Ex-Trump campaign aide meets with House panels in private
WASHINGTON (AP) — George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who triggered the Russia investigation, made his first appearance Thursday before congressional investigators.
Papadopoulos, who was sentenced in September to two weeks in prison as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe, was meeting in closed session with two GOP-led House committees. It is one of several interviews the GOP-led House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform panels are conducting as part of their investigation into partisan bias at the Justice Department.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. Since he was sentenced, he has been eager to talk publicly. He has spent many nights on Twitter, along with his wife, venting anger with the FBI and implying that he was set up in the investigation.
He has said that he would like to talk to Congress about his "suspicious encounters" with an Australian diplomat and a professor who were links to his case. His lawyer sent a letter to the committees this week in which he listed nine people related to his case that he wants to discuss in the interview, including both of those men.
The lawyer, Caroline Polisi, told the committees that Papadopoulos would prefer to testify out in the open.
"As you know, in the spirit of full transparency, Mr. Papadopoulos had requested that his interview be public," Polisi wrote in an Oct. 22 letter obtained by The Associated Press. "We understand that is not an option at this time, but would welcome the opportunity to do so at a later date."
Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump's campaign, has been a central figure in the Russia investigation dating back before Mueller's May 2017 appointment. He was the first person to plead guilty in Mueller's probe and the first Trump campaign adviser to be sentenced. His case was also the first to detail a member of the Trump campaign having knowledge of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election while it was ongoing.
According to a sweeping indictment, Russian intelligence had stolen emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign and other Democratic groups by April 2016, the same month Papadopoulos was told by the professor, Joseph Mifsud, that Russian officials had told him they had "dirt" on Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." According to a New York Times report last year, Papadopoulos then told the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, who tipped off the FBI.
Papadopoulos later lied about those contacts. He told a judge during sentencing that he was "deeply embarrassed and ashamed" of his lies.
The interview was sparsely attended by lawmakers, who are on recess in the weeks before the November election. Republican and Democratic staffers were in the room.
Papadopoulos has also said he wants to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. A House Intelligence Committee investigation wrapped up earlier this year, with Republicans saying that there was no evidence of collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump's campaign.
North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who is close to President Donald Trump and has been one of his strongest defenders, said going into the meeting with Papadopoulos that he thinks "what we'll find is this is not someone who was colluding with Russia, quite the opposite."
Democrats have said the GOP investigation is an attempt to discredit Mueller's investigation. Headed into the interview, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said it was a farce.
"I see this whole thing as a footnote to a sideshow of a wild goose chase," Raskin said.