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Kremlingate: The Visuals (2)

A. D. Coleman with lensWhen the Going Gets Tough …

Let’s turn to the one of the most recent revelations about The Gang That Couldn’t Think Straight. It turns out that the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation sprang from a moment in May 2016 when Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos got himself three sheets to the wind at the Kensington Wine Rooms, “an upscale London bar.” Whereupon he “made a startling revelation to Australia’s top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.” (See the December 30, 2017 New York Times report by Sharon Lafraniere, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo.)

Serving Your Photocriticism Needs Since 1968Yes, Papadopoulos — who, according to CNN, “graduated from college in 2009, before moving to London to get a master’s degree in security studies” (emphasis added) — couldn’t resist indiscreetly spilling the beans to one Alexander Downer. According to the official website of the Australian Government, “The Hon Alexander Downer AC was appointed Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom in March 2014.” Could we ask for a better surname for the unimpeachable witness who undermines the entire Team Trump case against the FBI?

Be that as it may, Downer (who may simply not have believed what he heard from the drunken Papadopoulos) eventually reported this astonishing indiscretion on the part of Georgie P. to his superiors, after the Wikileaks release of the DNC emails in July. The Times report continues, “Two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts.” That put the FBI on Team Trump’s tail, in pursuit of the Russia connections. This was long before the Steele dossier came to light.

Alexander Downer in fishnet stocking and high heel (1996), Twitter, 12-30-17

Alexander Downer in fishnet stocking and high heel (1996), Twitter, 12-30-17

Before his headline appearance in the Kremlingate affair, Downer was unknown to most outside of Oz. In his home country, he had achieved notoriety as a conservative tout for Aussie participation in the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Dubya’s “coalition of the willing.” And for his agreeing to pose in a fishnet stocking and leopard-print high heel for a 1996 charity promotion. In short, an unlikely instigator of an inquiry that may bring down a treasonous U.S. president and his henchmen.

Still, we should take our heroes where we find them. And our stooges too. To date, Team Trump has tried to pass off campaign aide Papadopoulos — the very first to plead guilty in Kremlingate — as a mere “coffee boy.” To believe that, you also have to believe that Team Trump delegated a lowly gofer to go to London and meet with a high-ranking Aussie diplomat for a night on the town. Hard to give credence to the proposition that said lowly gofer was also privy to what must qualify as one of the deepest secrets of the Trump campaign.

It also seems unlikely at best that “coffee boy” Georgie P. learned about the hacked emails from a self-proclaimed Maltese professor with contacts in the Russian ministry of foreign affairs, one Joseph Mifsud, in April 2016, but kept that crucial information to himself. (Mifsud, a shadowy character, has now disappeared.) Flunky or not, Papadopoulos would have reported Mifsud’s explosive disclosure to his colleagues and superiors within Team Trump as soon as he got back to Washington after his April meeting with Mifsud. So, of course, everyone at the top level knew that Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee’s emails; Georgie P. was simply the indiscreet doofus who got snockered and, as a brag, let that slip to a high-ranking Aussie diplomat three weeks after he heard it from Mifsud.

… the Tough Get Critical

So far, no photos of Papadopoulos with Downer at the aforementioned bar have surfaced. And it wouldn’t matter much if they did. Downer has attested to the meeting; Georgie P. has not denied it, nor his soused divulging of one of Team Trump’s darkest secrets to Downer. Indeed, Robert Mueller unquestionably used this gross indiscretion (among other things) to force Papadopoulos to cop a plea, presumably implicating other members of Team Trump in the conspiracy, since Papadopoulos can’t have been the only one informed about the DNC hack.

George Papadopoulos in London, New York Times, 12-30-17, screenshot

George Papadopoulos in London, New York Times, 12-30-17, screenshot

Now here’s the interesting thing. The photo used by the New York Times on December 30, 2017 to illustrate this story (credited to Agence France-Presse – Getty Images) bears this caption:

“George Papadopoulos was working as an energy consultant in London when the Trump campaign named him a foreign policy adviser in early March 2016.”

This suggests that the image above was made in London sometime around March 2016. Indeed, some assumed it had a much more recent date, since Papadopoulos posted it to his Twitter account on October 25, 2017. And that led to speculation that he had gone to London this past fall on some errand assigned by Robert Mueller, as part of his plea agreement.

George Papadopoulos, London, sometime circa 2013, photographer unknown, posted on Twitter 10-25-17

George Papadopoulos, London, sometime circa 2013, photographer unknown, posted on Twitter 10-25-17

This prompted some diligent sleuthing by George Bowden and Jack Sommers, detailed in “London Photo Of George Papadopoulos Was Taken At Least Four Years Ago” (Huffington Post, October 31, 2017). Their work shows how much data can be mined from a humdrum photo like this, using point-by-point comparison with another, current photo of the scene, along with old-fashioned shoe-leather sleuthing — reportorial interviewing of shopkeepers and such. They demonstrate that, among other things, the NYT’s use of this photo with its deliberately vague caption is misleading. Especially since this HuffPo report predates the NYT story by a full two months.

A first-rate job of photoanalysis, to which I doff my cap. Bowden and Sommers also pinpoint the location of the photo as just outside the upscale department store Harrod’s — which, coincidentally, sits right around the corner from the Ecuadorian embassy, where Wikileaks maestro Julian Assange took refuge in August 2012, roughly a year before someone made this photo of Papadopoulos. (Note: Various volunteer webtectives used Google Street View and other tools to come to the same conclusions, and even to establish the season and time of day, as tracked in this thread at .)

