Candidate Donald Trump did not dismiss the idea of arranging a meeting with Russia’s president when it was suggested in a meeting with his campaign foreign policy advisers last year, according to a person in the room.
The idea was raised by George Papadopoulos as he introduced himself at a March 2016 meeting of the Republican candidate’s foreign policy advisers, according to a court filing.
“He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no,” the official said, declining to be more specific about Trump’s response to Papadopoulos.
But the chairman of Trump’s national security team, then Alabama senator and now attorney general Jeff Sessions, shut down the idea of a Putin meeting at the March 31, 2016, gathering, according to the source. His reaction was confirmed with another source who had discussed Session’s role.
Trump’s response to Papadopoulos’ offer could be of interest to special counsel’s office.
J.D. Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman and Trump campaign national security adviser who attended the meeting, told CNN he was “surprised to learn this week what George Papadopoulos was up to during the campaign.”
“He obviously went to great lengths to go around me and Sen. Sessions,” he added.
CNN reached out to other people in attendance at the meeting who did not respond.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about interactions with foreign officials close to the Russian government – the campaign’s clearest connection so far to Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election. Papadopoulos told the FBI, according to court documents, that in a national security meeting attended by Trump and campaign advisers, he “in sum and substance” said that “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Monday that the President does not recall specifics of the meeting and that the foreign policy group that Papadopoulos was a part of only met once.
“It was a brief meeting that took place quite some time ago. It was the one time that group ever met,” she said.
But CNN is told Papadopoulos attended another campaign policy meeting, though Trump was not in attendance. Sessions, however, did attend, and he and Papadopoulos sat next to each other, according to the source who was in the room. The Washington Post was first to report this.
In all, there were five or six advisory meetings of the national security team. Papadopoulos attended two. Trump only attended one.
As the White House dismisses Papadopoulos’ role as minimal, new indications are emerging that the voluntary adviser was trying to raise his stature on the campaign.
Gordon said Papadopoulos also offered to appear on the Sunday talk show circuit on behalf of Trump but was turned down. Papadopolous said he should appear on ABC’s “This Week” with George Stephanopoulos because their names sounded similar.
“We’ll get along great. George Papadopoulos … George Stephanopoulos. It will be great,” Gordon said of the conversation.
The White House did not respond to request for further comment. The Justice Department had no comment. Papadopoulos’ attorney did not respond.
A separate former campaign official said the national security team was assembled “to demonstrate that then-candidate Trump was becoming more informed on foreign affairs issues.”
“It clearly worked at the time,” the former campaign official said.
However, the former member of Trump’s national security team described the idea of a foreign policy advisory board for Trump as “fake news” because the candidate rarely listened to his advisers.
This story has been updated to include Gordon’s response and additional details.