Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Probe centers on Trump campaign aide

THE BONE:The case against George Papadopoulos has cast new light on whether the US president’s aides knew about foreign interference in the election campaign


White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders speaks to the media in the White House Press Briefing Room in Washington on Monday.

Photo: EPA

A former US President Donald Trump campaign aide described by the White House as a low-level volunteer was on Monday thrust into the center of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, providing key evidence in the first criminal case connecting Trump’s team to alleged intermediaries for the Russian government.

George Papadopoulos was approached by people claiming ties to Russia and offering “dirt” on then-US presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton in the form of thousands of e-mails, according to unsealed court documents.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about the conversations and has been cooperating with investigators, the documents said.

Papadopoulos’ guilty plea and the possibility that he is working with Mueller’s team came as an unexpected twist in the mounting drama surrounding the criminal probe.

A separate welter of charges Mueller announced on Monday against Trump’s former-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime aide Rick Gates do not appear directly related to their work for Trump.

However, Papadopoulos’ case cuts close to the central question of Mueller’s investigation: Did Russia try to sway the election? Did Trump’s campaign know?

“The Russians had e-mails of Clinton,” Papadopoulos was told by an unnamed Russian professor during a breakfast meeting at a London hotel in April.

US investigators said that the following day, Papadopoulos then e-mailed a Trump campaign policy adviser: “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Papadopoulos was arrested in July and has been interviewed repeatedly by authorities, the filing said.

After entering his guilty plea he was ordered not to contact other Trump officials and prohibited from foreign travel. In one of the unsealed files, an FBI agent working for Mueller bluntly hinted that more former Trump associates could soon be questioned.

Papadopoulos’ lawyer, Thomas Breen, based in Chicago, declined to comment on the guilty plea, but noted that “we will have the opportunity to comment on George’s involvement when called upon by the court at a later date. We look forward to telling all of the details of George’s story at that time.”

The incident echoes elements of a June meeting last year involving Donald Trump Jr and other campaign officials at Trump Tower. The president’s son organized that sit down with a Russian lawyer who was offering negative information about Clinton.

The White House immediately cast Papadopoulos as a mere volunteer with little influence during last year’s campaign.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said his role was “extremely limited” and that “no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign.”

Trump named Papadopoulos to his foreign policy advisory council in March last year, among a short list of experts amid growing public pressure on Trump to demonstrate he had a bench of foreign policy expertise.

During a meeting with the Washington Post editorial board, Trump called Papadopoulos an “excellent guy.”

He was named along with retired US Army Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, former US president George W. Bush administration inspector-general Joseph Schmitz, international affairs professor Walid Phares and energy executive Carter Page, whose ties to Russian interests have also been scrutinized by congressional inquiries.

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