Route from Harrod's to the Ecuadorian Embassy (Google Maps)

Route from Harrod’s to the Ecuadorian Embassy (Google Maps)

This raises an obvious question: Why, out of the blue and with no explanation, did Papadopoulos decide in October 2017 to post this photo of himself in London four years earlier — only a few days before Robert Mueller unsealed the court documents detailing his guilty plea? Just vanity — to have a royalty-free photo of himself in circulation for picture editors to use, one in which he looks dapper, with the glare of sunlight masking his pimply complexion and permanent five o’clock shadow?

And, given that he’s now a confessed felon, why have so many picture editors chosen to represent Papadopoulos with the “looking good” portrait he favors instead of the readily available, equally royalty-free booking photo of a sullen-faced Georgie P. taken at the Alexandria (Va.) detention center early on July 28, 2017, shortly after he was arrested by the FBI at Dulles Airport?

George Papadopoulos, booking photo taken at the Alexandria (Va.) detention center early on July 28, after he was arrested by the FBI at Dulles Airport.

George Papadopoulos, booking photo taken at the Alexandria (Va.) detention center early on July 28, after he was arrested by the FBI at Dulles Airport. (Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)

Color Me Perplexed

I have yet to understand the adult coloring fad. I’ll admit that I haven’t tried my hand at it, and that it looks … soothing. Easy. My main question, I suppose, would be this: As an independently minded adult, am I required to color within the lines? I’ve spent much of my life learning to color outside them, and even to doing without lines altogether. Why not just draw freehand?

Vladimirovich Platov, "The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive" (2017), cover

Vladimirovich Platov, “The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive” (2017), cover

Having said that, I see immediately the appeal of the first (but surely not the last) Kremlingate adult coloring book: The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive, by Vladimirovich Platov, “independently published” on December 17, 2017. That’s according to Amazon, where it’s already the #1 new release among “Moscow travel guides” — a peculiar way to categorize it, I must say.

Whether or not said salacious video exists time will tell. But, even briefly described, as in the controversial Steele dossier, its alleged content — Donald Trump in a bugged Moscow Ritz Carlton hotel room once occupied by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, delighting in watching Russian hookers urinate on the bed in which they once slept, unwittingly providing Vladimir Putin with the ultimate kompromat — has surely manifested itself as an indelible mental picture in the imaginations of millions around the world.

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from "The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive" (2017)

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from “The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive” (2017)

As Clio Chang puts it at The New Republic,

“The details … don’t really matter. What matters is that the connection between Trump and kinky pee is now seared into our collective consciousness…. And whether the story is true or not, Trump has to live with it.”

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from "The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive" (2017)

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from “The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive” (2017)

The blurb for Platov’s book at Amazon reads, in its entirety:

The Pee Pee Tape Is Real!

The whole world tries to figure out what happened behind closed doors at the infamous Moscow hotel room in 2013.

Are the allegations true? This coloring book takes an exclusice [sic] look inside room 1101.

Grab your orange crayons and color the most controversial secret camera footage.

“It’s even worse than you think …”

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from "The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive" (2017)

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from “The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive” (2017)

However, one volunteer reviewer at Amazon, Isai A. Escobar, informs us that “I was really looking forward to coloring the prostitutes peeing on the bed, that scene is missing. Sad!” Sad indeed. That’s like Moby-Dick without the sinking of the Pequod and the strangulation of Ahab. (Well, not exactly, but you get the point.)

Talk about disappointing! Le mot juste: anticlimactic. If I purchased this book sight unseen, I’d do so with the reasonable expectation that I’d get to use all my orange and yellow crayons or pencils on that particular page. I haven’t leafed through a copy of the actual book, so perhaps that reviewer told a lie. If not, this smacks of false advertising — especially given the book’s title, and its blurb. (Perhaps, somewhere down the line, we’ll learn how and why this editorial decision got made. Did they fear a libel suit?)

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from "The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive" (2017)

Vladimirovich Platov, illustration from “The Pee Pee Tape: Exclusive” (2017)

Yet, in point of fact, you have visualized that scene. Don’t deny it. Yes, I mean you, right there, right now, reading this: You have imagined it, in some detail. Because we have all been imagining it, ever since Buzzfeed leaked the Steele dossier in January 2017, and Beck Bennett and Alec Baldwin brought it alive for the cold open of the January 14, 2017 Saturday Night Live:

Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin with "Pee Pee" tape, Saturday Night Live, January 14, 2017

Beck Bennett as Vladimir Putin with “Pee Pee” tape, Saturday Night Live, January 14, 2017

More indictments coming soon; make some popcorn and grab your remote.

This post sponsored by donations from David Wunsch, photographer George Malave, and 20×24 Studio.

(For an index of links to all posts in this series, click here.)

A. D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include  a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!

Liu Xia catalog, 2012, coverBut wait! There’s more! Donate now and I’ll include a copy of The Silent Strength of Liu Xia, the catalog of the 2012-13 touring exhibition of photos by the dissident Chinese photographer, artist, and poet, currently in her sixth year of extralegal house arrest in Beijing. The only publication of her photographic work, it includes all 26 images in the exhibition, plus another 14 from the same series, along with essays by Guy Sorman, Andrew Nathan, and Cui Weiping, professor at the Beijing Film Academy.

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