Let’s put two and two together, then add one more item of breaking news from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Jared Kushner, and then speculate a little.
First, we know that a low-level operative in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, George Papadopoulos, pleaded guilty on October 5 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with “foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials,” according to Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s Office. Papadopoulos, who joined Trump’s foreign-policy team in early March 2016, met soon afterward with those Russian-linked contacts, who told him a few weeks later that “they [the Russians] have dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails,” says the special counsel’s statement. And we know that Papadopoulos, an eager beaver if there ever was one, repeatedly met with senior campaign officials to tout his “outreach to Russia” and his efforts to “arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership,” and that the Trump campaign responded by encouraging him to make an “off the record” trip to Moscow. Among the officials who received Papadopoulos’s breathless missives over the course of six months were Senator Jeff Sessions, J.D. Gordon, Stephen Miller, and Corey Lewandowski, and Papadopoulos took part in at least one meeting with Trump himself.
Second, we know that Donald Trump Jr., the dim-bulb offspring of the president, maintained regular contact with WikiLeaks—the chief outlet for the Democrats’ e-mails stolen by Russian intelligence—both before and after the election last November. A series of e-mail exchanges—first reported by The Atlantic and then released, on Twitter, by Don Jr. himself—reveal that Trump Jr. queried WikiLeaks about damaging Clinton material.
“What’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” Don Jr. wrote in one exchange. After WikiLeaks e-mailed him asking if he would persuade his father to promote WikiLeaks via the candidate’s own account, just 15 minutes later Trump Sr. tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!”
Third, thanks to some dogged investigative work by the Senate Judiciary Committee, acting in an admirably bipartisan manner, we’ve learned that Jared Kushner, a top White House official and President Trump’s son-in-law, “overlooked several documents” that he should have supplied to the committee. One involved an unexplained “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” Others involved “email communications to Mr. Kushner about WikiLeaks.” They were withheld from the committee, which is now demanding that Kushner come clean by supplying all such e-mails and phone communications, including a wide range of contacts in 2016 with Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser. This news is potentially explosive, and it could lead to Kushner’s being subpoenaed by the committee. If wrongdoing can be proven (including Kushner’s failure to disclose foreign contacts on his SF-86 security clearance disclosure forms), it could lead to his indictment.
Now, to speculate: Is it possible that Papadopoulos told the campaign the Russians had those “thousands of emails” in the spring of last year, long before the first reports in the media that the DNC had been hacked? If so, wouldn’t senior pooh-bahs in the campaign have quickly concluded that stolen e-mails would be hot, even radioactive, and that the campaign couldn’t touch them, never mind release them themselves? Is it plausible, then, that those same pooh-bahs—perhaps Don Jr. himself—might have suggested to Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Roger Stone, or one of the other Trump officials and aides who were in contact with Moscow, “Why don’t you quietly suggest to the Russians that they give those e-mails to WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, or some other cut-out?”
Of course, the Russians may already have been planning to give their stolen information to WikiLeaks, and they may not have needed advice from Team Trump to do so. But it’s certainly plausible that one of the Trump operatives might have told the Russians to leak the e-mails to WikiLeaks, or told WikiLeaks about the Russian-held stolen property, or both. On the question of collusion, it doesn’t matter if the Russians were going to leak the DNC (and later the John Podesta) e-mails anyway. All that matters is if someone on Team Trump encouraged them to do so, especially once they learned (as early as March 2016, according to Papadopoulos) what the Russians possessed.
We don’t know whether or not anything like this unfolded between March and June of last year, though maybe special counsel Robert Mueller does (it’s possible that what we know now is only a small part of what Mueller & Co. have figured out). But if it did, most jurors—and even recalcitrant GOP members of Congress—would have to conclude that it’s evidence of direct collusion between Team Trump and the Russians.
Besides Don Jr. and Kushner, of course, other Trump aides and officials were in contact with WikiLeaks at the very height of the hack-and-leak attack that unfolded last year. Roger Stone, the longtime associate of Trump and Manafort and a gleeful provocateur, was reportedly in touch with both Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks last year, and Stone has admitted those contacts in belligerent testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, or HPSCI (though in his testimony, he said that his contacts with WikiLeaks were through an intermediary). And in July 2016, Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks, offering to help organize the stolen DNC e-mails, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Big Data firm, which was used by the Trump campaign and included former top Trump aide and current Breitbart chief Steve Bannon on its board, is partly owned by hedge-fund mogul and Trump donor Robert Mercer.
And the “dossier”? For weeks now, the Republicans have been attacking the credibility and provenance of the famous dossier, a 35-page collection of raw data alleging Trump-Russia collusion gathered by Christopher Steele, a veteran British MI-6 operative working on behalf of a firm called Fusion GPS. The Republican argument, amplified by President Trump’s tweets, is that because the Steele dossier was paid for first by Never-Trump GOPers and then by Democrats, including the DNC and the Clinton campaign, its content ought to be dismissed outright as a hoax or political dirty trick.
In a November 15 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on HPSCI, punched back, saying that he believes a lot of what the dossier reported:
“The biggest thing that I think people need to realize about the dossier is that Christopher Steele discovered that the Russians were embarked on a broad effort to help the Trump campaign before our own intelligence agencies came to the same conclusion,” Mr. Schiff said. “In the broadest outline of what he investigated, he proved more than prescience—he proved accurate in terms of the Russian involvement and what their motivations were,” he said.
Added Schiff: “Who paid for it is a relevant factor to consider. It’s not the only factor. The bigger factor is how much of it can you corroborate and how much of it is true. A lot of it has turned out to be true.”
And, according to a new book, Collusion: How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, by Luke Harding, Steele himself is quite confident in the value of what he produced, saying that between 70 and 90 percent of what he reported is accurate.
Meanwhile, there’s an interesting twist in the news from the Senate Judiciary Committee about the dossier, too. According to The Washington Post’s November 16 report: “Kushner had been made privy to ‘communications with Sergei Millian’—a Belarusan American businessman who claims close ties to the Trumps and was the source of salacious details in a dossier about the president’s 2013 trip to Moscow—but failed to turn those records over to investigators.” Those “salacious details,” of course, refer to reports that during that 2013 trip Donald Trump cavorted with Russian prostitutes in his hotel and that the Russians planned to use evidence of that activity as possible blackmail material. This past March, the Post revealed that Millian was actually “Source D” and “Source E” in the Steele dossier, whose claims about Trump were passed on to Steele. (The precise nature of Kushner’s connection to Millian isn’t yet clear.)
That March Post article also reported that Millian told one of Steele’s sources that “Trump had a long-standing relationship with Russian officials…and those officials were now feeding Trump damaging information about his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.”
And the kicker: the Post story included this: “Millian told several people that during the campaign and presidential transition he was in touch with George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign-policy adviser, according to a person familiar with the matter. Millian is among Papadopoulos’s nearly 240 Facebook friends.”