The Senate intelligence committee has been in “constant contact” with the legal team of George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser who has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI, the committee’s chairman told reporters on Tuesday.
Going into a Senate intelligence hearing, Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina would not comment on Papadopoulos except to say his investigation and that of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller’s are “in two different lanes.” He said Papadopoulos was on their radar and that they had “constant contact with his legal team,” along with the lawyers for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, who pleaded not guilty Monday after they were indicted.
“I don’t think the indictments were a surprise to any of us who had been involved in the investigation for nine months,” Burr said. “Does it make our job tougher? Only in the fact that there may be some information that we could get from Manafort or Gates that were not going to be able to get now because of the indictment. But we had assumed for quite a while that at some point they would be taken off the deck for us.”
The Senate intelligence committee has not interviewed Papadopoulos, whose guilty plea for la source familiar with the matter told CNN on Monday. The House intelligence committee also has not spoken with him, according to a source.
The House intelligence committee also has not spoken with him, CNN also reported. The Senate panel had made an effort to secure an interview with Papadopoulos, the source said, and the committee’s Russia investigators have viewed the emails that were included in the court documents unsealed.
Those documents showed Papadopoulos meeting with a professor and Russian woman who had connections to Russian government officials, in which Papadopoulos was told that the Russians possessed “dirt” on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Papadopoulos sent emails to Trump campaign officials seeking to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, as well as a possible Trump visit to Russia, which was never pursued.
Burr told CNN on Monday he didn’t think that the guilty plea from Papadopoulos or the 12-count indictment of Manafort and Gates would change the course of his committee’s probe.
“I’m not sure that it changes anything for our investigation,” Burr said. “We certainly know a lot about Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, as we do Manafort, and Gates.”
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“We’ve always said there are two lanes, there’s one that looks at the potential of collusion of either campaign, and there’s a criminal pathway that we assume the special counsel is focused on pursuing,” Burr added. “And this is an example that they are focused on it.”
Both Manafort and Gates have pleaded not guilty to the charges in their indictment.
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the panel, told CNN on Monday that Papadopoulos was “direct evidence that someone with the campaign was being contacted by Russians with information they had lots of, so called ‘dirt,’ emails on Hillary Clinton.” He added, “There’s more questions to be answered.”
President Donald Trump tweeted once again Tuesday there was “no collusion” with the Russians. Asked about Trump’s claims on collusion, Burr said Tuesday, “We have not come to a conclusion on that.”
“It continues to be something that we look at — it’s under the mission of the investigation. The vice chairman and I continue to chart a course to try to answer all the questions,” he said.
But Burr downplayed the significance of the Russian efforts to use Papadopoulos to infiltrate the Trump campaign — cautioning not to read too much into it — and he noted Papadopoulos was charged only with lying to the FBI.
“If indictments were all about Russians reaching out to Americans, it would be a lot of people who would have been indicted yesterday,” Burr said. “So we know from this investigation that there’s been an active campaign by the Russians to be involved in the 2016 election — both sides — and we’re going to try to answer some of the questions.”
This story has been updated to include additional developments.