Papadopoulos: "Campaign Was Fully Aware Of What I Was Doing," Sessions "Enthusiastic" About Putin Meeting

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On Sunday, Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said his "recollection" of the meeting about the potential Trump-Putin meeting "differs from Jeff Sessions." Papadopoulos said then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort did not seem to want to "pursue this meeting" in a joint interview with his wife, Mangiante, on ABC's This Week.

Papadopoulos on why he lied to federal investigators: "At the time of my interview with the FBI, I think around three or four days before that, I was at the inauguration attending parties with senior level transition officials. And I found myself, as somebody who worked incredibly hard over the past year with the campaign to actually have the candidate Trump be elected. And then I found myself pinned between the Department of Justice and the sitting president and having probing questions that I thought might incriminate the sitting president."

Transcript, via ABC:





GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, 'THIS WEEK' HOST: In another echo of Watergate, we begin with the latest development in the Mueller investigation, the sentencing of George Papadopoulos. The foreign policy adviser on the Trump campaign, who became the first member of team Trump to cooperate with the special counsel.

What he was doing on the Trump campaign, a mystery from the start. No one had heard of him when he first appeared on Trump's official list of foreign policy advisers, but there he was right across the table from Trump at the national security team's first meeting.

And now we know that what a suspected Russian agent told him about hacked emails from Hillilary Clinton set off the FBI's probe into Russian interference in our election.

Papadopoulos will spend only two weeks in prison for lying to the FBI when they first questioned him about his Russian contacts. How his testimony fits into the broader probe, whether it helped build a case that some in the Trump campaign were actually conspiring with Russians, still a mystery.

But we do have the chance to question him this morning in his first interview since the sentencing. George Papadopoulos, welcome to This Week.

GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, FORMER TRUMP AIDE: Thank you for hosting me, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's go back to the beginning. You wanted to join the Trump campaign for a long time, from 2015, didn't work out right away, but finally in March 2016 you had a talk with campaign co-chair Sam Clovis about joining the campaign. And he told you that a focus of the campaign as he was hiring you would be improving U.S./Russia relations.

Did tell you why? And how did you follow up?

PAPADOPOULOS: I didn't really understand why except that obviously candidate Trump at the time was very vocal about pursuing some sort of working relationship with President Putin should he ever be elected president, so it was no secret that the campaign, especially when the boss is looking to improve relations at some level with Russia, that my supervisor at the time during an interview would be asking me if I'd be, you know, inclined to support that initiative.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you took that seriously. You took responsibility for it. Just about a week or so later, you met with a man who's become famous, Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with ties to Russian intelligence, connected to Russian intelligence. Ddo you think that meeting was a coincidence?

PAPADOPOULOS: I don't know, George. I was working at a group called the London Center of International Law Practice. I had notified them that I would be leaving London to go back to the United States where I was going to pursue my new career, or job, but they still decided to take me to Rome with them on some sort of business trip where I met this professor.

To this day, I have no -- no understanding why or why fate put me in the same room with this professor in Rome --

STEPHANOPOULOS: But when he found out you were working for the campaign, he was very interested?

PAPADOPOULOS: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And what did you talk about?

PAPADOPOULOS: He basically presented himself as this well-connected, well-traveled former diplomat who could essentially connect me and the campaign to Russian officials and to other leaders around the world. I think he even told me that one of his good friends was actually the Vietnamese prime minister. You know, he was connected to various think tanks in Europe, the State Department. So I took him serious initially.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you followed up on this potential meeting with Putin. You guys had several conversations, had some more meetings. And then you ended up back in the United States for that now infamous March 31 meeting, the first full meeting of the Trump national security team. We’re going to show that right there. The picture, of course, with you there and the president, Attorney General Sessions there as well.

When it was your chance to speak at that meeting, what did you say?

PAPADOPOULOS: So basically what happened was we had a -- a -- some sort of round table where we all discussed what our backgrounds were, what we were actually going to contribute to the campaign now that we were all sitting across from the principles, Jeff Sessions and candidate Donald Trump. I explained to them that I come from a think tank background and I work in the energy industry but I do have a connection that can establish a potential summit between candidate Trump and President Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What was the reaction?

