SteynOnline is celebrating its twentieth birthday this month, and we're marking the occasion by getting back in the cruise biz. No tests, no vax passports, that's all yours to choose or not; but just a week of fun on the high seas with Bo Snerdley, Eva Vlaardingerbroek, Tal Bachman, and other Steyn favorites. More information here.
We're also celebrating by strolling back through the last two decades of the SteynOnline archives (for earlier entries, see below). As our series careers toward the present, I note that - less than a fortnight since America's midterm "elections" - the media and the Republican establishment have reached unanimous agreement that Donald J Trump should be a one-term president.
Actually, he didn't even get to be a one-term president. For the entirety of his four years, the so-called head of the executive branch was being subverted by the most powerful agencies within that executive branch - and had been since the moment his campaign, initially dismissed by the smart set as a joke, rocketed up in the polls. If you liked the Trump economy and the Trump foreign policy, imagine what he'd have been able to accomplish had half his energies not been drained by the "Russia investigation".
This ought to be of grave concern to Americans. If wandering around the Capitol in a MAGA hat is enough to get you banged up in solitary for two years with no trial date, then what punishment should fall on, say, Peter Strzok?
But we all know the answer to that, don't we? In a corrupt pseudo-republic, conservative pom-pom girls are too busy waving the constitution to notice that equality before the law has been repealed. As I began the column below:
As I think most persons paying attention now realize, the investigation into foreign interference with the 2016 election was created as a cover for domestic interference with the 2016 election.
All I would add to that four years later, with even the damp squib of his no-name process prosecutions going nowhere, is that the Durham investigation into the investigation into foreign interference was created as a cover for continuing domestic subversion of the entire Trump presidency.
In 2019 I presented a special two-part edition of The Mark Steyn Show
There were two reasons I was intrigued - first of all, because young Papadopoulos seemed obviously the "mark" of multiple high-level well-connected figures from America, Britain, Italy, Australia and elsewhere, but also because several of those persons, such as Boris Johnson and Alexander Downer, were known to me personally. The US Attorney-General appeared to share my suspicions. As the show went to air, he appointed a special prosecutor, John Durham, to investigate the origins of the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane".
That's quite something: the cabinet officer to whom the FBI is politically accountable needs a special investigation to figure out what a subsidiary of his department was up to during the last election campaign. Only in America, eh?
And we know now how that investigation turned out. Just ahead of that 2019 Papadopoulos interview, let's set the scene with a much cited column of mine from a little earlier delving into the murk of the Deep State machinations:
As I think most persons paying attention now realize, the investigation into foreign interference with the 2016 election was created as a cover for domestic interference with the 2016 election.
It was run at the highest (or deepest) Deep State levels by the likes of James Clapper and John Brennan, whose frantic and hysterical Tweets are like no utterances of any CIA director in history. That also explains one of the puzzling aspects of the last year that I've occasionally mentioned here and on TV and radio: If you were truly interested in an "independent" Special Counsel, why would you appoint Robert Mueller? He's a lifetime insider and the most connected man in Washington - a longtime FBI Director, and Assistant Attorney-General and acting Deputy Attorney-General at the Department of Justice.
Exactly. His most obvious defect as an "independent" counsel is, in fact, his principal value to the likes of Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein: He knows, personally, almost every one in the tight little coterie of discredited upper-echelon officials, and he has a deep institutional loyalty to bodies whose contemporary character he helped create. In other words, he's the perfect guy to protect those institutions. As for the nominal subject of his investigation, well, he's indicted a bunch of no-name Russian internet trolls who'll never set foot in a US courthouse. That's not even worth the cost of printing the complaint. Rush Limbaugh has been kind enough to quote, several times, my line that "there are no Russians in the Russia investigation". Which is true. Yet that doesn't mean there aren't foreigners. And an inordinate number of them are British subjects - or, to use today's preferred term, "Commonwealth citizens". All the action in this case takes place not in Moscow but in southern England.
