Sunday, December 15, 2019

Events Leading to the Russia Hoax Tipping Point

What follows is a blog by commenter Mike Sylwester. While I don't ordinarily do this, I've been pulled in a number of directions recently. Mike has done a lot of research on the Downer-Papadopoulos aspect of the Russia Hoax and I believe his blog here will provide a useful framework for discussion on a topic that has become somewhat controversial.

Obviously, we don't know the whole story yet--that has become apparent in the last few days. Mike's focus on the process helps draw attention to the anomalies in the way Downer's "information" was handled. In any bureaucratic setting, anomalies in process must lead to suspicion.

As you read, you may wish to keep the Carter Page matter in mind, since at the same time that the Papadopoulos matter was being used to open Crossfire Hurricane--as the story goes--Bruce Ohr was conveying Chris Steele's Carter Page narrative to Lisa Page, Andy McCabe, and Peter Strzok.

Here's the distinction I see between the use of the Papadopoulos material and the Carter Page material.

Obviously, any domestic investigation would need to be handled by the FBI. The advantage to using the Papadopoulos material--which seems clearly to be a CIA operation--is that it insulated both the CIA and the FBI by inserting a supposedly independent operation by a "friendly" foreign power: Australia. In that way the CIA and FBI could pretend to be merely conduits of foreign intelligence rather than the primary gatherers.

By contrast, while the Carter Page narrative of "Russian collusion" is superficially attractive, it falls apart as soon as Page's relationship to both the CIA and the FBI is known. Worse, concealing that relationship to maintain the credibility of the narrative can only be done by lying or hiding the ball. This, to me, explains why the FBI and CIA would have preferred to base all on the very lame Papadopoulos narrative. When DoJ turned down the idea of a FISA on Papadopoulos, however, the FBI had to turn to Carter Page.

Mike's blog follows:


According to The Horowitz report (page 53), a report about a conversation between the Australian "diplomat" and intel operative Alexander Downer and Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was a "tipping point" that led the FBI to open the counterintelligence investigation we know as "Crossfire Hurricane." FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ) received the report on Thursday, July 28, 2016, and opened the investigation on Sunday, July 31.

The report had been written more than two months previously, in May 2016 (the Horowitz report does not specify the date). Downer, the Australian Government's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, had invited Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser on Donald Trump's campaign staff, to a conversation in an upscale London bar. Downer secretly recorded the conversation. After Downer and Papadopoulos parted, Downer supposedly gave the recording device to a subordinate, who wrote a summary of the conversation. The conversation was not transcribed in full because it did not seem sufficiently important.

However, on Friday, July 22, Wikileaks released to the public a large trove of e-mails that had been stored on a computer server of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). This release caused a panic among Hillary Clinton's supporters, including Downer--who had helped funnel large amounts of money (reportedly totalling $25 million) to the Clinton Foundation. The Democratic Party's convention was about to take place during July 25-28, and many of the released e-mails indicated that the DNC had treated Clinton preferentially over her main rival, Bernie Sanders. The e-mails surely would cause trouble for Clinton during the convention. Future e-mails might cause Clinton more trouble also during the general election race.

Clinton's supporters strove to portray Wikileaks as a tool of Russian Intelligence. Russian government agents, so the story went, had hacked the DNC server and was trying to cause political trouble for Clinton by releasing the emails via Wikileaks.

In these circumstances, on about July 25, a Monday, Downer brought the written summary of the May conversation to the CIA's Chief of Station, Gina Haspel (considered a close associate of John Brennan), in her London office. Downer told Haspel that the summary might be useful to Clinton's supporters in the US Intelligence Community.

From one perspective, Downer was acting on behalf of the Australian Government, because he was, after all, Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He did not, however, take this summary report to Haspel with the approval or even knowledge of the Australian Government. A more probable perspective on Downer' action was that he was acting as an informant to the CIA's official in London, Haspel. Perhaps Haspel was even the CIA case officer for Haspel.


The summary of the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation that Haspel received in her office on that day was vague. The public has received only a brief passage, quoted in the Horowitz, and that passage is also vague.

