NYT: Former Trump campaign adviser told Australian diplomat Russia had dirt on Clinton
Posted December 30, 2017 11:53 a.m. EST
Updated December 30, 2017 3:40 p.m. EST
WASHINGTON (CNN) — George Papadopoulos told an Australian diplomat that Russia had "political dirt" on Hillary Clinton in May of last year, a conversation that might have played a role in the FBI's decision to open an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to a report published Saturday.
The New York Times reported that Papadopoulos, then a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump's campaign, was drinking at an upscale London bar when he told Australia's top diplomat in Britain, Alexander Downer, that Russia had political information on Clinton.
A few weeks before their meeting, Papadopoulos was told Moscow had thousands of emails relating to Clinton, CNN has reported.
About two months after the meeting with Downer, after WikiLeaks posted hacked Democratic National Committee emails online, Australian officials passed Papadopoulos' information along to their US counterparts, the Times reported, citing four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians' role.
Lawyers for Papadopoulos and Australian officials did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment Saturday. White House special counsel Ty Cobb declined to comment on the Times' report.
"Out of respect for the Special Counsel and his process, we are not commenting on matters such as this," Cobb said in a statement, referring to Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe. "We are continuing to fully cooperate with the Special Counsel in order to help complete their inquiry expeditiously."
The news appears to add to the number of pieces of intelligence, separate from a dossier compiled by a former British spy about Trump-Russia ties, that raised concerns among US national security officials and propelled an investigation.
Trump, the White House and Trump campaign officials have downplayed Papadopoulos' role in the campaign, dismissing him as a "low-level volunteer" and just a "coffee boy." But Papadopoulos represented the Trump campaign at various meetings with foreign officials up until Inauguration Day.
Papadopoulos' fiancee, Simona Mangiante, told CNN in a recent interview that Papadopoulos was anything but a coffee boy. Mangiante, who explained she spoke out because Papadopoulos could not, said he worked with senior members of the Trump campaign. "He worked with Michael Flynn during the transition, and he was actively contributing to the foreign policy strategies for the campaign," she said. "He didn't take any initiative on his own without campaign approval."
In October, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI "about the timing, extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials," according to court filings.
Papadopoulos pushed to set up a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-candidate Trump, and had a meeting in April 2016 with a professor who told him that "the Russians" possessed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," according to court filings.
Ever since the charges were unsealed, Trump's allies have dismissed the former campaign adviser's influence.