Let's start at Cambridge University with a two-day conference called "2016's Race to Change the World", held on July 11th and 12th 2016 - or three weeks before the FBI supposedly began its "counterintelligence" operation against Trump, codenamed "Crossfire Hurricane". That's from the first line of the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash". The song and its key signature figure in the plot of a ho-hum Cold War thriller of the same name, about a British spy trying to get info from the Russians to an heroic American woman.
Yes, really. Jonathan Pryce played "Jumpin' Jack Flash" , and I asked him about it when I moderated a panel on acting at St Catherine's College, Oxford with him and Patti Lupone a few years later.
If you think that's a weird event for an Oxbridge college to host, it's as nothing to this "Race to Change the World" beano. I do my share of international junketing, but the bill of fare for this curious symposium is so bland as to be almost generic - panels titled "Europe and America", "2016 and the World", "Global Challenges Facing the Next President". Compared to the laser-like focus of a typical Cambridge confab ("A Westphalia for the Middle East?"), it's almost as if someone were trying to create an event so anodyne and torpid no one would notice it. All that distinguished these colorless presentations was the undoubted eminence of the speakers: former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former UK Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind; and Sir Richard Dearlove, former C (that's M, for 007 fans) at MI6. The conference appears to have been put together at a couple of weeks' notice by Steven Schrage, former "Co-Chair of the G8's Anti-Crime and Terrorism Group" and a well-connected man on the counterterrorism cocktail circuit: Here he is introducing Mitt Romney to the director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, and here he is spending election night in the UK at a party with Scotland Yard elite counterterrorist types. Make of that what you will - it's a somewhat odd background for the convenor of an insipid, vanilla, cookie-cutter foreign-policy seminar - but among the small number of strangely prestigious attendees at Mr Schrage's conference were:
~Carter Page, a petroleum-industry executive and Trump campaign volunteer;
~Christopher Steele, the former head of the Russia house at MI6;
~Stefan Halper, a University of Cambridge professor with dual UK/US citizenship.
Today, Mr Page is better known as the endlessly surveilled "person of interest" whose eternally renewable FISA warrant was the FBI's gateway into the Trump campaign; Mr Steele is a sometime FBI asset who, a week before the Cambridge conference, had approached the G-men with the now famous "dossier" that provided the pretext for the FISA application; and Professor Halper turns out to be not some tweedy academic but a man with deep connections to MI6 and the CIA, on the payroll of something at the Pentagon called the "Office of Net Assessment", and (one of) the supposed FBI informant(s) inside the Trump circle.
Carter Page says that in the course of this two-day conference he met Professor Halper for the first time. But I was struck by this aside Mr Page made to Sara Carter:
Madeliene Albright was always trying to get me to go into public debates. I told her I was there just as a listener, just as an attendee.
Hmm. If you'll forgive another Patti Lupone-type digression, many years ago our mutual pal Ned Sherrin decided to launch, just for a laugh, a rumor that me and Carol Thatcher (Mrs T's daughter) were having an affair. Ned told somebody, and somebody told somebody else, and about eight months later it turned up as an item in Nigel Dempster's highly authoritative Daily Mail gossip column, along with a rather goofy picture of me and Carol at a David Frost shindig at the Grosvenor House in Park Lane. And Ned was stunned - because he assumed the Daily Mail story was true. Because, by the time it circled back to him, he'd clean forgotten he'd started the whole business.
Oddly enough, that's exactly how James Comey and Andrew McCabe and John Brennan work. At the FISA court, the FBI, to bolster their reliance on the Steele dossier, pointed to newspaper stories appearing to corroborate aspects of it - even though, as he subsequently testified under oath at the Old Bailey, those stories were in fact fed to those reporters by Steele himself. Nevertheless, it works like a charm on gullible FISA judges. You take one thing and you make it two things. Or even better, you take nothing and you make it a thing: Here, from yesterday's letter by Senator Ron Johnson, are McCabe, Sally Yates and other FBI/DOJ honchos arranging for Comey to brief Trump on the Steele dossier for the sole purpose of giving CNN a news peg for leaking details about what's in it.
