Corey Lewandowski has always been somewhat on the fringes of congressional and federal investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.
But new questions surrounding what he knew about the dealings of former campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos surfaced this week, with Lewandowski acknowledging for the first time that he personally approved of a heavily-scrutinized July 2016 trip Page took to Moscow and telling the press that he just didn’t know if Papadopoulos had contacted him about linking the campaign up with the Russian government.
These additional details paint a murky picture. But they puncture Lewandowski’s previous blanket denials that no campaign staffer he knew of “ever had a contact with a Russian agent or a Russian affiliate or anybody that has to do with Russia.”
In a Thursday phone interview with TPM, Lewandowski expanded on his recent claim that his memory of the Moscow trip discussion was jogged by the release this week of Page’s lengthy testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
“He said in that testimony, I believe, and you can go back and read it, that he was explicitly told that he could not travel on behalf of the campaign and make sure that he did not represent the campaign in any way, shape or form,” Lewandowski said.
Though Lewandowski previously denied ever meeting Page and explicitly said that he “granted nobody permission” to go to Russia, he said that reviewing the transcript reminded him that this interaction transpired. When Politico first reported his approval of the trip back in March, Lewandowski said he didn’t “remember” if he’d received Page’s email request because he was so inundated with correspondence at the time it was sent.
Lewandowski takes a similar line on possible communications with Papadopoulos. The former campaign adviser’s plea agreement with the federal government, unsealed last week, alleged that a number of senior officials were kept in the loop about Papadopoulos’ contacts with his Russian connections. The Washington Post identified Lewandowski as the “high-ranking campaign official” who allegedly received five such communications from Papadopoulos between April and June 2016.
Papadopoulos’ missives include alerts about “Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump”; offers to put the campaign in touch with individuals in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who were seeking “cooperation” with Trump; and an overture from Papadopoulos asking if he could travel to Russia in Trump’s stead.
Lewandowski told TPM he’s not so sure he’s the one who received them.
“I have not seen any emails from George Papadopoulos to me that I’m aware of regarding anything that would relate to that,” he told TPM. “I believe he went through his contacts on the campaign and I was not that contact.”
Pressed on whether he was denying he was the “high-ranking campaign official,” Lewandowski echoed comments he made to NBC last week, saying, “I don’t think that’s been determined.”
So he never received the emails?
“What I’m saying is I don’t think there’s been—anybody has confirmed that I was the person George Papadopoulos was referring to because that has not been confirmed, to the best of my knowledge,” Lewandowski said. “And nobody asked me about them.”
The final message to the “high-ranking campaign official” that was catalogued in the charges against Papadopoulos was allegedly sent on June 19, 2016. Lewandowski stepped down from the campaign the next day after losing a protracted power struggle to then-adviser Paul Manafort, who took over as campaign chairman.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has requested copies of all of the Trump campaign’s Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to mid-2015, has interviewed Lewandowski, but he told TPM he has not yet received any interview requests from either the House Intelligence Committee or special counsel Robert Mueller.
Mueller’s office declined TPM’s request for comment, while a House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman did not respond.
This story has been updated to include responses from the commission vice chair Kris Kobach and its executive director Andrew Kossack.
A Democratic member of President Trump’s shady voter fraud commission is suing the commission for allegedly violating federal government transparency laws.
“The Commission’s operations have not been open and transparent, not even to the commissioners themselves, who have been deprived access to documents prepared by and viewed by other commissioners,” Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap (D) alleged in a complaint filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, DC.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s election, George Papadopoulos appeared in front of a Greek-American forum in Astoria, New York, and promised, in Greek, that he would personally counsel Trump to ensure “new relations, better relations, between Greece, America, and Cyprus.”
“Mr. Trump and our team thought that it is very important for me to come here and talk to the Federation,” Papadopoulos told the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, as translated for TPM from a YouTube video of the event. “We might not win in New York, but we want Greek Americans to know what people in our team think, what Mr. Trump thinks, and what will happen on the day and the days after the man wins on Tuesday, for Greece and Cyprus.”
