- The former director of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee, JD Gordon, said that he and Jeff Sessions, then the committee’s chairman, “did not know” about George Papadopoulos’ emails. The campaign’s national cochairman, Sam Clovis, brought Papadopoulos onto the campaign and received some of the emails but did not tell Gordon or Sessions about them, Gordon said in an interview. Clovis “should have told me and the senator” about the emails, Gordon said.
The former director of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee said that he and Jeff Sessions, then the committee’s chairman, “did not know” that a low-level adviser “continued to try and arrange” a meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin after Sessions first nixed the idea in March of 2016.
Gordon told Business Insider on Tuesday that he was “surprised to learn” that the 29-year-old adviser, George Papadopoulos, had made multiple inquiries to “other senior members of the campaign who were not in his direct chain of command” about setting up a Trump-Putin meeting.
Papadopoulos told members of the committee during their first meeting on March 31, 2016, that he had contacts in the Russian government who could help arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin.
Sessions shot down the idea, Gordon said. But lawmakers have begun to question whether the former senator perjured himself when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year that he was unaware of any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Papadopoulos “obviously went to great lengths to go around me and Sen. Sessions,” Gordon said on Tuesday. “Presidential campaigns are like that. … I have been senior staff/senior adviser on 3 now … very hard to know what every single person is doing, especially since some folks deliberately go around the chain of command or circumvent it.”
Gordon, who said he spent “thousands of hours on the campaign as the national security adviser in the policy office,” said that “campaign leaders didn’t pay much if any attention” to low-level volunteers like Papadopoulos, “other than trying to ensure they didn’t get the campaign in trouble.”
Papadopoulos a ‘low-level volunteer?’
The White House has attempted to cast Papadopoulos as unimportant because of his status as a “volunteer.” But a former Trump campaign official said reporters should “feel free to push back against the ‘volunteer’ narrative.”
“Most people involved on the campaign were ‘volunteers’ because Trump didn’t want to pay anybody,” the person told Business Insider.
Regardless of his title, Papadopoulos evidently was emboldened enough to email several top Trump advisers – including campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and national chairman Sam Clovis – multiple times after learning in April 2016, from an “overseas professor” with ties to the Kremlin, that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Manafort forwarded one such email to his associate, Rick Gates, saying: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Manafort and Gates were indicted as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Monday for alleged financial crimes and are currently on house arrest.
Gordon says he never received any emails “about any Russia meetings” from Papadopoulos during the campaign, and noted that he has already turned over all of his emails to the House Intelligence Committee.
“George clearly went around us to people who were not in his direct chain of command,” Gordon said. “The Senator and I did not know that George continued to try and arrange such a meeting by reaching out to other senior members of the campaign who were not in his direct chain of command. I only learned the extent of it yesterday.”
Asked how he knew that Sessions “did not know” that George continued to try to arrange the meeting, Gordon replied: “He was my boss on the campaign and among my responsibilities was managing that advisory committee. It’s something we certainly would have discussed.”
He added: “I would have been the one to fix the problem, in conjunction with Sam [Clovis] for anyone he had brought into the team.”
He was encouraged to keep trying
But Clovis, the campaign’s national cochairman who brought Papadopoulos on to the national security committee along with former adviser Carter Page and six others, apparently did the opposite.
He told Papadopoulos he was doing “great work” when the young adviser first emailed him about his Russia connections, according to newly unsealed court documents. When Papadopoulos followed up on May 4, Clovis replied that “there are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen” – but he did not ask Papadopoulos to stop.
And in August, Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos and another unnamed foreign policy adviser to “make the trip” to Russia, “if it is feasible.”
Gordon said on Thursday that he is sure “the senator would have told me” if he had spoken with Clovis about Papadopoulos’ emails.
But he said that Clovis “should have told me and the senator” about Papadopoulos’ continued efforts to arrange the Trump-Putin meeting.
“Though in Sam’s defense, he was extraordinarily busy and my sense in retrospect is he was just being polite to George,” he said. “He is a polite gentleman from Iowa.”