Seth Abramson, an American professor of English, lawyer and journalist who has become a commentator on Trump-Russia, in an extended tweet, has alleged that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with ex-Trump advisor George Papadopoulos in Athens, on 27 May.
Abramson describes Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos as an ally of Putin, and says that Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing the Trump-Russia affair, should call Kammenos to testify.
Q: How soon before Robert Mueller verifies the charges against the President?
A: I expect it will be many more months—at least four to six. And he won’t «verify» charges but rather refer them to «Main Justice» (the Department of Justice and the Acting Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein), who will then decide whether to refer them to the House Judiciary Committee for a review for possible impeachment. If the House Judiciary Committee votes to refer the impeachment question to the full house, impeachment proceedings will begin right then. Mr. Trump cannot be prosecuted for a federal crime while he is in office, but legal scholars are split on whether he can be indicted (that is, charged with a crime) while in office—even if he can’t be tried for that crime until his removal from office. I expect the Department of Justice would decline to indict Mr. Trump until the impeachment process had played itself out in Congress.
Q: How close do you believe the relationship between Trump and Papadopoulos was? Could it be possible that he was taking orders from the President himself?
A: Papadopoulos and Trump have a mutual contact, Sergei Millian, who said he was in touch with Papadopoulos on multiple occasions before Mr. Trump unexpectedly brought him on aboard his campaign. Trump dined with Papadopoulos before appointing him to his National Security team. He singled out Papadopoulos, in announcing the team, as the one new adviser on whom he had a personal opinion («excellent guy»). Mr. Papadopoulos was reported in Kathimerini to have said Trump gave him a «blank check» to choose any job in the Trump Administration. Mr. Papadopoulos was given email and in-person access to all of Trump’s top aides—including Sessions, Manafort, Lewandowski, and Clovis—despite having a relatively sparse (and according to U.S. media, partially faked) Curriculum Vitae that suggested he shouldn’t even have been brought onto campaign staff in the first instance. After he revealed himself to Trump as a Kremlin intermediary on March 31, 2016—assuming he hadn’t done so earlier, when he dined with Trump the week before—his role was changed from Middle East «expert» to someone who regularly spoke for Trump on Russia policy. All of this, and the fact that Mr. Trump has dissembled about nearly all of it since Papadopoulos’ name entered the daily news cycle, suggests that he had a closer relationship with Mr. Papadopoulos than has been supposed and gave him more power, authority, and access in his campaign than we know. Certainly, J.D. Gordon, another member of Mr. Trump’s National Security team, just told Sky News (UK) that the whole National Security team felt it had to «appease and not upset» Papadopoulos—suggesting that, despite Papadopoulos’ youth and lack of bona fides, his NatSec team peers had received a sense from someone higher up the campaign hierarchy that Mr. Papadopoulos was important to Mr. Trump and/or the campaign.
Q: As reported, President Trump has had multiple communication channels with President Putin. Why would he expect any possible meeting to be arranged from Papadopoulos?
A: I wouldn’t say he’d had multiple communication channels. In December 2016, many months after Papadopoulos’ May 2016 trip to Athens—the one whose dates and itinerary corresponded precisely with Putin’s—Jared Kushner unsuccessfully tried to establish a secure back-channel from Trump to Putin through Ambassador Kislyak in D.C. Trump’s then-adviser, later National Security Advisor (NSA) Mike Flynn appears to have spent much of December negotiating sanctions with the Russian Ambassador by telephone and in person; his lies about this conduct are what got him in hot water with the FBI. Arguably, Trump could have used his friend Emin Agalarov—whose father Aras is Putin’s real estate developer—as a go-between, but so far it’s only clear that Agalarov tried to do this with Donald Trump Jr., arranging the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Kremlin agents and three top Trump aides (Trump Jr. himself, Kushner, and Manafort). But we’re now talking about May 2016, which was before any of that and at a time it wasn’t clear the Agalarovs were willing to be Kremlin intermediaries (as, again, that was only made clear to Trump in June 2016 as far as we know). So yes, Trump would have needed Papadopoulos in May 2016. And remember, Papadopoulos revealed he had access to the Kremlin in March 2016—two months earlier. So it’s not at all clear Trump had any usable channels to Putin at the time Papadopoulos first offered him one.
A: Why do you refer Greek DM Panos Kammenos as “Putin’s ally”?
Q: Kammenos’ Institute for Geopolitical Studies has a Memorandum of Understanding with Putin’s RISS, which managed the election interference effort that hit the United States in 2016. Kammenos is friendly with Russian oligarchs close to Putin, opposes sanctions on Russia, and greeted Putin personally when he arrived in Athens in May 2016. His policy positions are consistently pro-Russia. All of this suggests he is a Putin ally.
A: Panos Kammenos has visited Washington once in 2016 (March 20), two months before Papadopoulos’s visit in Athens. Are you aware if there has been a meeting between the two while Kammenos was there?
Q: This was the day before Trump hired Papadopoulos, and he only decided to hire him the morning of March 21st, so yes, there’s a possible connection there. Papadopoulos would’ve been able to send a message from Putin ally Kammenos to Trump on March 21st, so that could’ve gotten him his job with the campaign. We don’t know. But it fits with the timeline and with the predilections of all the actors involved.
Q: Do you think that Mueller should call any Greeks contacts of Papadopoulos, like Panos Kammenos, to testify?
A: Yes, absolutely. Panos Kammenos in particular, but also anyone Papadopoulos met during his two trips to Greece, in May and December of 2016.