A former Trump campaign aide has agreed to plead guilty to misleading federal investigators — and his testimony could potentially bring down Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor, accepted an Oct. 5 plea agreement announced Monday — the same day indictments against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were unsealed.
According to court documents, Papadopoulos learned from a Russian professor that the Kremlin possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton obtained from thousands of stolen emails.
He told investigators he learned about the hacked emails before joining the campaign — but he later admitted to lying and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel probe as part of his guilty plea.
According to court documents, the professor only took an interest in Papadopoulos after he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.
Three days after joining the campaign as a volunteer advisor, Papadopoulos sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.”
He emailed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in April 2016 saying “Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right,” and he emailed Lewandowski and another campaign adviser, Sam Clovis, on May 4, 2016, to ask again about setting up a meeting.
Papadopoulos met in late April 2016 with the Russian professor, who revealed the stolen emails, and investigators said the Trump advisor then shared the information with a “high-ranking campaign official” and “senior policy advisor” the following day.
That’s about six weeks before a British intermediary approached Donald Trump Jr. with a similar offer from a Russian attorney.
Russia continued trying to arrange meetings with the campaign — including Trump himself — through Papadopoulos for weeks, including a June 1, 2016, conversation the advisor had with a top campaign official who referred him to a “campaign supervisor.”
It’s not clear from the court documents which two top campaign associates Papadopoulos told about the stolen emails, but there wouldn’t have been many possible candidates on the relatively small campaign at that time.
Manafort had joined the Trump campaign on March 29, 2016, to help keep Republican delegates loyal to the real estate developer and former reality TV star, and he was promoted to campaign chairman May 19.
Papadopoulos would have reported to Sessions, then a U.S. Senator from Alabama, who oversaw the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory committee and would have signed off on Papadopoulos and other unconventional candidates on the team.
Donald Trump announced his foreign policy team during a March 21, 2016, meeting with the Washington Post editorial board, and described Papadopoulos as “an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.”
The advisory committee surprised and baffled foreign policy experts, who hadn’t heard of many of the advisors — who, for their part, were unable to describe exactly how they were helping Trump.
Sessions had hands-on involvement with the advisory committee Papadopoulos sat on, according to Stephen Miller — the senator’s communications director and, after the election, a senior advisor to the president.
“For first time, Miller detailed the effort Sessions has poured into this new role,” gushed Breitbart News on March 17, 2016, in a recap of an appearance on Fox News.
“Jeff Sessions has been meeting for hours now putting together a team of foreign policy advisers, military experts, [and] intelligence experts,” Miller told “The Kelly Files.” “I had a chance to speak to Sen. Sessions today and his military advisers for about half an hour before coming here and we discussed some robust foreign policy ideas.”
Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Justice Department probe March 2, 2017, after news reports showed he met twice during the campaign with the Russian ambassador — which appear to contradict statements he made during his confirmation hearings.
He met with the Russian ambassador and a small group of other diplomats after speaking at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation during the Republican National Convention, in July 2016.
Sessions also met with the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at his Senate office on Sept. 8, 2016, but he insists that meeting was one of many he took with other ambassadors as part of his official duties on Capitol Hill.
He admits to speaking with the ambassadors about the presidential election, but he said those conversations were superficial.
Less than two weeks ago, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) grilled Sessions on his shifting explanations for his conversations with Kislyak.
“How your responses morphed from, ‘I did not have any communications with the Russians,’ to, ‘I did not discuss the political campaign,’ and then finally going to, ‘I did not discuss interference in the election’— that to me is moving the goal post every time,” Franken said. “By the end, we’re going to a 75-yard field goal.”
“Saying, ‘I didn’t discuss interfering in the election is your last statement,’ that’s a very different bar than, ‘I can tell you I did not meet with any Russians,’” he added.
After Sessions’ recusal, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein oversaw the Justice Department probe of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Rosenstein then appointed special counsel Robert Mueller in May 2017 after the president fired former FBI director James Comey.
It’s not clear whether Papadopoulos, who was introduced to the Trump campaign by Ben Carson, has damaging information on Sessions or anyone else — but his testimony was apparently worth a plea deal from the special counsel.