Such an appearance wouldn’t be unusual for a typical campaign surrogate for a typical presidential candidate. But Papadopoulos’ role as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign has taken an unexpected turn. With the revelation last week that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the special counsel’s Russia probe, the White House and its allies have denied that he had any real campaign involvement beyond a March 2016 group meeting with Trump.
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“My understanding is the only interaction he ever had was the one meeting that the advisory council gathered together, where he was in a large group of other people in the room,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said last week. “And to my knowledge, that’s the only interaction they ever had. ”
What exactly Papadopoulos was up to in 2016 — and particularly in the months after the GOP convention — is still shrouded in mystery. But what has emerged in new reporting and resurfaced media appearances during that time is that the jet-setting 30-year-old was quick to claim influence with Trump. He suggested to foreign audiences that he was going to play a key role in advising the new administration, even as few paid attention to him in United States after he was initially named to the campaign.
According to the court filings in the case by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Papadopoulos, who called himself an energy consultant, spent his first few months affiliated with the campaign living in London. During that time, he communicated with three individuals presenting themselves as tied to the Russian government. One of those individuals, a London-based professor, Papadopoulos first met while on a trip to Italy about a week before being named as a Trump adviser.
On July 22, when the Republican National Convention had wrapped up and the first round of Wikileaks hacked Democratic emails had dropped, the court filings go mostly mum on Papadopoulos’ activities.
Here’s what we know about what Papadopoulos was up to from that period onward:
July 20, 2016: Cleveland
Papadopoulos appears on panel hosted by the American Jewish Committee in Cleveland, where the GOP convention is being held, joined by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL). A picture from the event is currently Padapolous’ Facebook background photo.
Kenneth Bandler, a spokesperson for the American Jewish Committee, told TPM that Papadopoulos “identified himself as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, but he was not representing the Trump campaign on the panel.”
August 15, 2016
Papadopoulos trail goes cold, at least publicly, for the month after the convention. According to court docs, Sam Clovis, the campaign official who brought Papadopoulos on as an adviser, communicates to him around Aug. 15 that he would “encourage” Papadopoulos to take a trip he had been pitching to the campaign to meet with Russian officials.
Clovis’ attorney told the Wall Street Journal that his client, a “polite gentleman from Iowa,” was just expressing “courtesy and appreciation.”
Early-to-mid September 2016: London
Papadopoulos tells a reporter with whom he is corresponding that he’s traveling abroad, and around Sept. 13 he says he’s in London.
According to the Washington Post, he used his trip to London to ask British officials to meet with senior government officials. He ultimately is granted a meeting with mid-level official at the Foreign Office in London, and Papadopoulos mentions to the official that he had been in contact with top Russian government officials, the Washington Post reported
A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed the meeting to the BBC, calling it “normal diplomatic business” as the office seeks “to build links with figures in both the Democratic and Republican presidential campaigns.”
Mid-to-late September 2016: New York
Papadopoulos is in New York, where sometime between Sept. 22-25, he meets with Ksenia Baygarova, a reporter for the privately-owned Russian news outlet Interfax.
He initially suggests they meet at Trump Tower, but ultimately they conduct the interview at a hotel.
The interview, published Sept. 30, describes Papadopoulos as one of Trump’s “foreign political advisors” whose opinions do “not necessarily coincide” with the candidate’s (a disclaimer included at Papadopoulos’ request).
The interview takes place after Papadopoulos had sent written answers to questions the reporter previously had provided him. He refuses to answer any additional questions and only allows minor changes to the written answers he’s already provided, Baygarova told TPM.
“He sounded a little bit inexperienced, but very ambitious, and I had a feeling that he is afraid to make any change into the written text without an approval of somebody else,” Baygarova said, making her think that he had a supervisor at the campaign to whom he was reporting.
Also while in New York, Papadopoulos meets with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, who was in town for the United Nations General Assembly. A spokesman for the Greek embassy confirmed the meeting to Washington Post and said the meeting was set up as part of the embassy’s typical outreach to Greek Americans “hoping they have a sentimental attachment to Greece and that we can connect.”
October 1, 2016
Papadopoulos sends his Interfax interview to the London-based professor, according to the Mueller court documents. Papadopoulos also sent the interview to other reporters with whom he had been corresponding.
