MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Early this morning, two former campaign aides to Donald Trump turned themselves in to the FBI. Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are the first to be indicted in connection with the Justice Department special counsel probe into Russian interference in last year's election. Manafort and Gates are now under house arrest, but they are pleading not guilty to charges that include conspiracy against the United States. In a moment, we'll hear how Capitol Hill is taking this news.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
First, another person who advised the Trump campaign has pleaded guilty. His name is George Papadopoulos. In court documents unsealed today, he admits to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russian operatives. And while the accusations against Manafort and Gates don't address collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, the Papadopoulos case does.
To learn more about him we're joined now by Philip Bump of The Washington Post. Hi there.
PHILIP BUMP: Hello.
SHAPIRO: Who is George Papadopoulos?
BUMP: So George Papadopoulos is a young man who was tapped by the Trump campaign in early 2016, early March, to serve as a foreign policy advisor. From that perch he then was contacted by folks with connections to the Russian government who then tried to get him to facilitate a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
SHAPIRO: According to these documents, how did they try to do that? And how did he respond?
BUMP: So they tried to do that - originally he, Papadopoulos, was in Italy and met a professor who had ties with the Russian government who facilitated most of the connections from there on out. Eventually, Papadopoulos ended up speaking with a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He graduated from college in 2009. I think he probably saw this as a way to boost his stature within the campaign. And in fact, the FBI documents said that. And so he responded enthusiastically and repeatedly emailed senior staff of the Trump campaign, trying to get them to bite on this offer of a meeting.
SHAPIRO: You say he was trying to boost his stature in the campaign. Today, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said his role was, quote, "extremely limited." It was a volunteer position, she said. How consistent is that with your reporting?
BUMP: I think it's fairly consistent. I mean, these advisory roles - presidential campaigns have a lot of folks who serve in these advisory roles. It seems like this foreign policy advisory committee was actually formed in part just to sort of boost Trump's own credentials on foreign policy, although Papadopoulos' credentials in that regard were very quickly unearthed after his appointment. He, for example, listed the model U.N. on his list of accomplishments.
All of that said, though, it also shows that people who were sort of tangential to the Trump campaign had access to senior-level staff. He had emailed with Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager. He'd emailed with Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman. And Manafort had actually said, we're not going to have Trump meet Putin, but maybe we should have some lower-level person meet with him as well.
SHAPIRO: And also, in a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, Donald Trump named Papadopoulos as one of a very small number of foreign policy advisers that he mentioned.
BUMP: That's exactly right. And it was after Trump outlined, though, that small group of people that people started poking around and trying to figure out who Papadopoulos was. No one had ever heard of him before. But Papadopoulos did actually participate in a meeting in late March of 2016 that involved both Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, who was coordinating that effort. And during that meeting Papadopoulos, according to this FBI statement, said that he had a connection that could get Trump and Putin to meet.
SHAPIRO: The court documents mention the involvement of other campaign officials without providing names. We've known for some time now that Russian operatives made overtures to other aides, including the president's son, Donald Trump Jr. Can you see how these puzzle pieces fit together?
BUMP: To some extent, yes. I mean, it certainly seems as though there were two tracks that the Russian government was operating on. For example, Papadopoulos was told that the Russian government had a cache of emails that were potentially incriminating for Hillary Clinton. This is referred to as dirt, which is the same term that was used in the run-up to that Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 that involved Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, I hasten to add.
It seems as though there is a consistent pattern, at least, that's sort of indicated by these two events of the Russian government reaching out to folks connected to the campaign, using this idea of dirt as an in to meet with folks, but with the meeting itself being the actual goal.
SHAPIRO: That's Philip Bump, national correspondent for The Washington Post. Thanks a lot.
BUMP: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.