Why George Papadopoulos' Guilty Plea Could Change Everything About The Russia Investigation

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The first indictments coming out of the Manafort investigation might have been what you were waiting for when you woke up, but they actually might not end up being the most important news that broke Monday. Down the road, it's more likely that George Papadopoulos' guilty plea could be the real turning point in the Russia investigation.

Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign adviser, learned from a foreign professor closely connected to the Russian government that the Kremlin had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton — and then apparently lied to the FBI about his contact with that professor. The Washington Post reported that as a campaign adviser in March 2016, Papadopoulos had repeatedly tried to convince members of Trump's team to meet with Russian officials. In early 2017, Papadopoulos told FBI officials that his contact with that foreign professor had happened before he joined the Trump campaign, which prosecutors have since learned was a false statement.

Papadopoulos has now pleaded guilty to having made that untrue statement to the FBI. When reached for comment, his legal team said they would refrain from commenting on the case for now. They wrote in a press statement:

According to the guilty plea, the foreign professor was only interested in talking to Papadopoulos because he had joined the Trump campaign and told him about the "thousands of emails" that the Kremlin had, and then Papadopoulos tried to convince the Trump campaign to engage.

The basic plot of the story and what happened between Papadopoulos, Russia, and the Trump campaign, though, are only one reason why this guilty plea is such a big deal. The public has just learned a lot about what's going on behind the scenes of the Mueller investigation — here's what the guilty plea tells us.

Putting The Timeline Together

Mueller's team is moving fast. And even with news of both the plea agreement and the indictments of Manafort and Gates being released on Monday, this is still only the beginning. On Monday, we learned the full story of Mueller's first criminal charges, and we also learned that Mueller had enough evidence of wrongdoing to bring charges against Papadopoulos as well — if Papadopoulos hadn't accepted the plea deal. The plea deal, however, is also a signal that there's more to come.

It's also no coincidence that this news about a former Trump adviser pleading guilty to lying to the FBI dropped on the same day that news of Manafort and Gates' indictment was released, after a weekend of speculation. Mueller means business, and if Papadopoulos has indeed given the prosecutors additional information, then we're likely to see more soon.

The Trump Campaign Knew About The Russia Hack Early On

The information about Russia hacking Clinton campaign chair John Podesta has been out there for a while, and that hack took place on March 19, 2016. According to this new information, then, the Russian-linked professor had to have told Papadopoulous about the "dirt" on Hillary Clinton just over a month afterwards. As part of the guilty plea, Papadopolous said that he had gotten to know the professor after joining the campaign, all the while knowing that the professor had substantial links to Russian government officials. According to court records, the professor had met with Russian officials in Moscow right before his exchanges with Papadopoulos about the "dirt."

Since Papadopoulos immediately turned around and informed the rest of the Trump campaign, we now know that the Trump team knew that the hacks had taken place — and that Russia held the resulting information — almost immediately after they happened.

Now Papadopoulos' Emails Make Sense

At first glance, The Washington Post report that a young Trump campaign adviser wanted campaign officials to meet with Russian government officials, and expressed that desire through several emails over many months, didn't entirely make sense. Why was he so fixated on making this meeting happen?

When you learn that Papadopoulos knew that Moscow could give the campaign negative information about Trump's opponent, however, things start to come together. While many people on Trump's campaign team were skeptical about the meeting, Papadopoulos didn't let up — and right now, he's the only one confirmed to have known what the Trump campaign could get out of it.

Papadopoulos May Have Been Flipped

These LinkedIn posts from Papadopoulos suggest that he believed he had a salacious story to tell — one that might get published by "a prominent publisher." They were put up after the plea deal, which has sparked speculation that he might have reached some sort of immunity deal with the prosecutors as well. If Papadopoulos is being serious with these posts, then he wanted to go public with his story — and he may have already spoken about it more openly with Mueller and his team as well.

According to legal news website Above The Law, Papadopoulos' guilty plea is a likely indication that he's talking to Mueller about more than just his contact with that foreign professor. If he had been unwilling to speak, he probably would have simply been charged with lying to the FBI and might not have been given the chance to come to a plea agreement. In other words, it's likely that Mueller has managed to flip him to provide information about the rest of the Trump team.

Potential Collusion?

As of right now, there is no concrete evidence that anyone on the Trump team actively colluded with Russia in order to win the election. However, there is concrete evidence that two people — Papadopoulos and Donald Trump Jr. — did at least explore the possibility. Papadopoulos tried to convince the Trump team to meet with Russian officials about "dirt" they had on Clinton; Trump Jr. heard that Russian officials had incriminating information about Clinton, and then enthusiastically agreed to meet with them about it. The president claims that the whole investivation is a "witch hunt," but if so, it's already turned up a couple of things that look a lot like witches.

In case it wasn't already clear enough, Mueller is serious about getting to the bottom of this. On Sunday, everything was a matter of speculation — and on Monday, there are two indictments on 12 charges and one guilty plea from a former Trump campaign adviser who has most likely now been turned.

Get ready, because things could really get going now.