WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — A former campaign aide to President Donald Trump, with ties to Chicago, has pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents working for special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his probe into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
George Papadopoulos, a graduate of Niles West High School and DePaul University, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5. He pleaded to one count of lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials.
Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer, who now is managing director of consulting firm Berkeley Research Group, said Papadapoulos’ plea signals he’s cooperating with the investigation.
“They’re clearly looking at connections, or relationships, or meetings that happened between the Trump administration and Russian representatives; and certainly on that level, that question, this individual played a role,” he said.
Cramer said it’s a credit to the investigation that Papadopoulos’ arrest and plea did not come out until now.
“The fact that nobody knew about it allows the investigation to continue. In other words, once that indictment is presented, and he pleads guilty, they’re still talking to the people that he gave them leads upon,” he said.
Papadopoulos is the first person to face criminal charges that cite interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“I’m so surprised to see the headline today. I’m like, ‘What?’” John Bean tells CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker.
He lives across the street from the house in Chicago’s Lincoln Square that neighbors say Papadopoulos shares with his mother. That’s about all they know.
The White House downplayed Papadopoulos’ interactions with the Trump campaign.
“He was a volunteer on the campaign and a volunteer on an advisory council that met one time,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders says.
According to court documents, Papadopoulos lied about his meetings with a Russian professor who had ties to the Russian government and who claimed to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton–in the form of thousands of emails. He also lied about his contacts with a female Russian foreign national and his efforts to arrange a meeting between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, according to court filings.
At one meeting with the Russian professor in London, the female Russian national was introduced to Papadopoulos as a relative of Russian president Vladimir Putin with “connections to senior Russian government officials,” according to court documents. In a subsquent email to unnamed Trump campaign advisers, Papadopoulos refered the the woman as “Putin’s niece.”
That meeting took place on March 24, just a few weeks after Papadopoulos was named as a foreign policy aide to the Trump campaign. His primary role, according to investigators, was to develop relationships between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
On March 31, according to court documents, Papadopoulos attended a national security briefing in Washington with President Trump and senior campaign officials. At the meeting, Papadopoulos told the group that he had connections that would be able to arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Putin.
On the same day, the Trump campaign posted a photo of the meeting on Instagram. Papadopolous is seated at the center of the conference table.
Over the course of the next several weeks, emails were exhanged about developing further relations and meetings between Russia and the Trump campaign.
In one of them, the female Russian national stated: ” I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”
Into the summer, Papadopoulos worked to arrange his own visit to Russia on behalf of the campaign. That meeting did not take place.
Trump aides have said he played a limited role in the campaign and no access to the president.
Papadopolous’ attorneys, in a statement, said: “It is in the best interest of our client, George Papadopoulos, that we refrain from commenting on George’s case.
“We will have the opportunity to comment on George’s involvement when called upon by the Court at a later date. We look forward to telling all of the details of George’s story at that time.”