WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump on Tuesday downplayed the role of his former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, calling him merely a “young, low level volunteer,” whom he claimed “few people knew.”
The president’s Tuesday morning tweets were his first comments about Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about being offered “dirt” from the Russian government regarding Trump’s 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, according to a federal indictment unsealed Monday.
“Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” Trump tweeted.
Papadopoulos served on Trump’s foreign policy advisory council during his campaign, a group led by then-Trump adviser Jeff Sessions, who is now attorney general. When announcing the team in March of 2016, Trump praised him as “an excellent guy.”
The discovery that Papadopoulos had actively tried to obtain information from Russian officials came as special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials during last year’s election made its biggest moves yet. In addition to Papadopoulos, who is now cooperating with the investigation, Mueller’s team also indicted Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
White House officials and Trump allies have swiftly sought to distance the president from the revelations by minimizing the campaign officials’ involvement in Trump’s campaign: a familiar — and at times, absurd — line of defense.
On Tuesday, former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo told CNN that Papadopoulos was just “a coffee boy” for the campaign.
When asked about a photograph showing Papadopoulos at a meeting with Trump and Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Monday dismissed it, saying that “the president has thousands of photographs with millions of people.”
Of Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman, Sanders said he was “brought in to lead the delegate process, which he did, and was dismissed not too long after that” — omitting the time that he spent leading Trump’s campaign.
Trump on Tuesday reiterated that Manafort’s indictment vindicated him because the conspiracy and money laundering charges against Manafort “took place long before he came to the campaign.”
However, the indictment, which details how Manafort concealed profits from lobbying for pro-Russia groups, covers activities up to and including this year.
Trump again insisted that Manafort’s charges indicate “no collusion,” citing Manafort’s lawyer. He also attacked the “fake news” and called for an investigation into Democrats.
In a subsequent tweet, Trump attempted to divert attention from Monday’s revelations by focusing on congressional Republicans’ push to pass tax legislation by the end of the year.
Trump seethed at Monday’s news, according to The Washington Post, “fuming” and expressing “exasperation and disgust” while watching television reports about the indictments.
In more tweets on Tuesday, Trump attempted to change the conversation to what he called “the biggest story yesterday,” Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta leaving his firm after it was implicated in Manafort’s indictment, which Trump-friendly Fox News emphasized in its coverage of the story. Podesta’s brother is former Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
This story has been updated with additional tweets from Trump.