- Newly-reported emails show a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser’s efforts to set up a meeting between then candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Former campaign manager Paul Manafort expressed concern about the proposal and rejected the request.
- Experts say the emails could pose a “devastating” legal entanglement for Manafort.
The ongoing investigation into whether the President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow during the 2016 election gained new traction on Monday, when The Washington Post reported that foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos sent at least six emails during the campaign offering to set up meetings between Trump and Russian leadership.
The first of those emails was sent to seven campaign advisers in March 2016, with the subject line, “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.” Papadapoulos’ requests were reportedly met with hesitancy from multiple campaign officials, including retired Navy Rear Adm. Charles Kubic, who voiced concerns about possible legal violations of US sanctions on Russia and the Logan Act, a law against US citizens conducting unauthorised negotiations with foreign governments.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager at the time and a current subject in the Russia investigation, also expressed concerns about the proposal and rejected Papadopoulos’ request for a Trump-Putin meeting in May 2016.
Manafort’s rejection stands in contrast to his willingness to accept a meeting with a Russian lawyer weeks later in June, a point Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, raised after the story broke.
Mariotti wrote that perhaps the most important implication of the news was that “everyone on those emails was aware of the concerns expressed in the emails about meeting with Russians, including Admiral Kubic’s concern about the legality of meeting with [Russians].”
“If anyone on those emails later met with Russians or accepted aid from them,” Mariotti continued, “the prior emails about concerns could be used to indicate that they knew that the meeting was problematic and potentially illegal but nonetheless persisted.”
The meeting Manafort attended in June did not include Trump, but did include Trump’s son, Donald Jr., and son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Also present were Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who has lobbied extensively against the 2012 Magnitsky Act and who some have tied to the Kremlin; Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian lobbyist and former Soviet military intelligence officer; Russian translator Anatoli Samachornov; and British music publicist Rob Goldstone, who arranged the meeting at the request of Aras and Emin Agalarov, a wealthy Russian family.
‘The legal issues are very similar, if not the same’
One of the main differences between the two meetings that could account for Manafort’s rejection of one and acceptance of the other is that Papadapoulos’ meeting was “pitched as a Trump-level meeting,” said Andrew Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School.
In one email sent to former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowki in April 2016, Papadopoulos said he had gotten “a lot of calls over the past month” about how “Putin wants to host the Trump team when the time is right.”
Papadopoulos followed up on May 4, when he sent Lewandowki and campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis a message he’d received in which Ivan Timofeev, a senior official at the the Russian International Affairs Council, said Russian officials were open to Trump visiting Moscow.
Clovis replied: “There are legal issues we need to mitigate, meeting with foreign officials as a private citizen.”
Papadopoulos later forwarded the message to Manafort, who had just been named Trump’s new campaign manager. “Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss,” Papadopoulos said, according to the Post.
Manafort forwarded the email to an associate and said, “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips.” Gates and Manafort then agreed to have someone else handle the response, indicating that it did not require a reply from a senior official like Manafort.
Papadapoulos — a lower level campaign aide who told campaign officials he was acting as an intermediary for the Russian government — proposing a Trump-Putin meeting is “a very different calculus” than the president’s son suggesting a meeting with a Russian lawyer, Wright said, and that may have factored into Manafort’s decision-making, leading him to reject Papadopoulos’ proposed meeting and accept Trump Jr.’s.
Still, he added, “the legal issues” between the two meetings “are very similar, if not the same,” as far as possible violations of the Logan Act and US sanctions against Russia go.
‘Devastating evidence in a trial’
Manafort’s spokesperson told the Post that Papadopoulos’ email chain is “concrete evidence that the Russia collusion narrative is fake news.”
“Mr. Manafort’s swift action reflects the attitude of the campaign — any invitation by Russia, directly or indirectly, would be rejected outright,” his spokesperson, Jason Maloni, said.
However, the meeting Manafort attended last June with Trump Jr. and Veselnitskaya was described as being “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Manafort was presumably aware of that fact, since he was copied on the email chain in which details of the meeting were provided to Trump Jr. by Goldstone, the music publicist who first requested the meeting.
“If you’re Paul Manafort and your defence is to say, ‘I didn’t think taking this meeting was a problem,’ and then you have the prosecutor showing the jury emails that were sent a month earlier where people are raising precisely those same legal concerns — that’s such devastating evidence in a trial,” Wright said.
“I expect those earlier emails to be used against Manafort, who is already in the hot seat after the FBI executed a search warrant at his home,” he wrote, referring to Papadopoulos’ correspondence. “Although Manafort’s lawyer suggests that the emails exonerate him, they appear problematic in light of the later meeting.”
Manafort has come under increased public scrutiny in recent days, especially after it was reported last week that the FBI conducted a predawn raid on his home in July.
FBI agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller left Manafort’s home “with various records,” according to The Post, which first reported the story.
Manafort has been cooperating with investigators’ requests for relevant documents. But the search warrant obtained by the FBI in July indicates that Mueller managed to convince a federal judge that Manafort would try to conceal or destroy documents subpoenaed by a grand jury.
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