WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump sought Tuesday to distance himself from a former campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to making false statements in a Russia-related case, calling George Papadopoulos a “liar” and “young, low-level volunteer.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders similarly said the former foreign policy adviser had a “minimal role, if one at all” and added that the March 2016 meeting at which Papadopoulos is pictured sitting with Trump may have been their only interaction.
“Papadopoulos is an example of, actually, somebody doing the wrong thing while the president’s campaign did the right thing,” Sanders told reporters. “What Papadopoulos did was lie, and that’s on him, not on the campaign.”
But Papadopoulos, 30, of Chicago, is alleged to have acted in the interest of Trump’s campaign when he misled the FBI about a contact promising “dirt” from the Russians on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
On Monday, he was revealed as one of three charged as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. The ongoing investigation includes an examination of Kremlin meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s inner circle worked with Russia.
Unnamed campaign members are cited in the court documents as having knowledge of Papadopoulos’ outreach efforts.
Papadopoulos’ attorneys, Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley of Chicago, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday but had said Monday they were refraining from discussing their client’s involvement until he is called upon in court.
Separately indicted was former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy against the United States and money laundering. There was no mention of Trump in the 31-page indictment of Manafort and business associate Rick Gates.
The president on Tuesday quoted Manafort’s attorney, Kevin Downing. “As Paul Manafort’s lawyer said, there was ‘no collusion’ and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign,” Trump tweeted.
The indictment, in contrast to Trump’s tweets this week, encompasses alleged wrongdoings by Manafort from “in or about and between 2006 and 2017.”
The president appeared glad Tuesday for at least one aspect of Mueller’s investigation: its impact on the brother of former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Tony Podesta stepped down Monday from the lobbying firm the brothers founded amid reports that Mueller may charge him as well. The Podesta Group is not directly named in the indictment but did work with Manafort in relation to Ukraine.
“The biggest story yesterday, the one that has the Dems in a dither, is Podesta running from his firm. What he know about Crooked Dems is earth shattering,” Trump tweeted.
The Podesta Group did not respond to a Newsday request for comment, but said in a statement to CNN that it was cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
Also Tuesday, Sanders defended comments White House chief of staff John Kelly made Monday night in a Fox News interview. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was “an honorable man” and “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War,” Kelly had told “The Ingraham Angle.”
Asked whether Kelly believes there should have been a compromise on the abolition of slavery, Sanders said: “General Kelly was simply making the point that just because history isn’t perfect, it doesn’t mean that it’s not our history.”
She condemned the news media, saying reporters “push that this is some sort of a racially charged and divided White House,” when it is not.