Sanders denies Trump campaign encouraged Papadopoulos' Russia trip

Olivier Knox
Chief Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday denied that senior staff on President Trump’s 2016 campaign encouraged foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials in Moscow, contradicting a key claim in the former staffer’s sworn statement to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“My understanding is there wasn’t encouragement,” press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters at her daily briefing. “He made multiple attempts at setting up a variety of meetings that were constantly rebuffed.”

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign, according to court records unsealed by Mueller. On Monday, Sanders told reporters that “any actions” that Papadopoulos took “would have been on his own.”

Her comments put her at odds with one key section of Papadopoulos’ unsealed “Statement of Offense.” In that passage, he says that after weeks of discussions about setting up an “off-the-record” meeting with Russian officials, an unnamed “campaign supervisor” said, “I would encourage you” to “make the trip” to Moscow with another campaign foreign policy aide if “feasible.”

A campaign source told Yahoo News that the “supervisor” was Sam Clovis, a conservative radio host who was co-chairman of the campaign. Trump has nominated Clovis to be undersecretary of agriculture for research, education and economics — effectively the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist — although the former economics professor has no background in the hard sciences.

The legal documents do not provide a detailed accounting of how the Trump campaign managed any overtures from Russia, a flashpoint in Mueller’s investigation into whether the future president’s political machine abetted Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

On Tuesday, Sanders said Trump had no plans to withdraw the Clovis nomination. “I’m not aware that any change would be necessary,” she said.