Papadopoulos: Trump ‘nodded’ at suggestion of Putin meeting

By ERIC TUCKER

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump “nodded with approval” at the suggestion of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a court filing that seeks leniency for a former campaign aide who lied to the FBI.

Lawyers for George Papadopoulos are seeking probation, saying the foreign policy adviser misled agents during a January 2017 interview not to harm an investigation but rather to “save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master.”

Papadopoulos is a pivotal figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation as the first Trump campaign aide to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors. The revelation that he’d been told by a professor during the campaign that Russia had “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of emails helped trigger the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The 16-page defense memo filed late Friday paints Papadopoulos as an eager-to-please campaign aide who was in over his head, and aims to counter the prosecution’s narrative that Papadopoulos’s deception irreparably damaged the investigation.

The defense lawyers say Papadopoulos was hired by the campaign in March 2016 despite having no experience with Russian or U.S. diplomacy. That month, he traveled to Italy and connected with a London-based professor who introduced him to a woman described as a niece of Putin’s even though that was not true. That professor, Joseph Mifsud, would later tell him that individuals in Moscow possessed “dirt” on Clinton.

When Papadopoulos returned to Washington, he was “eager to show his value to the campaign” and “witnessed his career skyrocketing to unimaginable heights.” At a March 31 meeting of Trump’s national security adviser, Papadopoulos proposed that he could leverage his newfound Russian connections to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.

“While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it,” defense lawyers wrote. That language is a reference to Jeff Sessions, who at the time was a Republican senator from Alabama and key campaign aide and later became the Trump administration’s attorney general.

Sessions, however, told the House Judiciary Committee last November that he resisted the idea of any Russia meeting.

“I pushed back at his trip and I was concerned that he not go off somewhere, pretending to represent the Trump campaign,” Sessions told lawmakers. “He had no authority for that.”