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Former Trump Adviser Admits To Seeking 'Dirt' On Clinton From Russians, Lying To FBI

George Papadopoulos, who worked for President Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about meeting a professor with Russian ties who had promised to provide "dirt" on Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Papadopoulos, 30, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5, in an agreement that was unsealed on Monday after Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was taken into federal custody. Manafort was indicted along with his top deputy, Rick Gates, on charges ranging from conspiracy against the United States to conspiracy to launder money. News of all the charges was released by special counsel Robert Mueller's team at the Justice Department.

The guilty plea and accompanying documents are evidence of the earliest connection so far between Trump campaign officials and individuals close to the Russian government who sought to influence the 2016 election. The court papers are also the first official account of those ties to be provided by Mueller's investigative team; for months, news of such contacts had been attributed to anonymous sources in media reports.

On his LinkedIn page, Papadopoulos lists his credentials as an economic and political consultant, citing his work for both Trump and Ben Carson. He quotes Trump as saying about him, "George is an oil and gas consultant; excellent guy."

Court papers describe Papadopoulos using email to relay overtures from Russia's government inviting Trump to visit Moscow. In response, a figure in the Trump campaign identified only as "High-Ranking Campaign Official" referred Papadopoulos to another official because "[h]e is running point."

In a separate email thread, court papers say, one campaign official forwarded Papadopoulos' email to another, writing, "Let[']s discuss. 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."

After Papadopoulos said that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had widened its invitation to say that if Trump couldn't attend an "off the record" meeting another campaign representative might attend, a response came: A person identified as the Trump "Campaign Supervisor" eventually told Papadopoulos, "I would encourage you" to make the trip.

Despite that approval, the court documents note, the trip Papadopoulos proposed "did not take place."

The special counsel's office says Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about "the timing, extent, and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials."

Papadopoulos told the FBI that he had been in contact with the "overseas professor" before joining the Trump campaign — when in fact, he was already working with Trump, Mueller's Justice Department team says in court documents. The records also say that the professor "only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign."

Papadopoulos told agents that the professor had told him the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, according to court documents. He met with the professor around March 14, after joining the Trump campaign, the Justice Department says. More than a month later, the professor told Papadopoulos that the damaging information was in the form of "thousands of emails."

That conversation took place "on or about April 26, 2016, when defendant ... had been a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign for over a month," according to the Statement of Offense that was released Monday. As part of the plea deal, Papadopoulos signed papers certifying those statements as being fair and accurate.

Papadopoulos also described meeting a woman through the professor whom court documents describe as a "female Russian national" but whom Papadopoulos had referred to in an email as "Putin's niece."

In a footnote, the document adds, "Defendant PAPADOPOULOS later learned that the Female Russian National was not in fact a relative of President Putin. In addition, while defendant PAPADOPOULOS expected that the Professor and the Female Russian National would introduce him to the Russian Ambassador in London, they never did."

A timeline of the interactions between Papadopoulos and the Russian representatives are recounted in the Statement of Offense. Here's a selection of the entries:

Papadopoulos' role in the Trump campaign

Early March 2016: Papadopoulos learned he would be a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign. He lived in London at the time. On or about March 6, 2016, a supervisory campaign official (the "Campaign Supervisor") told Papadopoulos that a key foreign policy goal for the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia.

Papadopoulos meets the professor and the female Russian national

"On or about March 14, 2016, while traveling in Italy, [Papadopoulos] met an individual who was a professor based in London (the 'Professor'). Initially, the Professor seemed uninterested in Papadopoulos. However, after [Papadopoulos] informed the Professor about his joining the Campaign, the Professor appeared to take great interest in [Papadopoulos]," court records state. The document adds that Papadopoulos hoped to use the professor's "substantial connections with Russian government officials" to boost his standing in the Trump campaign.

On or about March 24, 2016, Papadopoulos met with the professor in London and was introduced to a female Russian national. Afterward, Papadopoulos emailed the "Campaign Supervisor" and members of the Trump campaign's foreign policy team, saying he had talked with his "good friend" the professor and met a woman whom Papadopoulos called "Putin's niece."

Papadopoulos "later learned that the Female Russian National was not in fact a relative of President Putin," the court document says.

Pursuing a meeting between the Trump campaign and Moscow

After he said that the Russians wanted "to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump," Papadopoulos got a reply from the "Campaign Supervisor" in which he said he would "work it through the campaign" and to hold off on making any commitments. According to court records, the "Campaign Supervisor" added, "Great work."

On or about April 11, 2016: After Papadopoulos wrote to his contacts about "a potential foreign policy trip to Russia," the female Russian national responded, " I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request. ... As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian Federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced."

On or about April 22, 2016: After an introduction to an individual with ties to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Papadopoulos discusses setting up a meeting in London. He later emails a senior Trump campaign policy adviser, "The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tend to speak a bit more openly in ' neutral' cities."

On or about April 26, 2016, Papadopoulos has a breakfast meeting with the professor, who tells him he met with high-level Russian officials in Moscow. The professor relays that the Russians have "dirt" on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. As Papadopoulos later told the FBI, the professor said, "[The Russians] have dirt on her"; "the Russians had emails of Clinton"; "they have thousands of emails."

From mid-June through mid-August 2016, the documents state, Papadopoulos pursued an "off the record" meeting between one or more campaign representatives and "members of president putin's office and the mfa [Ministry of Foreign Affairs]."

After several weeks of further communications regarding a potential "off the record" meeting with Russian officials, on or about Aug. 15, 2016: the "Campaign Supervisor" told Papadopoulos, according to court records, " 'I would encourage you' and another foreign policy advisor to the Campaign to 'make the trip[], if it is feasible.' "

Despite those weeks of emails and other communications, the trip did not take place.

The charge against Papadopoulos carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. In the plea deal, the government agrees to reduce its sentencing recommendation under federal sentencing guidelines, dropping from a 6 to a 4 on its scale of base offense levels. It will be up to a court to determine the severity of Papadopoulos' punishment.

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Corrected: October 29, 2017 at 9:00 PM PDT
A previous version of this story misspelled a reference to George Papadopoulos' last name as Papadopolous.
Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.