Crossfire Hurricane- Part 1: The Genesis

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Having completed the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server that resulted in an exoneration, in late July 2016 the FBI officially launched Crossfire Hurricane, an investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.  There is a common misunderstanding that the investigation was started by Comey based on the infamous Steele dossier.  It was not that dossier but events previous to it that led to the opening of an investigation most likely perpetrated by operatives within the United States intelligence community (IC) and foreign counterparts and associates.  One key figure is Alexander Downer who was Australia’s top diplomat to Great Britain at the time.

Downer was a key go-between the Australian government and the Clinton Foundation as early as 2006.  The agreement between the Clinton Foundation and the Australian government was a memorandum of agreement signed by the Foundation and Alexander Downer.  In 2011, Downer left government service to sit on the board of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant with the goal of Huawei breaking into the Australian market.  At the time, the United States criticized the move.  The Obama administration had accused Huawei of industrial espionage- a sticking point on free trade agreements with China- and Downer was a particularly vocal critic of Washington’s complaints.  

He assumed his post in London in 2014.  While there, he participated in several round tables with an informal group called the Cambridge Intelligence Seminar.  The group often consisted of Richard Dearlove who was head of the GCHQ.  Others were Andrew Wood, the former British ambassador to Russia, James Clapper, John Brennan, and Joseph Mifsud. 

In late 2015, George Papadopolous, who had been working at a think tank called the Hudson Institute, sent his resume to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson.  They hired him on a three-month contract as a foreign policy adviser given his background examining Mediterranean issues and oil and gas issues.  When Carson dropped out of the campaign, he reached out to Sam Clovis who was the national co-chairman of the Trump campaign.  Clovis hired him as an unpaid foreign policy adviser.  Between the Carson campaign and being brought onto the Trump campaign, he was employed by the London Centre of International Law Practice and had attended a seminar at the Link Campus University in Rome, Italy.  It is believed that he met Joseph Mifsud at this time.  The Link Campus University has long been suspected of being an intelligence training school funded primarily by the CIA.  

Papadoplous was not introduced as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser until March 21, 2016.  Three days later, Mifsud shows up in London accompanied by a woman who he introduced as Olga Polonskaya, Putin’s niece, claiming that she could help broker a meeting between Trump and Putin. It is believed that the woman was Olga Vinogravoda, a Russian student.  Ten days later, he joined a national security meeting held in Trump Tower headed by Jeff Sessions where Papadopolous allegedly broached the idea of Trump and Putin meeting ahead of the election.  

On May 6, 2016 Erika Thompson, an aide to Alexander Downer, reached out to him to set up a meeting about comments he made that could be construed as disparaging to British prime minister David Cameron.  Around the same time period, Bill Priestap, an official with the FBI, was also in London seeking a meeting with Papadopolous.  Priestap was the head of their counterintelligence department of the FBI.  He was also one of the FBI officials who was involved in the Clinton server investigation, participated in the interview with Hillary Clinton, and had made changes to the Comey draft exonerating Clinton.  He arrived in London on May 9, 2016 and the arranged meeting between Downer, Papadoplous and Thompson took place on May 10th.  It was at this meeting over drinks at a British pub that Papadopolous allegedly told Downer that the Russians had compromising information on Hillary Clinton.

A couple of thoughts come to mind here.  First, there appears to be a concerted effort to probe Papadopolous for his willingness to work for the Russians as part of the Trump campaign.  Why is a mystery.  While at the Hudson Institute, he was not particularly known for his fondness of Russia.  His interests lay in the field of energy exploration.

On July 11th, Elizabeth Dibble, the State Department’s Deputy Chief of Mission in London, informed the FBI of the bar conversation in an official referral.  How she found out is a mystery since it was not until July 23rd that the Australian government reached out to Dibble and informed her of the conversation.  The obvious answer is that Downer relayed the information, likely before anyone reached out to Dibble officially and that the State Department likely sat on the information because they were waiting for the right time, or they could not corroborate it.   

It is alleged that Sam Clovis encouraged Papadopolous to travel to Russia and meet with people at the Foreign Ministry.  At the time, his main role in the campaign was setting up meetings between Trump and foreign leaders.  We know from the record that he did try to urge the campaign into a Trump-Putin meeting on at least three occasions: April 27th, May 21st, and June 19th.  Two days after the last suggestion for a meeting, Clovis, or someone in the campaign, advises against it, but informs Papadopolous that if he wants to go to Russia unofficially and not as part or on behalf of the campaign, he could.  

Needless to say, he never traveled to Russia and it appears that as of June 21, 2016 the Trump campaign had decided against a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.  From the perspective of Papadopolous, the issue was dead at that point.

Next: part 2- some questions about the investigation