On March 31, 2016, Papadopoulos attended a Trump campaign meeting in which he claimed he could arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. The Washington Post had previously reported on that offer, which apparently concerned Trump campaign officials, who worried such a meeting might be improper at best and illegal at worst. Over the coming weeks, however, Papadopoulos continued to try to establish meetings between Russian officials and the Trump team.
The biggest revelation in the plea agreement concerns an April 26 meeting in London. Papadopoulos met with the Professor, who told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The government filing says the Professor said that “the Russians had emails of Clinton,” and in fact “thousands of emails.”
If that is a reference to the emails stolen from the Clinton campaign, which were later leaked via WikiLeaks and other entities believed to be linked to the Russian government, it would be the earliest such mention. The U.S. has concluded that Russian state-backed agents hacked into the emails of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee. It was not until June 14, 2016, that the DNC disclosed that they believed they had been hacked, meaning Papadopoulos (and by extension the Trump campaign) may have known about the incursion months before it was public. In July 2016, Trump said he hoped that Russia would release stolen Clinton emails.
Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said he believed this referred to the same tranche of hacked emails that was later released.
“I think it’s very credible, because in fact we would later learn and confirm that they did have the emails,” he told me. “We know that some of the intrusions predated that—that information is all too corroborated by other information.”
Schiff said the Russian contacts with Papadopoulos had the hallmarks of a Russian intelligence operation, and he noted that although Papadopoulos was a low-level staffer, there were reports of contacts between Russian agents and Trump officials at many levels. “You might say, ‘OK, he’s one of several foreign-policy advisers and not at the top of the campaign,’ but there’s also an approach to the top of the campaign, in Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and the president’s own son. You have other interactions as well. You have Peter Smith. ... You have Roger Stone.”
Following his conversation with the Professor, Papadopoulos continued to cultivate connections to Russians, including one who claimed to be tied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to pitch meetings to higher-ups in the Trump campaign. The Post reported in August 2017 that Manafort had rejected a Trump-Putin meeting suggested by Papadopoulos. Trump never traveled to Russia.