The public does not know who wrote the summary of the conversation, nor does the public know whether Downer edited, annotated or rewrote the summary before he gave it to Haspel.

The entire passage in the Horowitz report says:

[Papadopoulos] suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).
It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump's team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team's reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump's cooperation.

This passage leads to obvious questions, including a basic alternative:

* Were those words written by Downer's subordinate who summarized the recording for Downer in May?
* Or were those words an interpretive commentary that Downer himself added during the weekend before he brought the summary to Haspel?

I think the second possibility is more likely.

In either case the above passage was part of the summary that Downer gave to Haspel in her London office a few days after Wikileaks released the DNC e-mails.


Exactly how was the summary supposed to be useful to Haspel or to her further fellows?

We can assume that the passage in the Horowitz report is the most incriminating part of the summary. However, this passage mentions merely some "suggestions" and "unclear references" that "could have little bearing".

The most apparent usefulness of the summary might have been to cause another interview of Papadopoulos in order to clarify his actual knowledge.

Another apparent usefulness might have been to justify a belated transcript of the recording of the actual conversation. Surely the recording still existed.

However, the subsequent events indicate that no urgent effort was made to re-interview Papadopoulos or to transcribe the recording.

The only practical usefulness of the summary was that it might justify an energetic US Government investigation of the "Trump team" in relation to Russia and the "hacked" e-mails.


I have been basing my understanding of the events on the account in the Horowitz report, pages 51 - 52. Some words are redacted, and I have guessed [in brackets] the senses of the redacted words.

[Paul] Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as the campaign convention manager.
In the weeks that followed, [George] Papadopoulos met with officials of an FFG [Friendly Foreign Government -- Australia] in a European city [London] that had arranged several meetings in May 2016 to engage with members of the Trump campaign. During one of these meetings, Papadopoulos reportedly "suggested" to an FFG official [Alexander Downer, an Australian] that the Trump campaign "received some kind of a suggestion from Russia" that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing derogatory information about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. However, the FFG [the Australian Government] did not provide information about Papadopoulos's statements to the U.S. government at that time [in May 2016].
On July 26, 2016, four days after Wikileaks publicly released hacked emails from the DNC, the FFG official [Downer] spoke with a U.S. government (USG) official [CIA Station Chief Gina Haspel] in the European city [London] about an "urgent matter" that required an in-person meeting. At the meeting, the FFG official [Downer] informed the USG official [Haspel] of the [May 2016] meeting with Papadopoulos.
The FFG official [Downer] also provided REDACTED [surreptitiously recorded] information from REDACTED [cooperating] FFG officials REDACTED [summarized] following the May 2016 meeting (hereinafter referred to as the FFG information). REDACTED [The summary of the recording] stated, in part, that Papadopoulos:
"suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).
"It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump's team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team's reaction could, in the end, have little bearing on what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump's cooperation."
On [Wednesday] July 27, 2016, the USG official [Haspel] called the FBI's Legal Attache (Legat) and REDACTED [Assistant Legal Attache for Counterintelligence] in the European city [London] to HER [Haspel's] office and provided them with the FFG information.
The Legat told us he was not provided any other information about the meetings between the FFG and Papadopoulos. The Legat also told us that he did not know under what FBI case number the FFG information should be documented and transmitted.
At the recommendation of the European city [London] Assistant Legal Attache (ALAT) for Counterintelligence, the [London] Legat contacted a former ALAT who at the time was an Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) in the FBI's Philadelphia Field Office. The [Philadelphia] ASAC told the [London] Legat that he believed the FFG [Australian] information was related to the hack of DNC emails and identified a case number for that investigation for the Legat to use to transmit the information.
The following day, on [Thursday] July 28, 2016, the Legat sent an EC documenting the FFG information to the Philadelphia Field Office ASAC.
The same day [Thursday, July 28], the information in the EC was emailed to the Section Chief of the Cyber Counterintelligence Coordination Section at FBI Headquarters.
From [Thursday] July 28 to [Sunday] July 31, officials at FBI Headquarters discussed the FFG information and whether it warranted opening a counterintelligence investigation.

