President Trump on Friday sought to diminish the importance of the campaign foreign policy meeting where former adviser George Papadopoulos tried to broker connections between Russians and the Trump campaign, with the president claiming that he did not remember what was said.
The meeting, which took place in Washington on March 31, 2016, included a team of foreign policy advisers as well as Trump and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is now the attorney general. The session has become a key focus of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's wide-ranging investigation of Russia's interference in the election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.
Mueller's office revealed this week in court documents that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to lying to the FBI about trying to meet with Russians offering “dirt” on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton based on stolen Democratic emails.
Trump, who recently boasted of having “one of the great memories of all time,” told reporters Friday morning as he departed the White House for his 12-day trip to Asia, “I don't remember much about that meeting.”
“It was a very unimportant meeting,” Trump said. “It took place a long time ago. Don't remember much about it.”
In the meeting, according to court documents, Papadopoulos touted his connections to Russia in front of Trump and Sessions and offered to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
J.D. Gordon, a Trump adviser who attended the meeting, recalled in an interview with The Washington Post that after Papadopoulos said he could introduce Trump to Putin, Sessions “shut him down.”
“It was a bad idea and the senator didn't want people to speak about it again,” Gordon said.
The meeting is a growing complication for Sessions, who is now under pressure from Senate Democrats to explain why he did not disclose details about it previously, considering he was asked multiple times under oath on Capitol Hill whether he or anyone on the campaign ever discussed meeting with Russians.
In February, a few weeks after being sworn in as president, Trump was asked at a news conference whether anybody who advised his campaign had any contacts with Russia. The president responded, “No. Nobody that I know of.”
Trump and his aides have sought to diminish Papadopoulos's standing on the campaign. Trump cited him as a foreign policy adviser in March, during a meeting with The Post's editorial board. But he, as well as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have said this week that Papadopoulos played an insignificant role on the campaign.
Trump tweeted Tuesday, “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George.”