Though Donald Trump and associates have ridiculed former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos as nothing more than a campaign “coffee boy,” a new book about Trump’s Russian entanglements by two leading investigative reporters reveals that Trump encouraged Papadopoulos to set up a meeting for him during the 2016 presidential campaign with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia during the campaign, but the incidents recounted in the book Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump by veteran investigative journalists David Corn and Michael Isikoff, surrounding the March 31, 2016, meeting of Trump’s then-newly assembled foreign policy advisors team appear to flatly contradict those denials.
In fact, the book paints a picture of a Trump who has been smitten with Putin for years, anxiously waiting by the phone during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow for word that Putin may be attending the beauty contest, which Trump then owned.
Putin never showed up at the Miss Universe event, leaving Trump disappointed. But when Trump returned to New York after the event, Putin sent him a sealed, personal letter inside “a black lacquered box,” the book reveals, adding that “what the letter said has never been revealed.”
Trump himself posted a photo from the March 31, 2016, meeting on his social media accounts. Papadopoulos is seated third from left. Trump is seated at the head of the table to the right of the image.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 1, 2016
Previous public accounts of the meeting have said that when Papadopoulos told Trump that he was in contact with individuals who held high-level Russia government connections, and he could use those contacts to set up a summit meeting between Trump and Putin, then-Senator Jeff Sessions quickly “shut him down,” declaring the Trump-Putin sit-down a “bad idea.” Sessions chaired Trump’s campaign foreign policy group.
But Corn and Isikoff paint a very different picture. According to their account in Russian Roulette, Trump himself told Papadopoulos that the idea was “interesting.” He then turned to Sessions, who did not shoot the idea down. Instead, Trump appeared to be instructing Sessions to follow up on Papadopolous’s plan, and Sessions seemed to acknowledge his wish.
Papadopoulos himself took it that way, continuing to hound his contacts about setting up the Trump-Putin meeting, according to the Russian Roulette account.
Trump himself has claimed to remember little of the March 31, 2016, meeting, and called the foreign policy gathering “very unimportant.” Sessions has also claimed to have “no clear recollection” of the meeting. But Papadopoulos recalled the meeting well, informing federal investigators of his proposal for the Trump-Putin summit, as well as of Trump’s positive response.
Papadopolous pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year and is now a cooperating witness in the Russia investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But Republican House Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes has gone Trump and Sessions a step further, claiming that Trump never met Papadopoulos at all — a claim clearly contradicted by the photo posted on social media by Trump himself.
Papadopoulos was in contact with a Maltese academic named Joseph Misfud, who claimed to have high-level Kremlin contacts and took a deep interest in the young Papadopoulos when he learned that Papadopoulos was a member of the Trump campaign. It was Misfud who told Papadopoulos in April that Russia was in possession of “dirt” on Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
About three months later, Russian hackers released thousands of Clinton-related emails online via WikiLeaks and other sites, throwing the Democrat’s campaign into turmoil.