cess to Team Trump was a big score for Putin, an EX-KGB of­fi­cer, says for­mer CIA of­fi­cer Ja­son Matthews, who served in Moscow and did bat­tle with its se­cret agents for decades. “Just like the meet­ing with Don­ald Trump Jr. and the fe­male Rus­sian lawyer, the goal of th­ese en­coun­ters was sim­ply con­tact,” he ex­plains in an email. “Of course, there was an el­e­ment of bait­ing”—the Rus­sians of­fered “thou­sands” of Clin­ton emails to Pa­padopou­los—“but Krem­lin ex­pec­ta­tions for such meet­ings were mod­est. They just wanted to as­sess young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced green sticks like the Trump boys, Jared Kush­ner and Pa­padopou­los. The name of the game is as­sess­ment and look­ing for an open­ing.”

Matthews, now a spy nov­el­ist, says the Rus­sians didn’t ex­pect to dam­age Clin­ton enough to tilt the elec­tion to Trump. “They sim­ply wanted to put a turd in the punch bowl” by get­ting pri­vate au­di­ences with as­so­ci­ates of the New York real es­tate mogul. All the bet­ter for the Rus­sians that their dis­creet meet­ings with Trump’s peo­ple, who failed to re­port them on their se­cu­rity-clear­ance forms, were leaked to the press. Emails show­ing the sup­pos­edly neu­tral Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee fa­vor­ing Clin­ton over Se­na­tor Bernie San­ders, stolen by Rus­sian hack­ers and pub­lished by Wik­ileaks, sowed fur­ther dis­en­chant­ment with Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Re­ports of Krem­lin agents mess­ing with vot­ers’ heads via Face­book in Michi­gan, Wisconsin and else­where added yet an­other layer of dis­trust in the sys­tem. And now comes ev­i­dence that the Krem­lin’s ma­nip­u­la­tion of Face­book, Twit­ter and other so­cial me­dia plat­forms was far vaster than pre­vi­ously known.

“It’s the great­est covert in­flu­ence pro­gram in his­tory,” Hay­den said. “If their goal was to make our so­ci­ety more dys­func­tional, to ex­ploit the dys­func­tion in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, they suc­ceeded.” If their goal was “to foster the no­tion that there are fun­da­men­tally no dif­fer­ences be­tween their sys­tem and our sys­tem, they suc­ceeded.”

But Putin’s in­flu­ence cam­paign back­fired in other ways, Hay­den told me. “If their plan was to get some­one into of­fice who would warm re­la­tions be­tween us and Moscow, that was a dis­as­ter.” The scan­dal not only hand­cuffed Trump from act­ing on his oft-stated de­sire to have closer re­la­tions with Moscow, but also prompted Congress to pass more sanc­tions against Rus­sia and some of its lead­ing of­fi­cials and busi­ness­men. Seen from that an­gle, Putin’s tri­in­ter­ac­tions

Rus­sia “sim­ply wanted to put a turd in the punch bowl.”

umph looks self-de­feat­ing, says Nina Khrushcheva, a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the New School in New York City and the great-grand­daugh­ter of for­mer Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. “I am not sure he is a big win­ner, ac­tu­ally—maybe in a small, tac­ti­cal way,” she says. “It was a dream of all Sovi­ets be­fore him—to em­bar­rass and un­der­mine the U.S., so he proved his point.”

To Putin and his cir­cle, “Rus­sia’s re­la­tion­ship with the West is a zero-sum game,” Rus­sian-born jour­nal­ist Leonid Ber­shid­sky ob­served ear­lier this year. If Amer­ica is suc­ceed­ing, then Rus­sia must be los­ing. Thus, Putin has tried to stoke po­lit­i­cal dis­ar­ray in the United States with a va­ri­ety of ploys, rang­ing from com­pro­mis­ing Trump’s aides with Krem­lin meet­ings to flood­ing Face­book and Twit­ter with fake news fan­ning racial di­vi­sions.

But he may come to re­gret it, Khrushcheva ar­gues. “He needs U.S. power. He needs co­op­er­a­tion in so many ar­eas across the globe,” she says. “[Putin] can’t pos­si­bly think that tak­ing down the U.S. fully is good for him or the world.”