Pay attention here to my understanding that Downer had surreptitiously recorded his conversation with Papadopoulos, but then only a summary -- not a transcript -- of the recorded conversation had been done, by some subordinate of Downer. The summary had been annotated -- already in May or perhaps much later in July -- with a few interpretive remarks (e.g. "It was unclear whether he or the Russians were referring ... ").


An objective reader of the summary would perceive that Papadopoulos was talking hypothetically in a meandering, intoxicated conversation in which Downer was asking lots of provocative and leading questions. This passage in the Horowitz report surely is the most incriminating passage, and it says merely:

[Papadopouls] suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).
It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump's team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team's reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump's cooperation.

In the first line above, what does the word "suggested" really mean? The word does not necessarily mean that Papadopoulos actually uttered some certainty that the Trump team actually had received "some kind of suggestion".

Because the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation was so obviously unimportant and useless in May 2016, the recording was merely summarized and then filed in May 2016.

The conversation suddenly became important and useful only after July 22, because Clinton's supporters urgently needed to justify an enormous investigation of the Trump campaign's possible knowledge of future Wikileaks releases of "hacked" e-mails that might cause political trouble for Clinton.


The now official story is that the US Government -- in particular, Haspel -- did not know about the May Downer-Papadopoulos conversation until Downer provided the summary to Haspel on about July 25, 2016.

However, that story might be misleading. If Downer indeed was an informant to CIA officer Haspel -- if she was even his case officer -- then Downer might have informed Haspel about his conversation with Papadopoulos soon after the conversation happened in May. Furthermore, Haspel might even have tasked Downer to interview Papadopoulos.

If Haspel did know about the Downer-Haspel conversation already in May, then she herself might have recognized belatedly its possible usefulness to the US Intelligence Community as a justification for an investigation. In other words, Haspel's meeting with Downer on about July 25 might have happened not at the initiative of Downer, but rather at the initiative of Haspel.

Perhaps Haspel contacted Downer and asked him to bring to her office any summary of that May conversation. Furthermore, Haspel might have asked Downer to annotate the summary belatedly for her own purposes.


Although Downer, Haspel and much of the US Intelligence Community's elite were in a hysterical panic about the Wikileaks releases of "hacked" e-mails, many ordinary people approved of Wikileaks' actions. Many people felt that the public should be informed about the DNC's preferential treatment of Clinton over Sanders. Many people felt that Wikileaks had released the e-mails for the common good of the USA's electorate.

The US Intelligence Community's elite was terrified that Clinton might lose the election. For all those hysterics, the summary of the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation was a huge, crucial matter -- because the election of Clinton was a huge, crucial matter.


Of course, Haspel surely sent a copy of Downer's summary to CIA Headquarters -- more specifically, to CIA Director John Brennan.

However, Downer's summary involved some potential problems for the CIA.

* Did Downer act on behalf of the Australian Government when he interviewed Papadopoulos and subsequently provided a summary of that conversation to the CIA's London Chief of Station?
* Was the CIA allowed to collect such information about Papadopoulos, a US citizen?

Because of such potential problems, the summary had to be given to the FBI legal attache (Legat) in London. Haspel would invite the Legat into her London office, tell him that she had obtained the summary incidentally, tell him that the summary seemed to be a matter for the FBI, and give the Legat the impression that the CIA would take no further action with the summary.

On Tuesday, July 26, the Legat came to Haspel's office in London, talked with her about the situation, received the summary from Haspel, and went back to his own London office.


Haspel foresaw that the Legat would go back to his office and write a cover letter to accompany the Downer summary that would be sent to FBI Headquarters. Haspel (I think) worried that the Legat's cover letter might screw this crucial situation up. Perhaps the Legat's cover letter might say something that was mistaken, too insightful or otherwise troublesome.

Therefore, Haspel had invited a second FBI official to attend the meeting in her London office on July 26. Haspel had invited the FBI's London-based Assistant Legal Attache (ALAT) for Counterintelligence. This ALAT participated in the conversation between Haspel and the Legat.

