Since the beginning of Donald Trump’s administration as President of the United States of America and even before he was elected and sworn in, there had been, and still are, many indications that Russia attempted to interfere in the democratic process and get Trump elected.
Since his inauguration, he has fired the previous FBI Director, James Comey, his National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn for lying about his connections to foreign agents, and his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has recused himself from the ongoing Russia collusion investigation that is currently being conducted by the Congress-appointed special prosecutor, Robert Mueller. The investigation currently underway by Mueller has subpoenaed several current and former white house officials, campaign staff, Trump’s banking information at Deutsche Bank and has charged Trump’s former campaign Chairman Paul Manafort and his former campaign foreign policy advisor, George Papadopolous.
Both campaign officials are now working with the FBI as cooperating witnesses after they pled guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent and lying to the FBI, respectively. A string of revelations has kept unravelling since Trump was elected, beginning with Flynn’s dismissal from his post, social media companies reporting to Congress on Russia’s use of platforms for a disinformation campaign, and most recently, the UK and Australia’s role in starting the official counterintelligence investigation by the FBI into Russia’s interference.
A New York Times investigative piece supported by emails and testimonies from both current and former US and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the ongoing investigation has confirmed that it was Australia, which had originally given the tip to the FBI about possible collusion. Australia first learned about the possibility when its top diplomat in Britain, Alexander Downer, met with George Papadopolous at a social setting and after a few drinks, Papadopolous told Downer that Russia had political “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in May 2016 and later reported it to the relevant Australian authorities who then notified their American counterparts.
However, Australia only notified the FBI two months after Papadopolous’ drunken slur at the Wine Room at a Kensington Hotel, when leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Clinton’s campaign first appeared online and on news platforms. It is not clear why Australia waited so long to notify the FBI but once it did, the secret was kept highly confidential within the FBI, according to the New York Times, and was later substantiated by other notifications by British and Dutch intelligence agencies.
Trump has not yet responded to this newly revealed information but he reacted to the news of Papadopolous and Manafort’s guilty pleas by distancing himself from them, claiming specifically that Papadopolous was nothing more than a “coffee boy”, even though it was Papadopolous that arranged the meeting between Trump and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah El-Sisi before the election.
The White House has always claimed that the Russia investigation is a part of a Democratic Party attempt to disrupt his administration and a wider conspiracy against him and his legitimate win of the US Presidency, pointing to the fact that the Russia dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele was partly paid for by the DNC. Nevertheless, the fact that Australia, one of the US’ closest intelligence allies, had been the one to start the chain of events that led to the intense scrutiny of Trump and his associates’ every move before and after the election counters all of Trump’s assertions of a conspiracy.
Australia’s specific part of the investigation also adds context to the recent tense personal relationship between Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. This started after a phone call between the two leaders earlier into Trump’s presidency, which reportedly got intensely heated and ended in Trump hanging up on Turnbull. The unclear details of the drunken revelation, the heated phone call, and the eventual firing of James Comey as FBI director only increases suspicion of an attempt by the Trump administration to cover its tracks and deflect any blame elsewhere.
The Mueller investigation at this point will be focusing more closely on Papadopolous’ main points of contact that led him to try to arrange a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin, which he expressed to Trump at a campaign meeting, in which Sessions was also present, but failed to disclose during his confirmation hearing. The contacts, as discovered by the New York Times, are Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor in London, who arranged a meeting with Olga Polonskaya, which was falsely described as Putin’s niece. Another person of probably more important value to the investigation now is Ivan Timofeev, the Program Director at the Valdai Discussion Club, a grouping of academics that meet with Putin annually.
The political survival of Trump hangs in the balance, while Mueller inches closer towards uncovering what many different actors have attempted to hide. With an unpredictable and impulsive President like Donald Trump, a possible constitutional crisis may await the United States.