The reality, as the NY Times reveals today, is that the Mueller probe came about because former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos can't keep his mouth shut.
During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.
About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.
Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians’ role.
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 F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia’s attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump’s associates conspired.
If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.
While some of Mr. Trump’s advisers have derided him as an insignificant campaign volunteer or a “coffee boy,” interviews and new documents show that he stayed influential throughout the campaign. Two months before the election, for instance, he helped arrange a New York meeting between Mr. Trump and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt.
The information that Mr. Papadopoulos gave to the Australians answers one of the lingering mysteries of the past year: What so alarmed American officials to provoke the F.B.I. to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign months before the presidential election?
It was not, as Mr. Trump and other politicians have alleged, a dossier compiled by a former British spy hired by a rival campaign. Instead, it was firsthand information from one of America’s closest intelligence allies.
That should slam the door on the attacks on Mueller, and indeed, Republicans are starting to get skittish as they realize just how much trouble Trump is in, and how much damage he'll do bringing everyone down with him.
A growing campaign by President Trump’s most ardent supporters to discredit the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and the law enforcement agencies assisting his investigation is opening new fissures in the Republican Party, with some lawmakers questioning the damage being done to federal law enforcement and to a political party that has long championed law and order.
A small but vocal group of conservative lawmakers, much of the conservative media and, at times, the president himself have launched a series of attacks to paint not only Mr. Mueller but institutions once considered sacrosanct to Republicans like the F.B.I. and Justice Department as dangerously biased against Mr. Trump. One of them, Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, called on Tuesday for top F.B.I. and Justice Department officials to be “purged.”
Now some Republican lawmakers are speaking out, worried that Trump loyalists, hoping for short-term gain, could wind up staining the party, dampening morale at the F.B.I. and Justice Department, and potentially recasting Democrats as the true friends of law enforcement for years to come.
Straddling both camps is Mr. Trump, who in an interview on Thursday with The New York Times lavished praise on Republican congressmen who have defended him from a “witch hunt” and expressed confidence that Mr. Mueller would “treat me fairly.”
It is not uncommon for members of the president’s own party to defend their leader against investigations. When President Bill Clinton was investigated and impeached in the 1990s, Mr. Clinton’s associates and many left-leaning Democrats on Capitol Hill waged war on Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel.
But Republican moderates in both the House and Senate with little loyalty to Mr. Trump and a Republican cadre of former law enforcement officials fear that their colleagues have reacted to specific and credible concerns about the F.B.I. with indiscriminate attacks.
“As an institution we have to make it clear that we are dealing here with a scalpel not a sledgehammer,” said Representative Peter T. King, a New York Republican who sits on the Intelligence and Homeland Security committees. “Because you can’t have a situation where people say, ‘Oh, you can’t trust the F.B.I.’ That creates a spirit of anarchy.”
Of his fellow Republicans pressing a public case against the agencies, Mr. King said, “I think some of them have been too strong on that.”
If even Peter King is running from this, the internal polling numbers for the GOP must be pointing towards a complete wipeout in 2018.
And they know it. But it also means that the Papadopoulos angle of the story is far more important than has previously been reported. It also means that Mueller has been on to the truth for months now, and that the reckoning is coming.
It also means that Papadopoulos knew the Russians had hacked the DNC emails two months before that information went public, and that the Trump campaign was well aware of it, and yet took no action whatsoever to inform anybody about it.
Stay tuned. 2018 is going to be a wild ride.