October 7, 2016
Papadopoulos is quoted as a foreign policy adviser to Trump in a policy paper written by freelance journalist Ariel Ben Solomon for the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Israel. (Papadopoulos had participated in a lunch at the center back in in the spring of 2016, where Trump’s views on international affairs were a topic of discussion.)
Papadopoulos first reached out to Solomon in 2014 via LinkedIn, Solomon told TPM. But their correspondence picked up in September 2016 and continued until before the election, when Papadopulos went quiet. Based on what Papadopoulos said in the correspondence, Solomon said “it was clear” he was involved in the campaign, but he wouldn’t go into any more detail.
“I didn’t get much from him about [the campaign],” Solomon said, adding their correspondence was about “professional” matters.
Late October 2016
According to the accounts of some Greek reporters who had been in touch with Papadopoulos, he tells them he has had a falling out of sorts with the campaign, but his relationship with the campaign is mended a week or so later.
Papahelas offered the lowdown on the rumors in Greece:
In the meantime, I started hearing complaints from all sorts of people regarding Papadopoulos’s attitude. He had acquired a new status in Athens and was widely regarded as being the key to having Trump’s ear. He was bestowed with awards, wined and dined by prominent Athenians and even appointed to the judging committee of a beauty pageant on a Greek island. I had expected him to get a job at the State Department as it became clear after the elections that Trump did not have enough people of his own to staff hundreds of political positions.
TPM has been unable to confirm independently Papadopoulos’ alleged beauty pageant judging gig.
November 6, 2016: New York
Papadopoulos is back in New York for a panel at the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.
A Facebook event for the panel calls him the keynote speaker and says the topic is “What new will a Trump presidentship bring to US and to our relations with Greece and Cyprus?”
According to a video of his remarks posted to YouTube, Papadopoulos tells the audience that “Mr. Trump and our team thought that it is very important for me to come here and talk to the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York.”
(TPM had this and other videos translated by Maria Mytilinaki Kennedy, a Thessaloniki-based translator.)
Papadopoulos acknowledges that Trump has not gone into specifics on his positions affecting Greece, and says that Trump is learning about those issues gradually as he goes.
“As his counselor, as a Greek-American who knows these issues inside out, since I was little, I will do everything I can, personally as a counselor, so that the man, President Trump, knows them inside out, so that we see new relations, better relations, between Greece, America, and Cyprus, that we have ever seen here in America,” Papadopoulos says.
November 9, 2016
After Trump’s election, Papadopoulos gets a personal shoutout on Twitter from Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, whom Papadopoulos met on a trip to Greece in the spring of 2016.
Συγχαρητήρια στον νέο πρόεδρο Τραμπ σημαντική η θέση πλέον του Ελληνοαμερικανού Γιώργου Παπαδόπουλου για την Ελλάδα pic.twitter.com/tYDkSqPH7t
Papadopoulos travels to Greece, where he signals to government officials that he’ll be a key player in the new administration, even though it appears no official position had been offered to him.
He gives a speech at a conference of Greek mayors in Thessaloniki where he says that the United States “anticipates a close relationship with Greece.” In interviews with local media outlets he says that Trump should visit Greece, but with the caveat that “I cannot speak for Mr. Trump at this moment. But I would really like that as a counsel, yes.”
Nonetheless, he suggests to local media that he is playing a role putting together the new administration.
“Right now we are gradually organizing the new administration. We do not have the complete team figured out,” Papadopoulos says, when asked about a dispute between Greece and Macedonia.
“In about a month, when we know who will be in each position, then we will know, but today unfortunately I cannot inform you about what Mr. Trump will think about the Macedonian issue, the Aegean, Cyprus, Greece…” he says.
“As his counselor, I come here to show that Mr. Trump and the new administration see Greece as a friend,” he adds.
Papadopoulos, the Washington Post reported, meets with a group of Israelis involved in the West Bank settler movement and films a video documenting the confab for the Israelis.
“We had an excellent meeting with Yossi and we hope that the people of Judea and Samaria” — the name used by the Israeli right for the West Bank — “will have a great 2017,” Papadopoulos said, according Washington Post’s report of the video. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel.”