It's almost as if that's what Madeleine Albright is doing here, isn't it? It's one thing to invite Carter Page to show up at some tedious yakfest at Cambridge with Halper sitting in front of him and Chris Steele sitting behind. But what if you could get Page to stand up and say something? Then you could find a friendly journo to report it and, instead of just a nobody on the fringes of the campaign, you'd have a "senior Trump advisor" sharing his thoughts on the global scene with Madam Albright and Sir Richard and Sir Malcolm and all the other bigshots, and then you could use that story three weeks later at the FISA court, to demonstrate how deep into the heart of the campaign the Russkies had penetrated.
Instead, Professor Halper has to make do with chit-chatting to Mr Page over the tea and biscuits, and planting the seeds for a friendly relationship.
Herewith a note on the academic circuit: emeritus professors and visiting fellows are popular covers with espionage agencies because there's minimal work and extensive foreign travel, to international talking shops like the one above. If you make the mistake of being a multinational businessman and go to foreign countries to meet with other businessmen, you'll be investigated up the wazoo. But, if you're a professor and you go to foreign countries to meet with other professors, the world is your oyster. You also get to meet young people, who are the easiest to recruit.
Here's another professor, and from another Commonwealth country: Malta. Joseph Mifsud is (was) a professorial fellow at the University of Stirling in Scotland, but is (was) based in London as a principal of the "London Centre of International Law Practice" and a director of the "London Academy of Diplomacy", both of which sound fancy-schmancy but are essentially hollow entities operating from the same premises - 8, Lincoln's Inn Fields, a tony address (next to the London School of Economics and the Royal College of Surgeons) but the "London Centre/Academy"'s fifth in three years and at which they and a handful of other endeavors are holed up in a minimally furnished back room filled by four interns round a trestle table on fifty quid a week.
Professor Mifsud also has (had) similarly undemanding academic sinecures at the "Euro-Mediterranean University" in Slovenia and "Link Campus University" in Italy. At the beginning of March 2016, a young man called George Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign. On March 14th, traveling through Italy, he met with Professor Mifsud. They got together again in Britain, and at some point Papadopoulos became head of the "London Centre of International Law Practice"'s soi-disant "Centre for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security", a post for which he had no obvious qualifications. Happily, like most other jobs at the "London Centre", it didn't require work, or showing up at the "London Centre" or even being in London.
Mifsud is said to have ties to high-ranking figures in Moscow, but there seems to be more prima facie evidence of ties to high-ranking figures in London. That's Professor Mifsud above with my old friend Boris Johnson, Britain's Foreign Secretary, at some Brexit event last October 19th. On October 31st Joseph Mifsud disappeared and has not been seen since. I know how he feels: The same thing happened to me twelve days after I lunched with Boris at The Spectator in early 2006. Is (was) Mifsud an FSB asset? An MI6 asset? Both? Neither? Well, there's more circumstantial evidence of Mifsud's ties to British intelligence, including multiple meetings with, inter alia, Claire Smith of the UK's Joint Intelligence Committee.
At any rate, back in London on April 26th 2016, Professor Mifsud told young Papadopoulos that the Russians have all this "dirt" on Hillary, "thousands of emails". A couple of days later, a friend of George's at the Israeli Embassy, Christian Cantor, introduced him to Erika Thompson, who worked for Alexander Downer, Canberra's High Commissioner in the UK, at Australia House. On May 4th, Papadopoulos was quoted in The Times of London denouncing David Cameron for calling Trump "divisive, stupid and wrong". On May 6th, Ms Thompson called Papadopoulos to say that Mr Downer wanted to meet him. On May 10th they met for drinks at the Kensington Wine Rooms. Young George claims that the High Commissioner told him to "leave David Cameron alone". Which doesn't sound quite right to me.
As longtime readers may recall, I have drunk with Alexander Downer and that is not something to be undertaken lightly. Somewhere in the course of the evening a pretty squiffy Papadopoulos lifted his head up from the bowl of cocktail olives and started blabbing about Russian "dirt" on Hillary.
Another digression: Mr Downer was Australia's longest serving foreign minister and, as I used to say in those days, "my favorite foreign minister". Since then, he has spent many years on the "advisory board" of Hakluyt, a curiously named body set up by former MI6 chaps. I'm not saying he spends his nights rappelling down the walls of presidential palaces (although I would be tickled to be proved wrong), but I don't think I'm betraying any confidences when I say that, after tea with Alexander in Adelaide a couple of years back, whence he had just returned from some meeting with some group or other in Lisbon, I remember musing about that select circle of people who can jet around the world in the expectation that doors will open for them and some useful tidbit will drop into their laps. As for Hakluyt, its website is here: I do believe it's the coolest thing I've seen since (another long me'n'Carol-type story) I was given Marlon Brando's business card, which had the words "Marlon" and "Brando" on it and nothing else.
At any rate Mr Downer relayed the information about young George to Aussie Intelligence back home. Canberra sat on the info for two months and then passed it along to the Yanks in late July, just in time for that FISA application.
And so, as July turned to August, Peter Strzok bade farewell to his "paramour" Lisa Page and flew to London for a sit-down with the High Commissioner at Australia House. When Strzok reported back to Washington, the FBI sicced the omnipresent "professor" Stefan Halper on George Papadopoulos. So the Trump aide woke up one August morning to an email from a Cambridge academic he'd never heard of, inviting him on an all-expenses-paid trip back to Britain to give a speech for $3,000. Once in London, Halper casually inquired of his new friend, "George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?"
Right. As Rush put it, the day before I guest-hosted last week:
He was a nothing. He was a nobody, which made him a perfect mark. He was a young guy who wanted to go places... He actually put on his résumé that he had participated in Model UN in high school.
Just so: Papadopoulos was the perfect mark. And the easiest way to reel him in is to get him off his home turf. In your own neighborhood, you have your routine - your usual bars, favorite restaurants; you notice if something's off. But, flown to London, you have no routine, no old haunts. You go where you're invited, you're introduced to important people - like "High Commissioners", woshever the hell thash ish, hic - and you want them to think you're important, too, so you reveal that you know all about the Russian "dirt" on Hillary.
So you got that from the Russians, right? Er, no. I got it from a Maltese guy in Italy who's a Scottish professor and plugged in to MI6, and then I told it to an Australian bloke in London who's also plugged in to MI6 and told me to lay off David Cameron, and then an American guy in Cambridge who's plugged in to MI6 reminded me about it to see if I'd deny all knowledge of it, which would be suspicious, wouldn't it..?
As I said, and as Rush likes to quote, there are no Russians in the Russia investigation. But, like that rumor about me and Carol Thatcher, you just put these things out there and a few months later they come back to you, via Canberra and the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing program and suddenly it's "independently" "corroborated" "evidence" from a respected ally and you can take it to a FISA judge.
There were two investigations into presidential candidates during the 2016 election. But, as Andrew McCarthy reminds us, these two investigations were not the same. The Clinton "matter" was a criminal investigation - because there was credible evidence that Hillary had committed criminal acts. The FBI had no such clear-cut goods on Trump. So they had to find something else:
The scandal is that the FBI, lacking the incriminating evidence needed to justify opening a criminal investigation of the Trump campaign, decided to open a counterintelligence investigation. With the blessing of the Obama White House, they took the powers that enable our government to spy on foreign adversaries and used them to spy on Americans — Americans who just happened to be their political adversaries.
