Each time President Donald Trump says there’s nothing to the allegations that his presidential campaign colluded last year with Russians to topple Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, more information seems to emerge indicating otherwise.
The Washington Post reported Monday that its reporters have seen emails from a low-level campaign aide indicating his efforts to set up meetings with Russian leaders, including President Vladimir Putin himself.
The documents are part of a 20,000-page trove turned over by the Trump campaign to congressional committees investigating Trump’s Russia ties. The emails were vetted by campaign lawyers.
This latest leak of Russia-related information might not be a smoking gun, but adds more evidence that Russians and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign team were playing footsie with each other — if not outright conspiring against Clinton.
The aide was identified as George Papadopoulos. According to unnamed sources that spoke to the newspaper, the communications raised concern among Trump campaign officials, and advisers questioned the legality of such a move.
“We thought we probably should not go forward with any meeting with the Russians until we have had occasion to sit with our NATO allies,” Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis wrote in a response.
But Papadopoulos endured by making repeated attempts between March and September to pitch the idea of setting up the meetings to discuss Russian relations with the U.S. should Trump win the presidency.
Steven L. Hall, a retired CIA official, told the Post the communications between Russians and Papadopoulos could have been part of a general fishing expedition by Moscow to find ways into the Trump campaign in order to influence the U.S. elections.
“The bottom line is that there’s no doubt in my mind that the Russian government was casting a wide net when they were looking at the American election,” Hall told the Post. “I think they were doing very basic intelligence work: Who’s out there? Who’s willing to play ball? And how can we use them?”
While campaign officials reportedly objected to Papadopoulos' efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russian officials in June 2016, according to emails that were leaked last month.
A spokesman for Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, said the emails are evidence that the claim of Russian collusion is “fake news.”
According to emails leaked in March, Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and close White House adviser, met with Russians last year in Trump Tower to coordinate opposition research against Hillary Clinton. All three men are central to an ongoing Justice Department investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential elections. All three men have denied wrongdoing.