George Papadopoulos, the first Trump campaign official to plead guilty in the ongoing Russia probe, helped write a pro-Russia speech that Trump delivered during the infamous Mayflower Hotel meeting in April 2016.
When news broke that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty last month to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Russian officials, the White House immediately tried to minimize his involvement in the campaign.
But a new report from The New York Times suggests that, in addition to maintaining regular contact with top campaign officials, Papadopoulos also helped write a major foreign policy speech for Trump — one that is now at the center of the ongoing Russia investigation.
Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as a member of the foreign policy team, a position he held for the duration of the campaign. During that time, he represented then-candidate Trump at multiple international forums and meetings, and acted as an unofficial intermediary between Trump associates and high-ranking Russian officials.
Just three days after joining the campaign, Papadopoulos sent an email with the subject line "Meeting with Russian Leadership - Including Putin," in which he offered to use his contacts in Russia to arrange "a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump."
This was the first of at least half a dozen requests by Papadopoulos for Trump or other campaign officials to travel to Moscow to meet with Putin.
All of this contradicts recent statements by Trump and his apologists, who have desperately tried to downplay Papadopoulos' role as a campaign advisor, referring to him as a "low-level volunteer" and a "coffee boy" who "had nothing to do with the campaign."
While there is no evidence that the Trump campaign took Papadopoulos up on his offer to arrange a meeting with the Kremlin, the Times' reporting shows that the campaign embraced him with open arms just as he was trying to set up the Moscow meeting.
According to the Times, Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, who is now a top White House aide, and helped edit a major foreign policy speech that Trump delivered in April 2016.
Trump only delivered one such speech in April 2016, at the Mayflower Hotel — one which was heavily pro-Russia and read like a wish-list straight from the Kremlin.
Among other things, Trump called American foreign policy "foolish and arrogant" and suggested that our allies in NATO were not "paying their fair share."
"The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense, and if not, the U.S. must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves," Trump said, suggesting that the U.S. may decide to leave the NATO alliance. "We have no choice."
At one point, Trump's speech focused specifically on America's relationship with Russia — a relationship that Trump expressed interest in fostering:
We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China. We have serious differences with these two nations, and must regard them with open eyes, but we are not bound to be adversaries. We should seek common ground based on shared interests.
Russia, for instance, has also seen the horror of Islamic terrorism. I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.
Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.
By process of elimination, the Mayflower speech is the only one to which the Times could have been referring.
So why does this matter?
The fact that the Trump campaign had Papadopoulos write such a speech just as he was trying to set up a meeting between the campaign and Russian officials suggests that Trump associates were receptive to his message. Even if Trump campaign officials didn't go through with the meeting, this suggests that they were not opposed to Papadopoulos' efforts to arrange it — rather, it appears that they were only uncomfortable with the optics.
The Trump campaign knew that Papadopoulos was in contact with Russian officials. They knew he was advocating for the Kremlin. But instead of firing him, they allowed him to prepare a pro-Russia speech that Trump himself delivered — a move that would send a signal of favor to the Kremlin.
Also of note: The speech was delivered at a time when Papadopoulos was telling Miller, now a top White House aide, that Russia had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.
Taken together, this suggests that the Trump campaign may well have embraced Papadopoulos as an intermediary to the Kremlin. In this light, the pro-Russia speech that Trump delivered in April 2016 could be perceived as a private signal to the Kremlin that the campaign was on board.
Perhaps this explains why Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied about his meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel on the same day Trump delivered the speech. Perhaps this also has something to do with why U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating a "private encounter between Trump and his aides and the Russian envoy" at the same event.
And perhaps this also explains why Trump is so eager to distance himself from Papadopoulos — and why it will be so difficult for him to do so.