George Papadopoulos, the Trump foreign policy aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, initially misled agents out of what he claimed was loyalty to President Donald Trump, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.
Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line, the source said.
“It’s all fake news,” Trump said of any alleged connections in January. “It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”
Papadopoulos met with the FBI agents investigating those alleged ties shortly thereafter, and he later acknowledged that he lied during that meeting about the timing of certain contacts.
According to federal court filings, Papadopoulos initially claimed his contacts with a professor who had deep ties in Russia “occurred before” he became an adviser to the campaign.
“In truth and in fact,” the filings read, “the professor only took interest in defendant Papadopoulos because of his status with the Campaign.”
There also lingering questions about the role Papadopoulos played in the campaign.
After the plea agreement was made public last month, Trump sought to distance himself from Papadopoulos, tweeting that “few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George.”
But the “low level volunteer” made several trips overseas throughout 2016, purportedly on behalf of the campaign, making appearances where he was introduced as a Trump adviser.
In April, he traveled to Israel to speak at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, an appearance arranged by the former Israeli ambassador to Greece. In May, he met in Athens with the president of Greece. In September, he met with officials at the British Foreign Office in London.
During inaugural festivities, Papadopoulos met with advocates for Israeli settlements, telling them “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel.”
In an interview with ABC News, Rep. Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, said he believes Papadopoulos’s campaign credentials changed only when it became clear he was a political liability.
“You’re a senior foreign policy adviser until you do something that exposes the campaign,” Swalwell said, adding that he would like to know who paid for Papadopoulos’s globetrotting.
“It is certainly of deep interest to know whether the Russians were paying for any of Papadopoulos’s travel through Europe during his time with campaign,” he said.