George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and potentially a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, told federal investigators that before the election, Donald Trump personally encouraged him to pursue a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new book being published Tuesday.
Papadopoulos’s account to Mueller — as reported in
Although one of the campaign officials present, J.D. Gordon, has said the idea was shot down by then Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Papadopoulos told Mueller’s investigators that Trump encouraged him, saying he found the idea “interesting,” according to the book, which cites sources familiar with his questioning by Mueller’s investigators.
Trump looked at Sessions, as if he expected him to follow up with Papadopoulos, and Sessions nodded in response, the authors write. Sessions has said he has “no clear recollection” of the exchange with Papadopoulos. A White House official said that others at the meeting remember it differently than Papadopoulos.
Last fall, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians and became a cooperating witness in Mueller’s probe.
The story of what happened at the only known meeting between Trump and Papadopoulos is one of a number of new details revealed in “Russian Roulette” about contacts that Trump, his campaign advisers and others had with various Russian figures and their associates during the 2016 campaign.
The book chronicles the efforts of Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a close Putin ally, and his assistant, Maria Butina, to curry favor with the Trump campaign — including their own attempt to set up a Trump-Putin meeting in Moscow.
Those efforts began as early as July 2015, when Butina showed up at FreedomFest, a conservative gathering, in Las Vegas, where Trump was speaking. During a Q&A session, Trump called on Butina, who asked him about his stance on Russia and the sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on the country — eliciting the first response from the new GOP candidate on an issue that was a top priority of Putin’s government.
“I know Putin,” Trump replied during the course of a five-minute answer. “I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? I don’t think you’d need the sanctions.”
Later in the campaign, the book reports that two top Trump officials — Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus — discussed a video of the Las Vegas event and wondered how Butina gained such quick access to Trump’s ear.
“How was it that this Russian woman happened to be in Las Vegas for that event? And how was it that Trump happened to call on her?” Isikoff and Corn write. “And Trump’s response? It was odd, Bannon thought, that Trump had a fully developed answer. Priebus agreed there was something strange about Butina. Whenever there were events held by conservative groups, she was always around.”
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