PAPADOPOULOS: The reaction, of course, was mixed. There were many people in that room that came from conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, who you know, nodded in disapproval. Candidate Trump at the time nodded at me. I don’t think he was committed either way. He was open to the idea. And he deferred, of course, to then senior Senator Jeff Sessions, who I remember being quite enthusiastic about hosting --

STEPHANOPOULOS: You say he was quite enthusiastic. The attorney general has testified under oath something quite the contrary. I want to show that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL, UNITED STATES: And I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter.

MALE: There are reports that you, shut George down, unquote, when he proposed that meeting with Putin. Is this correct, yes or no?

SESSIONS: Yes. I pushed back. I’ll just say it that way because it was --

MALE: Yes.

SESSIONS: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Attorney general says he pushed back. Is he telling the truth?

PAPADOPOULOS: I -- all I can say is this -- this was a meeting from about two years ago. My recollection differs from Jeff Sessions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He did not push back?

PAPADOPOULOS: All I can say is my recollection differs from his at this point.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did anyone discourage you from pursuing that possible summit between Trump and Putin?

PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember after that meeting on March 31, I actively sought to leverage my contacts with the professor to host this meeting. The campaign was fully aware with what I was doing, including Corey Lewandowski, Sam Clovis, I think even during -- actually preceding the meeting on the 31 of March, I think Sam Clovis was telling me excellent work while I was actively discussing with the group and Sam that I was talking with Mifsud and that this person could potentially organize a meeting for us with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And in April, that other meeting with Professor Mifsud where he said for the first time that he knew of possible hacked Hillary Clinton e-mails. What exactly did he say?

PAPADOPOULOS: So this meeting took place at the Andaz hotel by Liverpool Street Station in London. As far as I remember, what happened was Joseph Mifsud had informed me that he would be travelling to Moscow the week before we met at the Andaz hotel where he had a series of meetings at the -- at the Duma, which I believe --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Russian parliament.

PAPADOPOULOS: Exactly, which I believe is the equivalent of the Russian parliament. Then he sat me down and he was quite giddy. And he told me, I have information that the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. There’s a misunderstanding that he told me about DNC or Podesta or any of these --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Because that was right after the hack of John Podesta’s e-mails.

PAPADOPOULOS: This was late April. I think Podesta’s e-mails were hacked --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Earlier.

PAPADOPOULOS: Yes. I just -- to my recollection, I never heard the name Podesta DNC. I saw him as somebody at the time -- you have to -- we have to understand what my impression of this individual was at the time. At the time, I was actively seeking to leverage him to meet with the Russian ambassador in London. After he promised that they would be inclined to meet, he was unable to set up any meetings with me and any senior Russian officials.

He introduced me to a low level think tank official in Moscow, Ivan Timofeev and a Russian student who he purported was the niece of Vladimir Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But this news about the e-mails is pretty big.

PAPADOPOULOS: It was very big, but because of his inability to really connect me the way I wanted him to, when he did state this, you know, I guess it was a momentum statement, at the time I thought how could this person possibly hold the keys to the kingdom of such a massive conspiracy when he couldn’t even introduce me to the people I wanted.

So I was – of course I was shocked, but at the same time, this wasn’t a Russian official telling me this either.

STEPHANOPOULOS: John Mashburn, who was working on the campaign, testified that you sent an e-mail to him talking about this.

PAPADOPOULOS: If – I have no recollection of doing that, George. If I did send an e-mail and especially if others were copied on it, I’m sure that evidence would have been produced by now.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you can’t guarantee that you did not.

PAPADOPOULOS: I could just say if that e-mail was sent, even I had deleted it, if that’s what people are – believe I did, there would be a copy somewhere else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it’s your testimony that you don’t remember telling anyone in the campaign about that. You understand why that’s pretty hard to believe. This is pretty big news coming to you, you’re wanting to get connected inside this campaign, you’re in constant e-mail contact with others in the campaign and you don’t tell them about this.

PAPADOPOULOS: Well we actually looked back at what was happening around that time. I think around that time is when Corey Lewandowski had just been fired, Paul Manafort had just taken the helm of the campaign and I actually had reached out to Manafort and told him look, I have the information that the Russian government might want to host candidate Trump.

