George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to FBI agents about his correspondence with Russian nationals and attempts to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials.
News of the plea came Monday morning, shortly after Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s longtime business associate Rick Gates were indicted on charges including conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and working as unregistered foreign agents.
New details emerge
Papadopoulos admitted to making false statements and making material omissions to investigators in January probing interference in the 2016 presidential election in relation to his contacts with a Russian professor with ties to the Russian government.
As outlined in the statement of Papadopoulos’ offense, the foreign policy adviser met with an individual who put him in contact with a woman whom he believed to a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He later told Trump that he might be able to arrange a meeting between the candidate and the president. One of Papadopoulos’ contacts told him in April 2016 that the Russians “have dirt on” Hillary Clinton, after which he told campaign associates he had “interesting messages coming in from Moscow.”
In an FBI affidavit dated in July — when Papadopoulos was arrested — an agent noted that Papadopoulos’ contact tied to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent the adviser an email saying he had “just talked to my colleagues from the MFA.[They are] open for cooperating.” Papadopoulos responded and said he was “glad the MFA is interested” and forwarded the email to three senior Trump campaign officials.
After he was interviewed, Papadopoulos deactivated a Facebook account which contained information about his communications with the Russian contacts and stopped using his then-current cell phone number. Since his arrest, he has “met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions” since then, according to the plea documentation.
In a statement, attorneys for Papadopoulos declined to comment on the matter Monday, but said they “look forward to telling all of the details of George’s story” when called upon by the court.
Manafort and Gates indicted
Manafort surrendered to federal authorities in Washington, D.C. Monday morning after a grand jury approved the charges brought by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller Friday. The indictment, which includes Gates, contains 12 counts including conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
The series of charges are the first handed up as a result of Mueller’s five-month investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
Manafort originally emerged as a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry because of consulting work he did in 2014 on behalf of the Ukrainian government.
In July — the same month in which he retroactively registered as a foreign agent because of his lobbying work — the FBI executed a search warrant at Manafort’s Virginia home, stemming from the Russia investigation. A source familiar with the matter described armed FBI agents’ waking Manafort early in the morning as they knocked on his bedroom door.
As outlined in the statement of Papadopoulos’ offense, the foreign policy adviser met with an individual who put him in contact with a woman whom he believed to a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He later told Trump that he might be able to arrange a meeting between the candidate and the president. One of Papadopoulos’ contacts told him in April 2016 that the Russians “have dirt on” Hillary Clinton.
Manafort, 68, joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as the campaign’s convention manager and was promoted to campaign chairman two months later.
He was fired from the campaign by then candidate Trump in August 2016 amid questions about his foreign business ties.
Gates, 45, joined Manafort’s international firm, Davis Manafort Partners, between 2006 and 2007. Gates’ connections to Trump before and after the election include his leading operations on the ground at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, serving as a top deputy to inauguration chairman Tom Barrack on the 2017 Presidential Inauguration Committee.
Gates later joined the nonprofit America First Policies created after the election, a 501 C4 committee which the president has endorsed.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein; Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in March from all matters related to last year’s presidential election.
In addition to the action taken by Mueller’s team, Manafort has been heavily scrutinized by the multiple congressional committees conducting their own investigations into Russian meddling. In August, sources close to Manafort told ABC News that the former campaign chairman provided the committees with about 400 documents, including paperwork related to Ukraine.
Trump, White House respond
Trump responded to the news about Manafort via Twitter Monday, writing: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 30, 2017
At Monday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the announcements have “nothing to do with the president and nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.” Instead, she said, “the real collusion scandal has everything to do with the Clinton campaign and Fusion GPS and Russia.”
Pressed on Papadopoulos’ actions, Sanders repeated again that it had “nothing to do with the activities of the campaign” and that the plea was simply about the adviser’s “failure to tell the truth.” She added that the White House continues to expect Mueller’s investigation to “conclude soon.”
Trump seemed to react over the weekend to a CNN report Friday of a potential charge, tweeting, as he has previously, that the investigation was a “witch hunt” promoted by Democrats. He further seemed to suggest that it was a distraction from items on his administration’s agenda, such as tax reform.
White House attorney Ty Cobb later dismissed any connection.
“Contrary to what many have suggested, the president’s comments today are unrelated to the activities of the Special Counsel, with whom he continues to cooperate,” Cobb said in a statement over the weekend to the White House press pool.
On Monday, Cobb said that the indictments do not affect the White House dealings with Mueller and that they continue to fully cooperate with him.