On Monday, while the nation focused on the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, another, far more damaging plea deal was released by the office of the special counsel: former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos was released. The plea deal expired on October 5, which means that Papadopoulos is now cooperating with the special counsel.
The statement of offense, describing what Papadopoulos admitted to, suggests attempted collusion between Papadopoulos and fronts for the Russian government. According to that statement, Papadopoulos was told he would become a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign in early March 2016 by a “campaign supervisor.” He was also told that a better relationship with Russia would be a “principal foreign policy focus of the Campaign.” While in Italy, Papadopoulos “met an individual who was a professor based in London.” When the professor found out that Papadopoulos was working for the Trump campaign, the professor became very interested in Papadopoulos; the feeling was mutual, because the professor “claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials, which defendant Papadopoulos thought could increase his importance as a policy advisor to the Campaign.” In late March, Papadopoulos met with the professor in London, and the professor brought a female Russian national — allegedly a “relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian government officials.”
Papadopoulos then funneled that information to the campaign, and told the campaign supervisor and “several members of the Campaign’s foreign policy team” that he had met with the professor and the Russian national, attempting to set up a meeting between them. Here’s the most damning fact:
On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C. with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisors for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.
Papadopoulos worked with the professor and Russian national to obtain a meeting with the campaign. The female Russian national told Papadopoulos, “I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request … 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.”
Papadopoulos became close with a member of the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. On April 26, 2016, Papadopoulos learned from the professor that the professor had met with “high-level Russian government officials,” and that the professor had been told that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”
Papadopoulos continued to pursue an off-the-record meeting between campaign representatives and “members of president putin’s office and the mfa.” The campaign continued to express warmth toward the idea of a meeting.
So, here are the open questions:
- Who were the “campaign supervisor” and “high-ranking campaign official” mentioned in the statement of offense?
- Did Papadopoulos actually have any pull?
- Who hired Papadopoulos?
- Were Papadopoulos and the campaign attempting to set up a meeting for purposes of warmer relations with Russia, or for purposes of gaining dirt regarding Hillary?
- Did any of this have to do with the June 9, 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign members and front lawyers for the Russians?
- If all of this was aboveboard, what was Papadopoulos trying to hide?
All of this is far more problematic for the Trump campaign than Manafort. But it’s also far less certain. What will Papadopoulos tell Mueller? We’ll find out soon enough.