Are you interested or not, or I just don’t want to continue this exercise if it’s fruitless. And as far as I remember, it didn’t seem that Paul Manafort wanted to pursue this meeting.

So as far as I remember, why on earth would I then, after I was shut down in a – I guess in a formal way after a lot of vacillating between the campaign, would I then tell the campaign something like that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well but you continued to pursue a meeting and you did have other meetings with diplomats in May including the Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, where you did tell him about this.

PAPADOPOULOS: Allegedly, I have no recollection of ever telling him that. I remember many details about that meeting and I remember the context of this meeting. I do remember telling another senior level diplomat, the Greek foreign minister, which I am openly – I openly told.

But for some reason, I just don’t remember ever telling that individual.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That – that – that’s hard to believe as well, as you know, you remember what you drank at the meeting, you remember you had a gin and tonic, you remember – you said you weren’t drunk at the meeting, you remember where you were, you remember other things other you talked about.

You don’t remember the actual detail that sparked the FBI investigation into Russian interference?

PAPADOPOULOS: I mean I could just – I can give details of what I remember from that meeting. Their – I mean it’s actually quite fresh in my mind, but that particular part I don’t remember at all talking about with this person.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It’s clear in retrospect that the Russians were reaching out to you, isn’t it?

PAPADOPOULOS: I guess if somebody was using an obscure professor – Maltese professor to get to me – to the campaign, yes. But I never met with a single Russian official in my life (inaudible).

STEPHANOPOULOS: You continued to meet – to try to pursue that meeting throughout the summer, you continue to do other work for the campaign including setting up other foreign meetings.

You know, in that you came into contact with Steve Bannon, with Paul Manafort, with Mike Flynn.

PAPADOPOULOS: Yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you ever talk about Russia with Mike Flynn?

PAPADOPOULOS: No.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Never talked with Russia about Mike Flynn. And you were hoping after the election to get a job working in foreign policy for the Trump administration.

PAPADOPOULOS: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And it was in that context on January 27, 2017 when you met with the FBI and lied to them about your meetings with Joseph Mifsud. Why did you lie to them?

PAPADOPOULOS: As you stated quite eloquently, at the time of my interview with the FBI, I think around three or four days before that, I was at the inauguration attending parties with senior level transition officials.

I understood that there was an incipient investigation into a Russian interference in the 2016 election. And I found myself, as somebody who worked incredibly hard over the past year with the campaign to actually have the candidate Trump be elected.

And then I found myself pinned between the Department of Justice and the sitting president and having probing questions that I thought might incriminate the sitting president.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You were trying to protect the president.

PAPADOPOULOS: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why of course?

PAPADOPOULOS: Because, you know, I didn’t understand really the nature of what was going on. Of course I’m remorseful, I’m contrite and I did lie but, you know, you’re just taken off guard I guess in a such a momentous situation where you’re potentially sitting there, incriminating the president, even though of course I don’t think I did.

You know, that was probably in the back of my mind, of what exactly am I doing here talking about Russian hacking or election interference with the candidate that I just worked for.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You then go to Europe, spend much of the spring in Europe, and do you believe at that time the FBI was still tracking you?

PAPADOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you came back in July when you were arrested upon your return. Tell us about what happened when you arrested and then questioned by Robert Mueller’s agents?

PAPADOPOULOS: The day of the arrest?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.

PAPADOPOULOS: So I was flying in from Athens, via Munich and my touchdown in Dulles Airport in Washington and I'm texting or messaging my girlfriend at the time and I'm letting her know that there's people watching me here at the airport. There's something very odd, you know, there's some gentlemen in a suit and red tie and they're just staring at me while everybody else is exhausted off a transAtlantic flight.

I get to the kiosk where I'm attempting to put my passport in the kiosk to get my visa to re-enter the country and I am -- there's a badge in my face that this is the FBI, you should come with us.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you knew from those first questioning after you returned that you were in serious trouble.

PAPADOPOULOS: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How?

PAPADOPOULOS; What was that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: How? What did they tell you exactly?

PAPADOPOULOS: Basically they told me that if this is what happens when you don't tell us everything about your Russian contacts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you made a pretty quick decision to cooperate with them.

