Investigators zero in on Donald Trump’s self-confessed intermediary with Vladimir Putin

On Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent shockwaves through the Trump-Russia investigation by abruptly canceling the upcoming public testimony of Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen, who was long considered one of the key witnesses in the scandal. It wasn’t immediately clear why such a sharp turn was being taken, only that it had to have been for a vital reason. That picture has since become much more clear.

Even as the Senate Intel Committee was ditching its scheduled hearing with Cohen, it announced its interest in a different Trump adviser: George Papadopoulos (link). Why is Papadopoulos important? Although he has a much lower public profile than some of the other players in the Trump-Russia scandal, by his own admission he appears to have been the linchpin for the entire collusion scandal.

According to a Washington Post article from August 14th, Papadopoulos joined the Donald Trump campaign and then immediately informed campaign leaders that he was “acting as an intermediary for the Russian government” before offering to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin (link). This stunning revelation went under-noticed at the time, partly because the Trump campaign claimed that Papadopoulos was a mere campaign “volunteer” (a term the campaign used to describe any adviser who never received payment as promised), and because the campaign insisted that it didn’t believe Papadopoulos was the real deal and thus ignored his offer.

However, this premise is largely blown out of the water by the fact that the Trump campaign didn’t fire the guy. Papadopoulos literally walked into the campaign, introduced himself as a representative of the Russian government, and offered to set up what would have been a profoundly scandalous meeting with a foreign enemy. If the campaign believed he was for real and didn’t fire him, it means the campaign was perfectly comfortable with having a Kremlin agent within its ranks. If the campaign believed he was lying and didn’t fire him, that would have meant the campaign was comfortable with having an adviser who made up bizarre lies about Putin.

In any case, the real story here is that the Senate Intel Committee has suddenly decided George Papadopoulos is so important to the Trump-Russia scandal, it’s pushing prized target Michael Cohen aside so it can talk to Papadopoulos first. There is no new publicly available news about Papadopoulos to explain such a shift – meaning that something major has broken behind the scenes in Robert Mueller’s investigation, and it simply hasn’t become public yet.