Then the Legat and the ALAT left Haspel's office and talked between themselves. Evidently, the ALAT told the Legat that this matter might be extremely important, and so the Legat should be extra careful to not make any mistakes. For example, the Legat should not assign a mistaken case number to the matter and should send the summary to the correct section at FBI Headquarters.

Further, the ALAT recommended to the Legat that the Legat consult with the ALAT's London predecessor, who now was stationed at the Philadelphia Field Office as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC). Following the insistent urging of his London ALAT colleague, the Legat immediately called the ASAC in Philadelphia and consulted with him. Subsequently, after the Legat wrote his cover letter, he sent his cover letter and the Downer summary to the Philadelphia ASAC, who then forwarded them to the FBI Headquarters in Washington DC.

When the Legat's cover letter reached FBI Headquarters, the cover letter no longer could be changed. The cover letter's detour through the Philadelphia ASAC enabled any problems in the cover letter to be caught and fixed before the cover letter reached FBI Headquarters.


  1. Since I wrote that article, I have read that some people think that Downer brought his information not to Gina Haspel, but rather to Elizabeth Dibble, the US State Department's Deputy Chief of Mission in the London Embassy.

    This is news to me, and I still do not know the evidence that the recipient was Dibble (not Haspel).

    1. I think that whatever the exact route followed, the basic concept remains the same. It was an info laundering operation.

    2. It might be that Downer went first to Dibble, who sent him to Haspel.

      Or it might be that Downer went only to Haspel, but Dibble's name was leaked misleadingly to the press to cover Haspel's role in the events.

  2. In April 2018, almost two years after Alexander Downer talked with George Papadopoulos, Downer retired from his position as Australia's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. Then Downer granted to The Australian newspaper an interview in which he talked publicly for the first time about his 2016 talk with Papadopoulos.

    In this 2018 interview, Downer said that Papadopoulos had not said anything that related the hacked e-mails to Trump or "Trump's team".

    I still think, however, that in the last weekend of July 2016, Downer himself wrote the following words in the document that he gave to Haspel (or Dibble):


    [Papadopouls] suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama).

    It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. It was also unclear how Mr. Trump's team reacted to the offer. We note the Trump team's reaction could, in the end, have little bearing of what Russia decides to do, with or without Mr. Trump's cooperation.

    [end quote]

    I think that Downer added those words to a summary that had been written by a subordinate in May 2016, based on a secret recording of the Downer-Papadopoulos conversation.

    At the time when Downer added those words, he did not foresee that he would have to eat those words in the following months and years.

    Downer knew that a recording of the conversation still exists, and that the recording surely has been transcribed since July 2016. Therefore, Downer cannot pretend that Papadopoulos actually "suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia ..."

    1. Who would have transcribed it? And have custody?

    2. One guess might be someone in the AU intel service station in London.

  3. I think the second sentence, here, is crucial. From the two paragraph Horowitz summary, in the second paragraph:

    "It was unclear whether he [Papadopoulos] or the Russians were referring to material acquired publicly or through other means. -->It was also unclear how Mr. Trump's team reacted to the offer."<--

    The second sentence links PapaD's "story," as conveyed to Downer, to the "Trump team" without any evidence that the "suggestion" of a "suggestion" ever went any further than PapaD's lips to Downer's ears, as a BSing barroom conversation by a young, neophyte campaign worker to an older, experience foreign gov't high official.

    That sentence is a speculation inserted as a base assumption, as if a fact, i.e. instead of something PapaD heard in a previous and similar barroom banter, it's deemed to be a factual offer made to the Trump (team) campaign. What's conveyed is "We don't know how they reacted to the offer," fully assuming the truth that an offer of assistance was made.

    While the first sentence says it's "unclear" what the "material" was, the second sentence takes as a given that an offer was communicated to the Trump team--for which there is zero evidence, not even a hint PapaD told anyone else (aside form Downer).

    In other words, they have no evidence of anything, while reporting a wholly speculative summary which assumes a narrative that assistance to the campaign was offered--yet, the nature of the assistance, and offered by whom, is entirely unknown.

    The sweater of Russian collusion is woven one yarn at a time. All they have to do is knit the sweater, and it's sure to fit Trump when they're done.

