This morning, Donald Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, along with Manafort's former business associate Rick Gates, was indicted on felony charges of conspiracy against the United States.
But an unfamiliar name has suddenly taken centre stage in Mueller's probe: George Papadopoulos, who secretly pled guilty three weeks ago to lying to federal agents about his contacts with Kremlin-connected Russians.
The news of his guilty plea emerged shortly after the indictments against Manafort and Gates were unsealed. The fact that he's cooperating with the special counsel investigation could pose a major problem for the Trump administration, so let's break down what we know about Papadopoulos.
Who Is He?
If you haven't heard of Papadopoulos, you're not alone. CNN reports that the 30-year-old briefly worked as a foreign policy adviser to GOP presidential primary candidate Ben Carson, then joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016. According to a former Trump campaign official, Papadopoulos had "a significant amount" of interaction with the campaign during the 2016 election cycle.
He was detained by federal officials at Dulles Airport in Washington on July 27th this year. On October 5th, he pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents relating to contacts he had with agents of the Russian government while working for the Trump campaign.
But What's His Connection To Russia?
According to The New York Times, a professor with "close ties to the Russian government" told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that Moscow had "dirt" on Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." Papadopoulos allegedly lied to the FBI about the conversation.
Court documents published by the Times also show that at least several senior campaign officials had knowledge of Papadopoulos' interactions with Russia. It's unclear if he specifically mentioned Clinton's emails to anyone in the campaign. The documents also show that the professor, who isn't identified, introduced Papadopoulos to multiple individuals, including a person connected to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a woman who Papadopoulos thought was related to President Vladimir Putin. (Court documents show that she was not.)
NBC News reports that unnamed campaign officials were aware Papadopoulos was trying to set up meetings between Trump and the Russians. One email in the court documents reads: "We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal."
The court papers also show that an unidentified Trump campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos to travel to Russia for an "off-the-record" meeting with Russian officials "if it is feasible."
Why Is This Such A Major Problem For Trump?
As NBC News reports, the court documents pertaining to Papadopoulos suggest that foreign nationals tied to the Russian government sought to establish a relationship with at least one member of the Trump campaign. More importantly, Papadopoulos lied to the FBI when questioned about the interactions.
"Through his false statements and omissions, defendant...impeded the FBI's ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the Campaign and the Russian government's efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election," Mueller's team wrote.
As reported by The New York Times, his plea agreement makes clear that Russia contacted Papadopoulos specifically because of his role as foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. The outlet describes this as "by far the most damning evidence" of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.
The other reason Papadopoulos could pose a major problem for Trump is because he's been cooperating with the special counsel investigation since his July arrest. Furthermore, the court documents make clear that high-ranking campaign officials were aware of Papadopoulos' interactions. Despite Sarah Huckabee Sanders' efforts to downplay his role in the campaign, it's clear that Papadopoulos possesses a lot of intel on Trump and his inner circle. Most importantly, he's already providing it to Mueller.