'NYT': Carter Page Told Sessions Of Russia Trip

Nov 3, 2017
Originally published on November 3, 2017 7:58 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It wasn't long ago that President Donald Trump, was asked by a reporter if he was aware of campaign contacts with Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you're not aware of any contacts...

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Look, look, look...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: ...During the course of the election?

TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you just say yes or no on it?

TRUMP: Russia is a ruse.

MARTIN: According to The New York Times, court documents associated with the Russia investigation now suggest that Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, may have actually known about connections that the Trump campaign had with Russia. This could be a problem for Sessions who, while under oath, denied any knowledge of campaign contacts with Russia.

The Times is also reporting that former Trump policy adviser Carter Page told Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the presidential campaign. We're going to bring in New York Times reporter Michael Schmidt. He's been covering this story. Michael, thanks for being with us.

MICHAEL SCHMIDT: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So we've got these two issues here - right? - the court documents and the testimony yesterday from Carter Page. I want to start with the court documents that were unsealed. What do those tell us that we didn't know before?

SCHMIDT: They tell us about a March 2016 meeting of the Trump foreign policy team in which a young adviser named George Papadopoulos suggested in the presence of both candidate Trump and at the time Senator Sessions that he could arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin through contacts he had, including the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom.

MARTIN: George Papadopoulos - we should say he's the man who it was revealed this week, he's the former campaign aide who pled guilty to lying to the FBI.

SCHMIDT: Correct. He was the one that the documents that were unsealed on Monday showed that he is now cooperating - cooperated with Mueller's investigation after initially lying to them about the nature of his contacts with the Russians.

MARTIN: So we know now that Papadopoulos was in this meeting, that he told the president that he had the ability to set up this meeting with Russians. Do we know any more about what was said in that meeting? How did the president respond?

SCHMIDT: Well, apparently, the president didn't say very much about it or didn't say anything at all. He was just listening. But Sessions dismissed it. And he said, look, this is a bad idea. We shouldn't do this. And we shouldn't talk about it because if it gets out it, it could really be a damaging thing to us.

The - from there, it's not really clear what happened or what Papadopoulos did. He was still on the campaign after that. But it's not believed that he ever met again with the president.

MARTIN: So this second revelation now about Carter Page - we knew that Page had traveled to Russia. So now we understand that he told Jeff Sessions about this? Walk through why that's significant.

SCHMIDT: Correct. So Page said that he told congressional investigators when - in his recent interview with them that he had mentioned to Sessions at a dinner in passing before he left for his trip to Russia in the summer of 2016 that he was indeed going. He said, look, it wasn't significant then. It wasn't significant now.

And the argument from the Sessions side, from Justice Department officials, would be, look, you know, Jeff Sessions was meeting with a lot of people. He was talking to a lot of different folks in the campaign. This guy mentioned he was going to Russia. Why is that something he would remember?

MARTIN: So what does this mean now for the attorney general because he was...

SCHMIDT: Well...

MARTIN: ...In that meeting with Papadopoulos in March and now he is at the center of this new Carter Page revelation?

SCHMIDT: So the thing is that Sessions was - said under oath, look, I didn't know about any of these contacts. Now this is the second time there's been questions about his testimony. So he's going to have to go up to Capitol Hill and clarify for lawmakers who are very concerned about why he didn't tell the truth here or why the issues have arisen.

MARTIN: Michael Schmidt of The New York Times, thanks so much for your time this morning. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.