The White House has sought to distance themselves from Mueller's probe
Trump praised Papadopoulos to The Washington Post in March 2016
President Donald Trump and his stable of surrogates have tried to discredit former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in wake of his guilty plea to special counsel Robert Mueller, casting him as nothing more than a low-level “coffee boy” who rarely – if ever – interacted with senior members of Trump’s campaign.
Those comments, though, belie Papadopoulos’ actual role in the campaign, as laid out by Mueller’s statement of charges, and use misinformation and inaccuracies to deride the former campaign adviser.
On Monday, it was revealed Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with foreign officials with Russian government connections. It was also revealed Papadopoulos was a “proactive cooperator” in the Russia probe, meaning he had been working with Mueller and his team after they caught him lying to the FBI.
The news came on the same day former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign official Rick Gates were arrested.
Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo told CNN on Tuesday that Papadopoulos was nothing more than a “coffee boy” on the 2016 campaign who “never showed up at Trump Tower.”
“He … never had any interaction with any of the campaign leaders around me, and the leaders of the Washington office of the campaign didn’t even know who he was until his name appeared in the press,” Caputo told CNN’s “New Day.”
Though Papadopoulos may have not been omnipresent at Trump’s campaign headquarters, describing him as a “coffee boy” ignores the fact that he attended a roundtable meeting with Trump in March 2016 and then-candidate Trump described him as an “excellent guy” in an interview with The Washington Post.
Papadopoulous was also emailing with high-level staffers, such as Manafort, about his potential Russian contacts during the campaign and received encouragement for his efforts.
Papadopoulos was also not an adviser with no campaign experience, either. Before working with the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos was an adviser on Ben Carson’s 2016 campaign. When the Carson campaign ended, he joined Trump’s effort with the credentials he brought from Carson’s team.
When asked about why Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign, a source familiar with the White House’s thinking said, “He came from someone else’s campaign. His expertise was energy. He had published papers. He looked good on paper.”
‘Low level volunteer named George’
Trump, after hours of silence about Papadopoulos, slammed his former foreign policy adviser as a “young, low level volunteer named George” who “few people knew.”
Even if “few people” knew Papadopoulos, Trump was one of them.
The then candidate brought Papadopoulos’ name up during a March interview and later met with him a part of a national security meeting on March 31, 2016.
Trump himself praised Papadopoulos to The Washington Post.
Additionally, Papadopoulos was known within the campaign because, as the court document states, he regularly emailed a campaign supervisor and his messages were discussed between other campaign officials, which CNN has now identified, according to a congressional source, as Manafort and Gates.
‘Never… interacting with senior management on a regular basis’
One key to the statement of charges against Papadopoulos was that the former foreign policy adviser regularly emailed campaign officials and received encouragement from the officials to take a trip to meet with the foreign-born professor and his contacts with the Russian government.
Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told NBC Tuesday that Papadopoulos was “never a person who was part of a team that was interacting with senior management on a regular basis.”
The former campaign manager’s statement is contradicted by Mueller’s statement of charges.
After a meeting where Papadopoulos’ professor told him that he had met with Russian officials who have “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton, the foreign policy adviser “continued to correspond with Campaign officials … in an effort to arrange a meeting between the campaign and the Russian government.”
According to the statement of charges, Papadopoulos continued to exchange emails and calls with a “high-ranking campaign” officials and, after proposing a meeting between Russian officials and the campaign, his messages were discussed privately between two other campaign officials, which CNN has now identified, according to a congressional source, as Manafort and Gates.
At one point, Papadopoulos’ campaign supervisor said he would “encourage” him to make an off-the-record trip to meet with members of the Russian foreign ministry.
“I would encourage you … (to) make the trip, if it is feasible,” the campaign supervisor wrote, according to the statement of offense.
‘Long before they … had any association with the campaign’
White House chief of staff John Kelly, in an interview on Monday, issued a blanket statement to all of Mueller’s action on Manafort and Gates.
“These indictments were handed down, Paul Manafort of course, his associate Mr. Gates, and another minor aide to the Trump administration, George Papadopoulos,” Fox News’ Laura Ingraham asked. “What’s the administration’s reaction?”
Kelly responded: “All of the activity – as I understand it, they were indicted for – were long before they ever met Donald Trump or had any association with the campaign. But I think the reaction of the administration is let the legal justice system work, everyone’s innocent until, presumed innocent, and we’ll see where it goes.”
Kelly is correct that Manafort and Gates’ charges stem from activity that pre-dates their times with the Trump campaign. But the blanket statement that “all of the activity … they were indicted for, were long before they ever met Donald Trump or had any association with the campaign” is not true when considering Papadopoulos.
Mueller’s statement of offense for Papadopoulos clearly details how his interactions with a foreign-born professor who in turn introduced him to Russian contacts began after – and largely because – of his involvement with the Trump campaign.
In one passage, the complaints states that before Papadopoulos disclosed his involvement in the campaign, the professor with Russian contacts was “uninterested” in him. But once Papadopoulos disclosed his new role on the Trump campaign, the professor “appeared to take great interest” in him.
The statement of charges later details Papadopoulos’ repeated interactions with Trump campaign officials, including being encouraged by a campaign supervisor to meet with Russian contacts.
The initial interaction between Papadopoulos and the professor happened in around March 14, 2016, according to the statement of offense. Trump name-checked Papadopoulos in an interview with The Washington Post a week later and then met with him as part of a broader “national security meeting” in Washington on March 31, 2016.
Additionally, while the current charges against Manafort and Gates date back years, there is nothing stopping Mueller from charging the two top aides with more charges in the future.