Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on Sunday claimed Attorney General Jeff Sessions was “enthusiastic” about a potential meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, contradicting Sessions’ sworn congressional testimony late last year.
Papadopoulos was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison and a $9,500 fine for lying to the FBI during Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller’s team had sought a longer six-month sentence.
Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” with anchor George Stephanopoulos, Papadopoulos described the March 31, 2016, roundtable meeting on foreign policy in which he was pictured with both Trump and Sessions.
“I explained to them that I come from a think tank background and I work in the energy industry, but I do have a connection that can establish a potential summit between candidate Trump and President Putin,” Papadopoulos said. “[Trump] was open to the idea. And he deferred, of course, to then senior Senator Jeff Sessions, who I remember being quite enthusiastic.”
Papadopoulos’ lawyers have previously said that President Trump “nodded with approval” at the suggestion of a meeting with Putin.
But in November 2017, Sessions testified that he had “pushed back” when Papadopoulos floated the idea of a Trump-Russia meeting.
“I pushed back, I will just say it that way,” Sessions told Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. The attorney general responded, “I don’t recall” when pressed for further details.
On Sunday, while Papadopoulos stopped short of accusing Sessions of lying, he flatly disputed his account.
“My recollection differs from Jeff Sessions’.”
“My recollection differs from Jeff Sessions’,” Papadopoulos told Stephanopoulos.
But not everyone at the Trump campaign was enthusiastic about a Russia meeting, according to Papadopoulos.
“I actually had reached out to [campaign chairman Paul] Manafort and told him look, I have the information that the Russian government might want to host candidate Trump,” Papadopoulos said. “Are you interested or not, or I just don’t want to continue this exercise if it’s fruitless. And as far as I remember, it didn’t seem that Paul Manafort wanted to pursue this meeting.”
Manafort was convicted last month on unrelated bank and tax fraud charges as part of Mueller’s probe.
Papadopoulos said that he had misled federal investigators about his meetings with Russia-connected Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud because he wanted to insulate him from poltical liability after a grueling campaign.
“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 said. “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. 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.”
According to Mueller team’s federal indictment, Papadopoulos was told by Mifsud in April 2016 that Russian officials had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
The defense portrayed Papadopoulos as an eager campaign aide who was in over his head, and pushed back on claims by the prosecution that he had harmed the FBI investigation.
“The president of the United States hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could,” his lawyer said.
On Sunday, Papadopoulos demurred when asked if he agreed that Trump had obstructed the Russia probe, saying only, “I have no idea about that.”
He also described in vivid detail his experience being arrested shortly after landing at Virginia’s Dulles airport, on a flight from Athens.
“I’m texting or messaging my girlfriend at the time and I’m letting her know that there’s people watching me here at the airport,” Papadopoulos said Sunday. “There’s something very odd, you know, there’s some gentlemen in a suit and red tie and they’re just staring at me while everybody else is exhausted off a transatlantic flight.
“I get to the kiosk where I’m attempting to put my passport in the kiosk to get my visa to re-enter the country and I am — there’s a badge in my face that this is the FBI, you should come with us,” he continued. “Basically they told me that this is what happens when you don’t tell us everything about your Russian contacts.”
Fox News’ Adam Shaw and Jake Gibson contributed to this report.