A report by the Washington Post on Friday revealed that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos — once dubbed the campaign’s “coffee boy” — played a much more senior role during the 2016 election than the campaign has acknowledged publicly.
According to a series of emails described to the Post, which were part of the thousands of documents being used to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, was contacted in September 2016 by a Russian news agency hoping to conduct an interview with him. When Papadopoulos reached out to senior campaign officials for permission, he was given an enthusiastic go-ahead.
“You should do it,” deputy communications director Bryan Lanza responded in an email that same month. Lanza emphasized “the benefits of a U.S. ‘partnership with Russia,'” according to the Post. “You’re the best. Thank you!” he added.
Several other emails showed that Papadopoulos had also reached out to then-chief campaign executive Steve Bannon in December 2016 about his communications with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, a pro-Russian nationalist with ties to Moscow, who had met with Putin. According to Papadopoulos, the minister had expressed a desire to sign a government-to-government energy agreement with the United States, giving the country “all rights to all energy fields offshore, strategic foothold in the Mediterranean and Balkans.”
Bannon forwarded the request to former national security adviser for the Trump administration Michael Flynn, who said he would “work this one.” Later that month, Flynn emailed Papadopoulos himself, writing, “We will examine these and determine if this is something we should take on early. Stay in touch and, at some point, we should get together.” He signed the email, “Mike.”
Flynn pleaded guilty in December last year to lying to the FBI about his associations with Russian officials.
As the Post noted, the emails serve to contradict one of the Trump campaign’s main talking points — that Papadopoulos, who had made several attempts to arrange meetings between the campaign and Russian leaders, was simply a low-level aide tasked with menial duties, and that his actions were not reflective of the Trump campaign’s real motives.
Steven Bannon and George Papadopoulos agreed over email that the meeting the young advisor helped set up for Trump with the Egyptian president in Sept. 2016 was a "homerun." https://t.co/8KIWh46t7d
— Rosalind Helderman (@PostRoz) March 23, 2018
Papadopoulos is far from the first Trump associate whose role in the campaign has been downplayed over the past year. As President Trump attempts to outmaneuver Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into possible collusion between the campaign and Russia, his claims have become increasingly absurd.
In January last year, then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer claimed that former Trump campaign foreign-policy adviser Carter Page — the subject of several Russia-related investigations, whose name appears in the now-infamous Steele dossier, which includes allegations of collusion against Trump — was only a low-level staffer during the election and had not advised the president on anything.
“Carter Page is an individual whom the president-elect does not know,” Spicer said.
Spicer’s comments directly contradicted the president’s earlier comments in March 2016, when then-candidate Trump singled out Page as one of the few advisers he had chosen to assist him personally on foreign policy issues. Trump also singled out Papadopoulos in that meeting, calling him an “excellent guy.”
Trump has also sought to downplay the role that former campaign manager Paul Manafort played during the 2016 election. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 and was promoted to the role of campaign manager in June that year, giving him full control over the campaign’s messaging, budget, and hiring. However, after it was revealed that in March 2017 that the FBI was actively investigating the campaign’s ties to Russia, the White House did a rapid about-face, claiming that Manafort — who had ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian businessmen — had played a minor role during the campaign.
“There has been discussion of Paul Manafort, who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time,” Spicer said during a press briefing that month, answering reporter questions about whether Trump stood by his claims that he was unaware of connections between campaign staffers and Russian individuals.
In that same briefing, Spicer also described Manafort as “a volunteer.”
Manafort and campaign associate Rick Gates were indicted by a federal grand jury last October on charges of money laundering, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, conspiracy against the United States, and lying to the FBI. In February this year, he and Gates were charged with additional counts of tax and bank fraud, in connection with lobbying work the two men allegedly did on behalf of former authoritarian and pro-Russian Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges and maintains his innocence.