A little-known Donald Trump campaign adviser has now become a “person of interest” in the Trump Russia investigation, the two top senators leading the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation said last week, because of the aide’s repeated attempts to set up meetings between the Trump presidential campaign and top Russian leaders — and even Vladimir Putin himself — as early as March of 2016.
Both Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner, the chair and vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the young adviser, George Papadopoulos, as a “person of interest” whom the committee hopes to question, according to a BuzzFeed report.
Papadopoulos — who was described by Trump as an “excellent guy” — sent emails to high-ranking campaign officials proposing a “Meeting with Russian Leadership — Including Putin,” according to the subject line of one of the emails, as reported by the Washington Post. Papadopoulos advertised himself to the campaign as having powerful Russian contacts and said that he was acting as an intermediary between the campaign and the Kremlin, according to the Post report.
In an April email, Papadopoulos wrote to Trump’s then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, telling him, “Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right.”
But though Papadopoulos’ push for ties between the Trump campaign and Putin were reportedly “shot down” by another top campaign advisor, then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who is now the United States Attorney General under Trump, the campaign continued to pursue Russian meetings and contacts — even after U.S. intelligence agencies expressed “high confidence” in July that Russia was interfering with the U.S. election by hacking and stealing internal emails from Trump’s Democratic opposition.
The critical question in the Russia probe right now is whether the president got George Papadopoulos his job on the campaign’s NatSec team. pic.twitter.com/L5hU4oVxuo
— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) October 23, 2017
In fact, in late July after Russia’s involvement in the email hacks was widely reported in the media, Trump openly called on the Russians to hack the emails of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 33,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Despite the aide’s advocacy of what could be seen as a clear attempt to collaborate with Russia, a foreign power attacking the U.S. using cyber-warfare, Trump kept Papadopoulos on board the campaign. Trump had received a classified briefing from U.S. intelligence on August 17, detailing the Russian cyber-attacks on the election.
But as late as September 30 of 2016 — more than six weeks after Trump was told about the Russian attempts to influence the election — Papadopoulos, a former researcher at the conservative Hudson Institute think tank, gave an interview to the private Russian media outlet InterFax in which he discussed his view that U.S. sanctions against Russia were essentially useless.
“Sanctions have done little more than to turn Russia towards China as a primary market for Russian goods, services and energy,” Papadopoulos said in the Interfax interview.
Papadopoulos’ view on the uselessness, and even possible harm caused by sanctions against Russia was evidently shared by Trump himself. Almost immediately upon taking office on January 20, Trump began pressuring the State Department to lift or ease sanctions on Russia — without Russia offering anything to the United States in return.
That pressure was successfully resisted by State Department officials, but on October 1 Trump missed a deadline for putting new sanctions in place against Russia, sanctions that he himself signed into law in July after they were overwhelmingly approved by Congress. As of this week, Trump was continuing to ignore the deadline and refusing to impose the sanctions that he is now legally required to impose — without giving Congress any reason for his refusal, according to an investigation by the online Daily Beast magazine.
While there remains no public evidence that Trump acted on any of Papadopoulos’ specific attempts to set up meetings with Russians and with Putin himself, another foreign policy aide, Carter Page, traveled to Moscow for reasons that remain unclear. Page said that he was simply on a speaking engagement that had nothing to do with the campaign, but other reports have alleged that he met in Russia with Igor Sechin, CEO of the Russian state-run oil giant Rosneft.
Sessions, who reportedly “shot down” Papadopoulos’ push to meet with Russian officials, himself met three times with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak during the campaign — meetings that he initially denied during his attorney general confirmation hearings. But in Senate testimony last week, Sessions admitted that it was “possible” he not only met with Kislyak but discussed specific Trump policies with the Russian official as well.
The primary policy of interest to the Russian government would have been the lifting of U.S. sanctions, a policy that Trump tried to pursue following his inauguration.
[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]