And the advantage of a "counterintelligence investigation", unlike a criminal investigation, is that everything in it is "classified". So that even an obvious set-up at a Cambridge confab or Kensington wine bar is "intelligence" that has to be "protected" for "national security" reasons. It's a brazen, audacious scheme, and unlikely to have been loosed without the approval, however discreetly stated, of the then President. Occam's Razor suggests that the man running the operation was the CIA's John Brennan through the "inter-agency taskforce" that met at Langley. But Brennan isn't that reckless: Go back to Madeleine Albright urging Carter Page to speak up at a Cambridge conference; Christopher Steele leaking parts of his dossier to the newspapers; a staffer at Australia House inviting George Papadopoulos for a drink... The best way to turn nothing into something is to plant it somewhere far away and wait for it to work its way back to you:
Britain's spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.
Golly, you don't say! I wonder who "told" The Guardian that. A conference here, a speech there, a cocktail round the corner, and pretty soon you have the simulacrum of "counterintelligence" concerns from America's closest allies:
According to one account, GCHQ's then head, Robert Hannigan, passed material in summer 2016 to the CIA chief, John Brennan. The matter was deemed so sensitive it was handled at "director level". After an initially slow start, Brennan used GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major inter-agency investigation.
Er, wait a minute. If it's "so sensitive" it's being handled "director-to-director", why isn't the head of GCHQ meeting with his opposite number at NSA? Why's he meeting with Brennan?
Hey, don't get hung up on details. It all went brilliantly - except for one tiny detail: Hillary managed to do the impossible and lose. On January 23rd 2017, three days after Trump's inauguration, GCHQ at Cheltenham Tweeted the sad fate of Mr So Sensitive:
We're sorry to announce that Robert Hannigan, our Director since 2014, has decided to step down as head of GCHQ.
Oh, dear. Well, enjoy your sudden retirement, old boy. Unfortunately, for Brennan and Comey and McCabe and Strzok and the others on this side of the Atlantic in the third week of January, it wasn't quite that simple. Because, instead of protecting Hillary, they were now protecting themselves - so it was necessary to dig in and double-down on the "Russia investigation".
Which sounds super-credible except for one small point: there was never a Russia investigation. As Andrew McCarthy sums it up:
Opening up a counterintelligence investigation against Russia is not the same thing as opening up a counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign.
Which is what they did - Brennan and Clapper and Comey and McCabe. They took tools designed to combat America's foreign enemies and used them against their own citizens and their political opposition. It was an intentional subversion of the electoral process conducted at the highest level by agencies with almost unlimited power. And, if they get away with it, they will do it again, and again and again. That's what Brennan's telling us on Twitter, and Clapper on "The View":
Yeah? So what? Whatcha gonna do about it?
Yes, it was. But, four years on, we now know that America's rube right will do nothing about it. So that, in the unlikely event that a Republican presidential candidate ever manages to survive the totally unexpected vote-machine malfunctions in Maricopa County, it will happen to him all over again.
With that in mind, here is Part One of my interview with George Papadopoulos. We begin where George's story begins - with a young Beltway think-tank wonk watching an unlikely presidential candidate descend an elevator in a Fifth Avenue skyscraper. Click below to watch:
Part Two of my interview with George Papadopoulos can be found here.
On this twentieth anniversary of SteynOnline, I'm very touched both by those of you who've been checking in here daily for two decades and by those who've stumbled upon us more recently. It means an awful lot to know you value what we do here - Deep State machinations, transient dinner-theatre politics, big-picture civilizational collapse, audio fiction, live music, video poetry (of which more later this morning). If you've become a bit jaded by all that and want something different for Year Twenty-One, well, I hope to see many of you on the 2023 Mark Steyn Cruise sailing the Adriatic. For a full week we will quaff like Alexander Downer and pitch the woo like Peter Strzok. For more information on the Steyn Club, see here - and don't forget our limited-time Gift Membership.
SteynOnline: The First Twenty Years