January 27, 2017: Chicago
Papadopoulos is interviewed by the FBI as part of its Russia investigation, according to court filings. Papadopoulos later pleads guilty to lying to the FBI in this interview about certain Russia-related contacts during the campaign.
February 16, 2017
Papadopoulos interviews with the FBI again, according to court filings. The next day he deletes the Facebook account he had been using to communicate with the Russian-affiliated contacts, and a few days later he also gets a new cell phone number.
July 27, 2017: Virginia
Papadopoulos is arrested at the Dulles airport coming off a flight from Munich. He’s released the next day on the condition he limits his travel between the D.C. area and Chicago, his hometown, according to court materials.
The federal judge overseeing the financial crimes case against former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on Wednesday issued a gag order preventing everyone involved or potentially involved from talking to the press.
“The parties, any potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses, are hereby ORDERED to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in her order.
Jackson said it was intended to ensure the defendants’ right to a fair trial and that selected jurors are not “tainted by pretrial publicity.”
As part of his broader probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion by Americans, Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained a grand jury indictment against Manafort and Gates for alleged money laundering, tax evasion and failing to disclose lobbying activities for foreign politicians.
At a hearing last Thursday, Jackson clearly signaled her disapproval of grandstanding by the attorneys in the case, warning them against making their arguments “on the courthouse steps” and giving them until Wednesday to file motions opposing the gag order. No parties involved in the case did so.
Even before the order was issued, Jackson’s initial warning seemed to deter attorneys from speaking out. Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, told reporters that the case was “ridiculous” after his client’s initial appearance in front of a magistrate judge on Monday. After the Thursday hearing, he and Manafort departed in silence.
Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday night that he now remembers receiving an email from Carter Page about a trip to Moscow despite claiming in March that he did not grant Page permission to take the trip.
Page told the House Intelligence Committee last week that he informed Lewandowski in an email about his plans to travel to Moscow in July 2016. Page said that Lewandowski approved of the trip as long as Page did not go as a representative of the Trump campaign.
Back in March, Lewandowski distanced himself from Page when the former campaign adviser first claimed that the Trump campaign had approved the Moscow trip. Lewandowski told Fox News in March that he had never met Page and told USA Today that he did not grant anyone permission to travel to Russia.
“I’m very clear about this,” he told USA Today. “I granted nobody permission to do that.”
He was less sure whether he emailed with Page, telling USA Today in March, “I can’t say unequivocally I’ve never responded to an email to somebody.”
Lewandowski changed his tune slightly on Tuesday night.
Fox News’ Martha MacCallum asked Lewandowski to “reconcile” Page’s testimony with his claims from March.
“There is no reconciliation necessary,” Lewandowski replied. “To the best of my recollection, I don’t know Carter Page. To the best of my knowledge, Carter Page never had a DonaldTrump.com email address, had no formal role in the campaign that I’m aware of, was never compensated by the campaign.”
He then appeared to say that he did allow Page to take the Moscow trip.
“And so when a low-level volunteer decides that they want to take a trip overseas and doesn’t report to me or work for the organization, what jurisdiction would I potentially have of telling him or her they can or could not travel overseas?” Lewandowski told MacCallum. “All I was clear about was, if you are going to travel, please do not pretend to be part of the campaign and say that you are part of the campaign.”
MacCallum asked Lewandowski to confirm that he does remember the email from Page. In response, Lewandowski said that his memory has just been “refreshed” but that he was too busy at the time to pay much attention to the email.
“Well, no — you have to remember, in the context of the campaign world – now, my memory has been refreshed — but to be clear, from what I understand and what I recall, that email was sent on June 19th of 2016, so about 18 months ago,” he said. “It also happened to be Father’s Day on a Sunday, and it also happened to be the day prior to me being terminated from the campaign, so with all due respect, there were many other things on my mind that day other than trying to understand why a volunteer was telling me he may or may not be traveling outside the country.”
MacCallum asked once more if Lewandowski remembered the email. In response he said that he did not remember the email “at the time” but now recalls seeing it.
“What I recall is now seeing that email has been brought back to my attention. I didn’t recall it at the time,” Lewandowski said.
