Three days after Donald Trump named his campaign foreign policy team in March 2016, the youngest of the new advisers sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.”
The adviser, George Papadopoulos, offered to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump,” telling them his Russian contacts welcomed the opportunity, according to internal campaign emails read to The Washington Post.
The proposal sent a ripple of concern through campaign headquarters in Trump Tower. Campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis wrote that he thought NATO allies should be consulted before any plans were made. Another Trump adviser, retired Navy Rear Adm. Charles Kubic, cited legal concerns, including a possible violation of U.S. sanctions against Russia and of the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from unauthorized negotiation with foreign governments.
But Papadopoulos, a campaign volunteer with scant foreign policy experience, persisted. Between March and September, the self-described energy consultant sent at least a half-dozen requests for Trump, as he turned from primary candidate to party nominee, or for members of his team to meet with Russian officials. Among those to express concern about the effort was then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who rejected in May 2016 a proposal from Papadopoulos for Trump to do so.
The exchanges are among more than 20,000 pages of documents the Trump campaign turned over to congressional committees this month after review by White House and defense lawyers. The selection of Papadopoulos’s emails were read to The Post by a person with access to them. Two other people with access to the emails confirmed the general tone of the exchanges and some specific passages within them.
Papadopoulos emerges from the sample of emails as a new and puzzling figure in the examination of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian officials and their proxies during the 2016 election, now the subject of a special-counsel investigation.
Less than a decade out of college, Papadopoulos appeared to hold little sway within the campaign, and it is unclear whether he was acting as an intermediary for the Russian government, although he told campaign officials he was.
While the emails illustrate his eagerness to strengthen the campaign’s connections to the Russian government, Papadopoulos does not spell out in them why it would be in Trump’s interest to do so. His entreaties appear to have generated more concern than excitement within the campaign, which at the time was looking to seal the Republican nomination and take on a heavily favored Hillary Clinton in the general election.
But the internal resistance to Papadopoulos’s requests is at odds with other overtures Trump allies were making toward Russia at the time, mostly at a more senior level of the campaign.
Three months after Papadopoulos raised the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a delegation led by a Russian lawyer offering to provide damaging information on Clinton.
Manafort attended that Trump Tower session in June 2016, a meeting now under scrutiny in the special counsel’s collusion inquiry. But the new emails reveal that Manafort had rejected a request from Papadopoulos just the previous month to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.
In July 2016 and again two months later, Jeff Sessions, then a senator and senior foreign policy adviser to Trump, met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
And also in July, a few weeks after Papadopoulos asked his superiors whether other campaign advisers or aides could accept some of the Russians’ invitations, Carter Page, another foreign policy adviser, spoke at a Russian university in Moscow. Page said he made the trip independently of the campaign.
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