George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign aide, said on Sunday that he felt “pinned” during his fateful interview with FBI officers in January 2017, and that he lied to investigators in an attempt to protect President Donald Trump.
On Friday, Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in federal prison for making false statements to the FBI during the early days of the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. On Sunday, he was interviewed on ABC’s “This Week.”
“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,” Papadopoulos told George Stephanopoulos. “I understood that there was an incipient investigation into 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,” he said. “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.”
Various reports have indicated that statements by Papadopoulos to an Australian official in May 2016 triggered the initial investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Papadopoulos said on Sunday that he believed he did not incriminate Trump in his 2017 talks with law enforcement.
“I didn’t understand really the nature of what was going on,” he said. “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.”
He added: “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.”
The former foreign policy adviser pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his meetings in London with a Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud — making Papadopoulos the first person to admit guilt to Robert Mueller in the special counsel’s sprawling Russia inquiry.
“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,” Papadopoulos said of Mifsud.
Mifsud told Papadopoulos in the spring of 2016 that he had obtained “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, and would claim to have amassed troves of emails connected to Clinton’s campaign, according to Mueller’s prosecutors.
“He sat me down and he was quite giddy,” Papadopoulos said. “And he told me, ‘I have information that the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails.’”
A month before that meeting, the emails of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, were stolen in a data breach. Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers in relation to the crime in July, as well as on charges of cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other liberal targets.
Papadopoulos maintained that he was not made aware of the hacks on Podesta or the DNC, and has testified that he did not tell any Trump campaign officials about his conversation with Mifsud regarding Clinton’s emails.
Papadopoulos said he chose to keep the professor’s claim under wraps because Paul Manafort — shortly after becoming the Trump campaign chairman in May 2016 — quashed the idea of a potential summit between then-candidate Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which Papadopoulos had been trying to broker.
“As far as I remember, it didn’t seem that Paul Manafort wanted to pursue this meeting,” Papadopoulos said on Sunday. “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?”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday it was unlikely that Papadopoulos did not tell other members of the Trump campaign about his talks with Mifsud.
“One thing is fairly clear: This is an ambitious guy who wants to be a player in the Trump campaign,” Warner said of Papadopoulos on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“Trump had chosen him as part of his foreign policy team,” Warner said. “It just stretches, I think, most people’s credibility that, if Papadopoulos had this knowledge and he wanted to try to further ingratiate himself with the campaign, that he wouldn’t have shared that with somebody on the campaign.”
Papadopoulos also said he had “no opinion on” and “no knowledge of” Trump’s alleged attempts to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, and could not answer whether the special counsel would be able to demonstrate coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
“I have no idea,” he said on Sunday. “All I can say is that my testimony might have helped move something towards that, but I have no idea.”
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