At the urging of President Donald Trump, CIA director Mike Pompeo met with former NSA official and Russian email hack skeptic William Binney in October, according to a report published Tuesday by Intercept. In addition to pushing a sketchy theory at odds with the consensus conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community, Binney “mentioned the case of Seth Rich to Pompeo during their meeting,” the Intercept reported.
Trump told Pompeo that if he “want[ed] to know the facts,” he should talk to Binney, Binney told The Intercept. A senior intelligence source confirmed the meeting to the publication.
The pressure from Trump appears to publicly undermine the American intelligence community’s own assessment of the DNC hack and subsequent phishing and disinformation campaigns, a move that is unlikely to endear Trump to the CIA or NSA, which already regard him with deep suspicion.
At least five Trump campaign officials were aware of Carter Page’s plans to travel to Moscow in July 2016 — a trip that continues to bring intense scrutiny to President Trump and made Page a sought-after witness in the various probes into Russia election meddling.
A transcript of testimony Page gave to the House Intel Committee last week that was released Monday night surfaces new details about what he told the campaign about the trip, and how he now is explaining what occurred while his was in Moscow.
The House Intelligence Committee on Monday night released the full, unclassified transcript that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s provided in closed-door testimony last week.
This release was specifically requested by Page, who spent months going back and forth with lawmakers over the terms of his testimony and which requested documents he would agree to produce. The former Trump foreign policy aide met with the Senate Intelligence Committee last week as well, and sat for some 10 hours of interviews with the FBI about his contacts with Russia in multiple interviews this spring.
Page has consistently dismissed investigations into that country’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, referring to them as a “witch hunt.”
A barrage of reports over the weekend divulged what was framed as a major new development in the Russia investigation: former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page admitted that he met with a senior Kremlin official during a July 2016 trip to Moscow.
But we already knew this detail. In an interview with the Washington Post over a year ago, Page acknowledged that he met and shook hands with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during a graduation event at the New Economic School, where both men were invited to give speeches.
It is Page’s subsequent downplaying of that encounter that made it seem like a new revelation when reports emerged that Page divulged the encounter in his lengthy closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee late last week. By repeatedly insisting he met mostly with “scholars” and had no formal meetings with Russian government officials on his Moscow jaunt, Page turned his run-in with Dvorkovich into red meat for hawk-eyed reporters looking for any discrepancy in how Trump campaign staffers describe their contacts with Russia.
In text messages to TPM on Monday, Page reiterated that he “covered this irrelevant point” in that September 2016 interview with the Post and that the renewed focus on the meeting was a “complete waste of time.” He added that he had “moved on to more important things.”
A review of that original story shows that his description of the run-in has stayed consistent. He volunteered to Post columnist Josh Rogin that he met and shook hands with Dvorkovich at the event in an “exchange of pleasantries.” On Friday, he told the New York Times that he said “a very brief hello to a couple of people,” including a “senior person” who he later told CNN was Dvorkovich.
What seems to have gotten Page in trouble is his overly strict definition of what constitutes a “meeting.” In his many conversations with the press over the past year, Page adamantly denied that he ever met with Russian government officials over the course of the 2016 campaign.
Asked by PBS in February if he’d had “any meetings with Russian officials in or outside of Russia” in 2016, Page replied, “no meetings, no meetings. I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation—the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.”
As the Times noted, in multiple conversations with the newspaper about his Moscow trip he either denied meeting with any Russian government figures or avoided the question by saying he met with “mostly scholars.”
These blanket denials came back to bite him before, when he was forced to admit in March that he had also exchanged a quick hello with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. The situation played out again this weekend because Page has insisted these encounters with high-level Kremlin figures were not long or involved enough to qualify as “meetings.”
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates will remain under house arrest for at least a few more days while their attorneys work out an agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team on a bond package that would permit their release.
The negotiations over the conditions of pretrial release for Manafort and Gates has dragged into a second week. At a hearing Monday, the federal judge presiding over the case signaled that she was ready to impose a curfew, GPS monitoring and travel restrictions if the government and the defense attorneys couldn’t come to a deal.