As soon as it became public that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, members of the administration have sought to distance themselves from Papadopoulos and minimize the role he played on the campaign.
However, Papadopoulos was in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention last summer, and spoke on a panel organized by the American Jewish Committee about U.S. foreign policy, NBC News reported Friday. An AJC spokesperson told NBC Papadopoulos was invited to speak on the panel as “a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.” Then, last September, Papadopoulos gave an interview to the Russian Interfax News Agency in which he’s described as “one of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump’s foreign political advisors.”
During Trump’s inauguration in January, Papadopoulos also met with Israeli leaders as a Trump foreign policy adviser, NBC reported.
This runs counter to the picture the administration has been trying to paint this week. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders described Papadopoulos’ role with the campaign as “extremely limited, it was a volunteer position, and again, no activity was done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.”
President Donald Trump tweeted that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer,” despite having praised Papadopoulos as an “excellent guy” during a March 2016 interview. That same month, Trump tweeted a photo of himself at a table with several advisers, including then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Papadopoulos. During the meeting, Papadopoulos presented his idea of using Kremlin connections to arrange a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Papadopoulos’ plea, unsealed by special counsel Robert Mueller on Monday, indicates then-candidate Trump may have played a more active role than the White House is describing. In reference to the March 2016 national security meeting, the plea states, “When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”
According to the New York Times, Trump wasn’t a passive observer, but “listened with interest and asked questions of Mr. Papadopoulos.” After hearing Papadopoulos’ proposal, Trump “didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no.”
In February of this year, Trump was asked whether anyone who advised his campaign had contacts with Russia “during the course of the election.” Trump responded, “Nobody that I know of.”