In the course of your meetings with Mueller's team, were you surprised by how much they knew, not only about your activities, but about the campaign?

PAPADOPOULOS: I think the FBI knows, especially if the FBI has an eye on you, they are going to know everything about your life, and supposedly the campaign as well, so I wasn't shocked at all by the information they had about me.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The Mueller's team says you did not offer substantial cooperation, you only gave information when pushed.

PAPADOPOULOS: I did my best, that's all I can say. I offered what I knew. I certainly wasn't going to lie to please anybody. I just stated what I knew and those were the facts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Based on all of your meetings with them over the course of the last several months, and you had at least four meetings with Mueller's team, did you ever meet with Mueller himself?

PAPADOPOULOS: No, I did not.

STEPHANOPOULOS; Based on everything you learned from those meetings, do you believe they have evidence that people inside the Trump campaign, or advisers to President Trump colluded with Russia?

PAPADOPOULOS; I can't really get into details about what I discussed with the special counsel because there's still an ongoing investigation, of course. I can just speak for myself and my verdict I think speaks volumes of how I was involved at this time.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you -- you know, your lawyers describe you as the first domino in this investigation. Do you believe you're going to be the last?

PAPADOPOULOS: I mean of course i'm not the last. There have been other guilty pleas and convictions. I think Paul Manafort is sitting in jail as we speak. So, of course, I'm not the last. But apparently I was the start.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And President Trump had his reaction to your sentencing on Friday as well. I want to show that right there. He had a tweet coming out of this -- we want to put that up on the screen right now. There it is, 14 days for $28 million, $2 million a day. No collusion. A great day for America. What's your response to that?

PAPADOPOULOS: I'm just reading my -- I guess my sentencing. I was sentenced to 14 days in prison for mistakes I made, but I have really no opinion on what the president said about my sentencing.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your lawyer said that President Trump hindered the investigation more than you did. Do you agree?

PAPADOPOULOS: Those are their opinions. I have no idea about that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe -- is President Trump still the candidate, been the kind of candidate, president you expected to be when you signed up?

PAPADOPOULOS: When I signed up I was a foreign policy adviser. I wasn't dealing with social issues or economic issues for that matter. On foreign policy, I think he's done a good job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Done a good job.

PAPADOPOULOS: I think he's done a good job.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How so?

PAPADOPOULOS: I see improvement on the Korean peninsula. I see NATO expanding their capabilities under President Trump. I do see a detente emerging between U.S. and Russia. I think things are stabilizing around the world.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think he tried to block the Russian investigation? And do you agree with his attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department?

PAPADOPOULOS: I think that this investigation should go through the process. I don't think anybody should obstruct anything. And I have no opinion on -- and I actually have no knowledge of the president is obstructing anything. That is just my opinion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you still loyal to President Trump?

PAPADOPOULOS: I'm loyal to my country first and foremost and that's actually why I decided to cooperate with the special counsel. But, of course, it's in everyone's interests for the president to succeed, so, of course, I wish him all the luck in the world and I hope he continues to do good things for this country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you think when the entire Mueller investigation is finished that they will demonstrate that there was collusion between the Trump campaign, between Trump advisers and the Russians?

PAPADOPOULOS: You know what, George, I have no idea. All I can say is that my testimony might have helped move something towards that, but I have no idea.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I want to finally show one tweet you sent around August 26th when you were considering dropping your plea agreement. And I want to put it up on the screen right now. It was a quote from Machiavelli. "it is a double pleasure to deceive the deceiver." Who's deceiving and who is the deceiver?

PAPADOPOULOS: Actually, that's -- people have read too much into that. That's actually a quote I saw from a movie I liked and just decided to tweet it. So I think people read a little too much into it. And actually I wasn't...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Isn't it an odd, odd thing to tweet out when you're facing sentencing for lying to the FBI?

PAPADOPOULOS: People could see it that way. That wasn't, of course, my intention. And there's no reason -- if I wanted to drop my plea agreement, I would have.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And are you confident that when the Mueller investigation is done, it will be shown that you have told the whole truth?

PAPADOPOULOS: I believe so, absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: George Papadopoulos, thanks for your time.

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