WASHINGTON: A Trump campaign advisor met with Russian officials in England as early as March 2016 to discuss meetings between the two sides and “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, according to charges unveiled Monday.
George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the campaign, had meetings with a woman he described as Vladimir Putin’s niece as well as the Russian ambassador in London in March last year, after which he told other campaign officials that they had discussed arranging meetings with Trump and campaign staff.
A month later he reported that his Russia-linked contact, an unnamed “professor”, had offered him “dirt” on Trump rival Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails,” according to the indictment.
By May and June 2016, Papadopoulos had held a number of meetings with the Russia contacts and the professor, and emailed a senior Trump campaign official pushing a possible meeting between the Russians and Trump himself.
“I have the Russian MFA asking me if Mr. Trump is interested in visiting Russia at some point,” he wrote in June, referring to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Over the next several weeks, when Trump was established as the Republican candidate, Papadopoulos also discussed in emails a possible “off the record” meeting between Trump campaign officials and members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office, as well as MFA officials.
The Papadopoulos indictment was the sharpest evidence yet of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia just as Moscow was revving up its covert operation to steer the election in Trump’s favor.
There was no indication from the indictment of how Trump campaign officials reacted to Papadopoulos’ communications, except comments like “great work” from an unnamed campaign supervisor.
But it was clear from his communications he had the Russian officials’ attention already in early 2016 when he was named as one of Trump’s five official foreign policy advisors that March.
“As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced,” the woman Papadopoulos identified as Putin’s niece told him in an April 2016 email.
In a plea bargain agreement entered on October 5 and released Monday, Papadopoulos admitting lying to investigators last January as he sought to hide the extent of his contacts with the Russians.
“Through his false statements and omissions, defendant Papadopoulos impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” the indictment said.
The indictment and plea were unsealed Monday a short time after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and business partner Rick Gates were charged with conspiracy against the United States, money laundering and making false statement.
They were the first indictments to be made public by special counsel Robert Mueller since he took over the Russia probe in May.