U.S. President Donald Trump disparaged one-time foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos on Tuesday, a day after it was disclosed that he pleaded guilty to charges of lying to federal agents but has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's probe into Russian interference in the U.S. election.
A year ago, Trump described Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old energy and oil consultant, as an "excellent guy." But in a new Twitter comment from the White House, Trump said, "Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar. Check the DEMS!"
Trump said, "The Fake News is working overtime," referring to mainstream U.S. news outlets' widespread coverage of Papadopoulos' guilty plea in early October and the indictment of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his protege Rick Gates on money laundering and conspiracy charges linked to their multimillion-dollar lobbying effort for one-time Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych. Trump's campaign was not implicated in the charges against Manafort and Gates.
"As Paul Manafort's lawyer said, there was 'no collusion' (between Trump aides and Russia) and events mentioned took place long before he came to the campaign," Trump tweeted.
He added, "I hope people will start to focus on our Massive Tax Cuts for Business (jobs) and the Middle Class (in addition to Democrat corruption)!"
In a statement of facts underlying Papadopoulos's guilty plea, special counsel Mueller detailed several emails Papadopoulos sent to high-level Trump aides during the height of the election campaign about his efforts to set up a meeting between Trump campaign and Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin. The meeting never occurred.
The statement did not name the Trump aides Papadopoulos emailed about his overseas contacts involving Russia, but The Washington Post said that it had identified Manafort, Gates, national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis and one-time campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski as the recipients. Clovis called Papadopoulos's efforts "great work."
The documents also say one of the contacts told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had "dirt" about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." Starting in July 2016, WikiLeaks released thousands of Democratic National Committee emails, with many of them showing embarrassing behind-the-scenes efforts by Democratic operatives to help Clinton win the party's nomination. She has partly blamed her loss on the disclosure of the emails.
Monday's allegations and disclosure of the Papadopoulos guilty plea have left Washington speculating where Mueller's investigation is headed next, but legal experts expect more charges to be filed. As Papadopoulos pleaded guilty, one of Mueller's prosecutors said that his case was only a "small part" of a much larger investigation.
Nonetheless, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters, "We do think it will wrap up soon."
She said the White House turned over the Papadopoulos emails to Mueller's investigators.
"I think that Papadopoulos is an example of actually somebody doing the wrong thing while the president's campaign did the right thing" in handing over the emails, she said. "What Papadopoulos did was lie and that's on him, not on the campaign."
Mueller has been investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia and Turkey in recent years, ahead of his brief White House tenure at the outset of Trump's presidency. Flynn was an outspoken campaigner for Trump last year, but Trump fired him as national security adviser as news surfaced that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington in the period before Trump took office in January.
Mueller is also probing whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired then-Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey last May while he was heading the agency's Russia investigation before Mueller, over Trump's objections, was named to take over the probe. Monday's allegations against Manafort and Gates and disclosure of the Papadopoulos guilty plea were the first charges Mueller has brought in his five months as special counsel.
The White House says Trump has no intention of firing Mueller or pardoning the campaign aides charged so far.
Trump's personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, told ABC News on Tuesday, "The president has not indicated to me or to anyone else that I work with that he has any intent on terminating Robert Mueller."
The U.S. intelligence community concluded in a report made public in January that Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine U.S. democracy and help Trump win. On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the allegations, saying there is no evidence of election meddling in the United States or other countries.
Both Manafort and Gates turned themselves in to the FBI in Washington for processing and later pleaded "not guilty" in a federal court. A judge ordered both placed under house arrest.
The indictment against them alleged that Manafort, who was Trump's campaign manager from June to August last year and was a key figure in the campaign before then, enriched himself with his lobbying for the Ukrainian leader before he was forced from power by a popular uprising in 2014 and fled to Russia.
Mueller alleged that Manafort hid his assets in accounts in Cyprus, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines and the Seychelles and then "spent millions of dollars on luxury goods" to "enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States."
The 12-count indictment alleged that more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, with Manafort laundering more than $18 million to buy property and goods in the United States and Gates sending more than $3 million to accounts he controlled.
Mueller charged that Manafort and Gates conspired to carry out the scheme between 2006 and this year, failed to register as foreign agents and then offered "false and misleading" statements to federal agents about their activities.
In addition to Mueller's investigation, there are three separate congressional probes into Russian meddling and possible links between Trump's campaign and Russia.