That’s why Pa­padopou­los, a 2009 col­lege grad­u­ate who listed his par­tic­i­pa­tion with the Model U.N. as for­eign pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence on his ré­sumé, may pose a threat to both Rus­sia and Trump. His co­op­er­a­tion with the feds—per­haps for sev­eral months—gave Mueller a pipe­line into much of what Trump and his ad­vis­ers were say­ing and do­ing about the Rus­sians in pri­vate.

A hint of those con­ver­sa­tions has al­ready emerged, in the form of an email Pa­padopou­los sent to his Krem­lin-linked con­tact in July, which Bloomberg News dis­cov­ered in an FBI af­fi­davit sup­port­ing the charges against the young man. Pa­padopou­los wrote that a meet­ing be­tween “my na­tional chair­man and maybe one other for­eign pol­icy ad­viser” with the Rus­sians “has been ap­proved by our side.” Manafort was not named in the email, but he was Trump’s na­tional cam­paign chair­man at the time. The can­di­date’s top for­eign pol­icy ad­vis­ers then were Ses­sions and Flynn, the for­mer De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency chief who had de­vel­oped ties with Moscow’s am­bas­sador to the U.S. and its state-backed Rus­sia To­day TV chan­nel.

It’s un­clear if Pa­padopou­los’s ac­count in that email was cor­rect, but his co­op­er­a­tion with the feds ap­pears to in­cin­er­ate over a year’s worth of as­ser­tions by the pres­i­dent that he had “noth­ing to do with the Rus­sians.”

“In­deed, when the his­tory books are writ­ten on the Trump-rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, it’s quite likely that the plea deal be­tween spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller and...ge­orge Pa­padopou­los may be seen as the cru­cial mo­ment,” Bos­ton Globe colum­nist Michael Co­hen wrote. “This is the first piece of [of­fi­cial] ev­i­dence that

there was an on­go­ing ef­fort within the Trump cam­paign to col­lude with the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment.”

That Trump’s as­so­ci­ates were so care­less in meet­ing with agents of a hos­tile power as­ton­ishes Hay­den, who called it na­tional se­cu­rity “mal­prac­tice.” Pa­padopou­los’s en­gage­ment with Krem­lin emis­saries was, “at best, reck­less,” says a for­mer CIA Rus­sia an­a­lyst, who asked for anonymity in ex­change for dis­cussing such a sen­si­tive is­sue. The young, in­ex­pe­ri­enced player “didn’t re­al­ize how po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous this sit­u­a­tion was, both in a coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence sense and in the sense of po­lit­i­cal op­tics back in the United States,” says the an­a­lyst, a long­time stu­dent of the es­pi­onage wars be­tween Moscow and Wash­ing­ton.

Pa­padopou­los at first lied to FBI agents about his Rus­sia con­tacts—an­other am­a­teur move, which re­sulted in his in­dict­ment. But now that he’s talk­ing, he likely won’t do much time. In that, he’s very much like Se­gretti, the Nixon trick­ster who ended up serv­ing four months of a six-month sen­tence after he pleaded guilty to three charges of dis­tribut­ing il­le­gal cam­paign lit­er­a­ture.

In the mid-1990s, Se­gretti, a lawyer, ran for a judge­ship in Or­ange County, Cal­i­for­nia, where his Water­gate no­to­ri­ety trailed him. “The re­ac­tion to his can­di­dacy was so neg­a­tive that he de­cided to drop out,” the Los An­ge­les

Times re­ported.

The only thing peo­ple “wanted to talk about,” Se­gretti told the pa­per, “was Nixon and Water­gate.”

So it will likely go for Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los. Only three weeks ago, he was look­ing for “a prom­i­nent pub­lisher” on his Linkedin page. As it turned out, how­ever, he’d al­ready told his story to the feds. One pos­si­ble book ti­tle? Dupe.

RED THEIR RIGHTS Mem­bers of Team Trump un­der scru­tiny for con­tacts with Rus­sians in­clude At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ses­sions, top, Pa­padopou­los, left, and Page.

WALK­ING UP THE LAD­DER Se­gretti, above, was a key to blow­ing open the Water­gate scan­dal; Gates, be­low, was in­dicted with Manafort on money laun­der­ing charges.

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