Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos leaves U.S. District Court...

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos leaves U.S. District Court after his sentencing hearing on Friday in Washington. Credit: Getty Images North America / Alex Wroblewski

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with Russian operatives, said Sunday he lied to federal investigators believing in part that he was protecting President Donald Trump.

“I didn’t understand really the nature of what was going on,” Papadopoulos told ABC’s “This Week” when asked about his initial round of questioning in January 2017 by FBI agents probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Of course I’m remorseful, I’m contrite and I did lie but, you know, you’re just taken off guard,” Papadopoulos said. “I guess in such a momentous situation where you’re potentially sitting there, incriminating the president, even though, of course, I don’t think I did. You know, that was probably in the back of my mind, of what exactly am I doing here talking about Russian hacking or election interference with the candidate that I just worked for.”

Asked by host George Stephanopoulos if he was trying to protect Trump by not being forthright with authorities about his contacts with a Russia-connected Maltese professor who had promised additional contacts with high ranking Russian officials, Papadopoulos responded: “Of course.”

“I understood that there was an incipient investigation into a Russian interference in the 2016 election. And I found myself, as somebody who worked incredibly hard over the past year with the campaign to actually have then candidate Trump be elected,” Papadopoulos said. “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.”

Trump has emphatically denied any collusion between his campaign and Russia, and has previously downplayed Papadopoulos' role in his campaign, casting him as a low-level unpaid campaign volunteer.

Papadopoulos said Sunday  then-candidate Trump seemed “open” to the idea of setting up a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the 2016 campaign, when he raised the possibility during a March 2016 foreign policy roundtable with Trump and other campaign advisers.

Papadopoulos said Trump campaign officials were “fully aware” of his attempts to set up meetings with the Russians in 2016, adding that current Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared to be “enthusiastic” about the prospect of a Trump-Putin summit.

"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. "Candidate Trump at the time nodded at me. I don’t think he was committed either way. He was open to the idea. And he deferred, of course, to then senior Senator Jeff Sessions, who I remember being quite enthusiastic."

Papadopoulos' description of Sessions’ enthusiasm contradicts Sessions’ testimony before lawmakers last November, in which he said he “pushed back” against the idea of meeting with Putin.

Asked about Sessions’ account, Papadopoulos said, “All I can say is my recollection differs from his at this point.”

Papadopoulos, 31, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison and fined $9,500 for lying to federal investigators.  

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