Convicted former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos said on Sunday that the president's team was “fully aware” he was “actively” seeking to set up a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“I actively sought to leverage my contacts with the professor to host this meeting. The campaign was fully aware of what I was doing, including Corey Lewandowski and Sam Clovis,” Papadopoulos, who was a foreign policy adviser, said on ABC’s This Week, naming senior members of the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos added that Clovis in particular noted that he was doing “excellent work” after telling a group of campaign staffers he was speaking with a Maltese professor who could potentially organize a Trump-Putin meeting during the campaign. That professor, Joseph Mifsud, is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence. Papadopoulos says Mifsud told him that the Russians had obtained “thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails.”
Papadopoulos was sentenced on Friday to 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI about his conversations with Mifsud. He pleaded guilty last year and has been cooperating with prosecutors from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.
Trump, according to Papadopoulos, was “open to this idea [of meeting with Putin], and he deferred, of course, to then-senior Sen. Jeff Sessions, who I remember being quite enthusiastic.”
Papadopoulos’ account of his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin differs from that of Sessions, who is now the country's attorney general and testified to Congress under oath that he “pushed back” at Papadopoulos’ attempts. At the time, Sessions was serving in a senior advisory role in the campaign.
Papapdopoulos said he was told when he joined the Trump campaign that a key tenet of the Trump campaign would be to advocate for improving relations with Russia.
“It was no secret that the campaign, especially when the boss is looking to improve relations at some level with Russia, that my supervisor at the time during an interview would be asking me if I’d be, you know, inclined to support that initiative,” he said.
Papadopoulos said he lied to the FBI because he was trying to protect the president. He declined to discuss his views of where the Mueller investigation could be headed, but said it was possible that prosecutors would be able to build a case that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian operatives.
“I have no idea. All I can say is that my testimony might have helped move something towards that, but I have no idea,” he said.
Other former Trump campaign advisers have sought to diminish the importance of Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, with one likening him to a “coffee boy.”