WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is working to discredit and marginalize an adviser to his 2016 campaign who took steps to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from a source close to the Russian government. Trump branded George Papadopoulos “low level” and a “liar” Tuesday, a turnaround from describing him as an “excellent guy” when he joined his campaign team.
It’s become harder for Trump to speak dismissively of the Russia investigation now that his former campaign chief is under house arrest and Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying about his Russian interactions. But he’s trying.
A look at statements by Trump and spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders after the special counsel’s investigation unsealed criminal charges against Paul Manafort and his business associate and revealed Papadopoulos’ plea:
TRUMP tweet Tuesday: “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”
THE FACTS: Papadopoulos, though not senior, was not obscure. Trump named Papadopoulos to his foreign policy advisory council in March 2016, where he joined a short list of experts helping the candidate with international affairs.
“He’s an oil and energy consultant,” Trump told The Washington Post at the time. “Excellent guy.” Trump tweeted a photo of his March 31 advisory council meeting, with Papadopoulos among several advisers at the president’s table. Jeff Sessions, then a senator and now attorney general, was helping Trump’s campaign and attended at least two meetings of the advisory council with Papadopoulos also there.
Papadopoulos was based in London at the time but did not operate in a bubble.
In April 2016, he met a professor with connections to the Russian government for breakfast in London and was told Moscow had “dirt” helpful to Trump, namely Clinton emails. Investigators said Papadopoulos emailed a Trump campaign policy adviser the next day, saying “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”
Court filings say the adviser met later with an unidentified Russian woman who claimed to be related to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a third person who claimed connections with the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry. The two men then exchanged emails about a possible meeting between Trump campaign aides and Russian government officials.
Altogether, this episode has provided evidence in the first criminal case connecting Trump’s team to alleged intermediaries for Russia’s government. Papadopoulos is cooperating with investigators.
His lie? He told the FBI his Russian interactions came before he joined Trump’s team. These steps came after he joined.
TRUMP tweet Monday: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”
THE FACTS: Not true, according to the indictment.
Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are charged with criminal activities that go back to 2006 but extend to February of this year. The charges do not refer to Manafort’s activities with the campaign but rather accuse him of laundering money and conspiratorial acts before, during and after he was campaign chairman.
Manafort and Gates face 12 counts, which do deal largely with activities from 2006 to 2015, before Manafort joined the campaign in March 2016.
But both are charged with conspiring together and with others to knowingly and intentionally defraud and commit crimes against the U.S. from 2006 to this year.
And both are charged with conspiring together to make false statements and conceal crimes against the U.S., and to causing others to do so, from November 2016 to February 2017.
The indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of Ukraine’s former pro-Russia leader, government and party from 2006 to 2015. The indictment says that “from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, MANAFORT and GATES laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships and bank accounts.”
Manafort was hired in late March 2016 as the campaign’s manager for the Republican convention in July. He was promoted to campaign chairman in mid-May, after he had essentially assumed control, and then was pushed out Aug. 19 when questions intensified about his lobbying for Ukraine interests.
This indictment emerged from the broad investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. It does not go to the heart of that matter.
SANDERS: “Today’s announcement has nothing to do with the president, has nothing to do with the president’s campaign or campaign activity.” — briefing Monday
THE FACTS: It’s true that Trump himself isn’t wrapped up in the charges, but his campaign adviser is.
Sanders said Papadopoulos’ work for the campaign was “extremely limited. It was a volunteer position.”
Yet investigators said his position was significant to those who wanted to pass on information helpful to the campaign. The allegations unsealed Monday state “the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign.”
SANDERS: “What the Clinton campaign did, what the DNC did was actually exchange money …. actually paying money for false information.” — briefing
THE FACTS: She is right that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party hired a firm that came up with sensational allegations about Trump’s connections to Russia. The material is unverified. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s false.
Peoples reported from New York.
Find AP Fact Checks at https://apnews.com/tag/APFactCheck
EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures