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Donald Trump moved to distance himself from
George Papadopoulos after his former campaign adviser—a “young, low level volunteer,” according to the president—pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his contact with Russians. But as
Robert Mueller grills each of Trump’s campaign allies and associates, one by one, as part of his sprawling inquest into the question of collusion, the administration’s veneer of professed ignorance is beginning to crack. For the past two weeks, the White House has sought to portray Papadopoulos as something of a rogue agent, flying off to Europe to rendezvous with Russian intermediaries of his own accord. But on Friday, a source with direct knowledge of the Justice Department investigation told ABC News that Papadopoulos himself had hinted at a more damning explanation for misleading federal agents: he was trying to protect Trump.
The Trump campaign had repeatedly called the suggestion that it had been in contact with Kremlin-linked officials “fake news,” and Papadopoulos, who offered to set up a meeting between Trump and
Vladimir Putin during the 2016 election, reportedly “did not want to contradict the official line.” Papadopoulos, of course, is hardly the only Trump associate to have downplayed their communications with Russians. Earlier this week, former Trump foreign policy adviser
Carter Page repeatedly attempted to brush off his interactions with Russian operatives while he was in Moscow in July 2016, telling members of the House Intelligence Committee that his exchange with Russian deputy prime minister
Arkady Dvorkovich was nothing more than a “brief hello,” and saying of
Joseph Mifsud, Papadopoulos’s key contact in Russia, “I—you know, there may have been a greeting . . . I have no personal relationship with him.”
Improved memory seems to be a common side effect of Mueller’s probe. Former Trump campaign manager
Corey Lewandowski, who told Politico in March that he had “never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life,” suddenly remembered him after Page told congressional investigators that Lewandowski had signed off on his trip to Russia. “Now, my memory has been refreshed, but to be clear, from what I understand and what I recall, that e-mail was sent on June 19 of 2016, so about 18 months ago,” he said in an interview with Fox News. “It also happened to be Father’s Day on a Sunday, and it also happened to be the day prior to me being terminated from the campaign. So with all due respect, there were many other things on my mind that day.”
Jeff Sessions’s memory was similarly jogged when unsealed court documents revealed that Papadopoulos had suggested the Trump-Putin meeting in Sessions’s presence—something Sessions implied under oath never happened. A source close to Sessions told NBC News that the proposal had not registered because it “did not leave a lasting impression,” adding that Papadopoulos was viewed by those in attendance “as someone who didn’t have a lot of credibility.”
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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