There’s a somewhat hidden discrepancy between the final report of former special counsel Robert Mueller about the Russia investigation and congressional testimony of former FBI Director James Comey.
While it may seem minor at first glance, it could prove to have far-reaching consequences as it strikes at the heart of the question now probed by Attorney General William Barr: Did the FBI have a proper reason to open an investigation on associates of the 2016 presidential campaign of Donald Trump?
The origin of the Russia investigation has been repeatedly portrayed by legacy media, based on leaks by unnamed sources, as follows:
Junior Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was on a trip to London in May 2016, when an aide to then-Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer reached out to him and asked him to meet with Downer. Papadopulos sat down with Downer and the aide, Erika Thompson, in a bar, where Papadopoulos told Downer that Russians had and might release material damaging to Trump’s election opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Papadopulos later denied remembering that he said anything like that to Downer, but he confirmed, just as the Australian government did, that the meeting took place on May 10, 2016.
Downer said he reported back to Canberra about the conversation.
On June 22, 2016, WikiLeaks started to release emails it said were leaked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the DNC, asserted that the emails were hacked by Russians.
The Australians then alerted the FBI about the Downer–Papadopoulos conversation and the bureau launched a counterintelligence investigation into several Trump associates to determine whether they colluded with Russian efforts to meddle in the election.
Comey, who led the FBI at the time, described the origin of the probe to congressional investigators on Dec. 7, 2018, as follows (pdf):
“This I’ve said publicly, and it’s been cleared, I think, in my book, so I’m going to say it again. My recollection is the first information we had, certainly the first information that came to my attention that Americans might be working with the Russians as part of their efforts, came at the end of July—I think the 31st is too late, but the last week of July—when we received information from an allied nation about the conversations their ambassador had in England with George Papadopoulos. That was the beginning of it, which is the first time we turned to trying to figure out whether any Americans were working with the Russians.”
Mueller took over the probe in 2017 and, nearly two years later, concluded that the investigation couldn’t establish that any Americans colluded with the Russian efforts.
The Mueller report said the investigation was started after the FBI learned what Papadopoulos told “a representative of a foreign government” on May 6—not May 10. This doesn’t seem to be a typo, since the report uses the date in two places. In response to a previous Epoch Times inquiry regarding the date difference, the special counsel’s office had no comment beyond the report.
Papadopoulos has denied telling anybody anything about Russian dirt on Clinton on May 6. But he did communicate that day with another “representative of a foreign government”—Thompson, who was a political counselor to Downer. Papadopoulos said she reached out to him via email that day to set up the meeting.
It isn’t clear if Mueller meant to suggest that Papadopoulos talked to Thompson about Clinton dirt.
The special counsel’s office has closed down and its former spokesman previously told The Epoch Times via email there’s no longer anybody who could answer questions about the report.
Even if Mueller meant to suggest the Russia probe stemmed from the Papadopoulos–Thompson conversation, that would seem to clash with Comey’s testimony, during which he said the investigation was based on what Papadopoulos told an “ambassador,” which is a title equivalent to Australia’s “high commissioner.”
Thompson wasn’t an ambassador.
Moreover, Comey indicated he told the same story in his book and that the book had been cleared by the FBI before publishing.
So, who’s wrong then? Mueller or Comey?
An attempt by The Epoch Times to reach Comey for comment was unsuccessful.
Why it Matters
The discrepancy in the dates is important because the Russia probe initiation narrative hinges on one assumption: That Papadopoulos had exclusive information that Russians might release some information damaging to Clinton, information that was so exclusive that his knowledge would put him under credible suspicion that he was in cahoots with Russian interference efforts.
On May 10, that couldn’t be the case.
On May 9, retired Judge Andrew Napolitano went on Fox News’ “The Kelly File” and aired an unsubstantiated claim that “there’s a debate going on in the Kremlin … about whether they should release the 20,000 of Mrs. Clinton’s emails that they have hacked into.”
By May 10, such information was common knowledge.