“More dangerous” than Paul Manafort, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, was how The New York Times described George Papadopoulos two weeks ago. The information Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, gave the FBI on ties between people involved in the campaign and the Russians could prove critical to the widening net of investigations around the president of the United States.
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In the shadow of the arrest of Manafort, who has pleaded not guilty with respect to money laundering, tax evasion and other charges – the FBI released a riveting document, revealing that already last summer it had arrested Papadopoulos. They reached a plea bargain last month in which Papadopoulos admitted to knowingly lying to investigators about his conversations in 2016 with people associated with the Russian government, who promised him “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Trump instantly distanced himself from Papadopoulos, tweeting at 7:15 the next morning (October 31) “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”
Yet various American newspapers had photos of “low-level” George in a meeting with Trump and top campaign staffers. The Washington Post archive had a transcribed interview that Trump gave right before the election, specifically naming Papadopoulos when asked about his foreign affairs and defense policy team.
So who is this young, low-level guy George, whom the FBI, the president and he himself agree is a liar?
He is indeed a relatively young man, born August 1987, who served as a researcher at a right-wing think tank called Hudson until two years ago. Even before the ruckus now, his name rang a bell among people who read opinion pieces or are involved in the world of research institutes and articles on economic topics. Papadopoulos even wrote an op-ed that appeared in Haaretz in 2015, “Natural Gas Isn’t Just About Israel.”
On June 20, 2015 the Israeli Energy Ministry received an expert opinion on a proposed plan to develop the offshore gas fields found in Israel’s territorial waters. The opinion bore the logos of three entities: the Hudson Institute in Washington; a company called ECO Energy, belonging to Dr. Amit Mor; and BSA (Benjamin Schlesinger and Associates). A letter attached to the opinion, which was revealed by the website DeSmogBlog (“Clearing the pollution that clouds climate science”), – a site devoted to i global warming – stated that the writers who wrote the opinion were Seth Cropsey and George Papadopoulos. Yup, the liar at the center of the burgeoning investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia.
Why, in mid-2015, did the nonprofit Hudson think tank show an interest in hydrocarbon exploration in Israel? Why did it feel that it was necessary to take sides in arguments raging in Israel about energy policy? Did Hudson receive, directly or indirectly, payment for the expert opinion its researcher wrote?
An investigation published in the U.S. at the time reported that money was donated to Hudson by the CEO of Noble Energy – an American oil and natural gas exploration and production company ־ as well as directors at the company, including Noble’s vice chairman Edward Cox, a Republican Party leader who’s married to the daughter of the late U.S. President Richard Nixon.
Houston-based Noble Energy is heavily invested in Israeli gas together with the Israeli energy group Delek. Together they have a monopoly over Israeli gas. The opinion written by Hudson supported the interests of this gas monopoly.
The Papadopoulos plea bargain struck a few weeks ago offers an opportunity to highlight another aspect of the phenomenon of the captive regulators who are supposed to oversee the Israeli gas monopoly – that is, the monopoly’s vast economic resources. It nets a billion shekels a year, which gives it the means to wield significant influence over scientific information and opinions impacting the energy and natural gas markets.
Corporate giants finance a lot of the American research institutes. Weakening the power of the consumer and the taxpayer is clearly in these companies’ interest. The corporations spend heavily on cultivating research institutes and experts who publish opinions in the press and appear before Congress, albeit sometimes with full disclosure of the business interests behind them.
The wider public is at a structural disadvantage when it comes to fighting over regulation of corporate behemoths. Not only can’t it organize and finance independent expert opinions that take the greater good of the people into consideration: Many academics and others fear for their livelihood if they side with the masses. Yet the character and style of the experts-for-rent is only rarely revealed. They turn out to be liars who may one day write lofty opinions about the Israeli energy market – and the next day, look for “dirt” on presidential candidates in the U.S.