    1. No predication, but maybe evidence of a conspiracy to defraud the government of honest services.

  4. George Papadopoulos talked first with a certain Erika Thompson, who then arranged for him to talk with Alexander Downer. I think the two conversations happened, respectively, on May 6 and 10, 2016.

    The public does not know who Erika Thompson is -- or even whether that is her real name. Perhaps she is the subordinate who summarized the recording(s) of the conversation(s).

    The public still is being mystified about these events.

  5. Elizabeth Dibble's name was brought into the story by Kimberly Strassel, in a Wall Street Journal article published on May 3, 2018. I have not read Strassel's article, because it is behind a paywall, but it contains these passages:


    A diplomatic source tells me .... it was Mr. Downer who at some point decided to convey his information – to the U.S. Embassy in London. ....

    Downer details landed with the embassy’s then-chargĂ© d’affaires, Elizabeth Dibble, who previously served as a principal deputy assistant secretary in Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.

    [end quote]

    1. That was the original story--that Downer went through dip channels, just like a real diplomat. Turns out it was fake news.

  6. In Tradecraft-101 do they teach that taking a photo of a target in a crowded bar with your smartphone, but NO audio-recording, provides grounds to invent any conversation you want to invent?

    Anyway, it's obvious Papad was targeted BECAUSE he was working for Trump. But it's not obvious who targeted him. Nobody will be punished for this - Unless somebody testifies that Brennan "suggested" targeting Trump's associates.

    1. Whatever made you think this would be easy? Bureaucrcy 101 is CYA.

    2. For more on the IG's failures to pursue key questions, esp. on who Priestap had “discussions” about the defensive briefing issue, see .

    3. Make that "esp. on WITH WHOM Priestap had...."

  7. The Rooskies look like geniuses in this whole mess. If Hillary wins, they get more democrat incompetence plus a President who could be controlled by all the dirt that their knowledge of the money laundering operation at the Foundation and their possession of every email Hillary ever sent. If Trump wins, they get to deal with a President totally paralyzed by the deep state who 1) hates him and 2) is petrified that their illegality may come to light, and also by the Trump hating media willing to repeat over and over again whatever the current lie of the day is.

    1. Actually, I don't believe "the Russians" "meddled" in any substantial way. All they did was sit back and wait for the result of our rather dysfunctional politics.

  8. Four thousand eight hundred and sixty two miles (the distance separating Moscow and Washington) must be enough for intelligent, observant and clear-eyed Russians to see without distortion the countless delusions enveloping Washington and the Deep State.

    I also want to agree with Mark that looking back I do not see any meaningful 'meddling'. This conclusion will be assured, I think, if Durham is able to show that the 'Russians' did not hack the DNC computer and leak its contents to Wikileaks.

    It rather infuriates me to see Sean Hannity and Lindsey Graham and others pandering to the Deep State assertion that (well, Donald Trump may not have colluded with the 'Russians') but 'Russia' certainly interfered in the 2016 election. Let's not forget that this assertion began with that towering figure of integrity, Hillary Clinton.

    I think I have also heard genius Jerry Nadler recently predict that with Trump's cooperation they will do it again in 2020. Another reason to take the assertion with a few grains of salt.

    1. I don't think Durham will be able to show that the Russians didn't hack the DNC emails, given that the FBI never took possession of the server to forensically examine it, we have a lack of evidence to prove anything. Now, there's always a chance someone involved in the theft of emails might be discovered, though that seems unlikely at this point...

      Yes, the entire story of Russian meddling, interference, influence, etc., is entirely built on fictions, and fictions repeated of the Big Bad Russian Bear. That Narrative has been repeated so often, it's repeated as a demonstrated fact. The only evidence testified to in Congress is $150,000 in issue ads on Google and FB--a tear drop in the ocean of 2016 campaign spending.

    2. @Forbes

      The other way Durham can show that the 'Russians' didn't hack the DNC computer is by talking to Assange, who presumably can prove where the DNC materials came from.

      The only other evidence is, as you say, the tear-drop-in-the-ocean issue ads.

      That's it.