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I Don't 'Remember Much' About Papadopoulos Meeting, President Says


President Trump is weighing in on the latest Russia revelations. This morning the president said he doesn't remember the details of a March 2016 meeting with his campaign's national security team - a meeting that has taken on increased significance as the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election this week announced the first charges in the inquiry.

We're joined now by NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith who is at the White House. So, Tam, this was right before the president left for his trip to Asia. He answered some questions from reporters. And people were asking him about this meeting back in 2016 where former campaign aide George Papadopoulos was present. What did the president have to say about this interaction?

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Yeah. So the president downplayed it. But let's just describe what this meeting was. It was the first meeting of then-candidate Trump's foreign policy team at a time when he was being roundly criticized for not having foreign policy credentials and not being able to name any major players who were helping him out. He even tweeted out a picture of the group at the meeting that day. It was March 31, 2016 - mostly a bunch of unknown people, including that man you mentioned, George Papadopoulos.

And the reason his name sounds familiar now is because this week we learned that he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and has been cooperating with the special counsel investigation. According to court filings, at that meeting, Papadopoulos said he had Russian connections who could help him arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reporters asked President Trump, what do you remember about that meeting? And I warn you, there is some loud helicopter noise behind him.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I don't remember much about that meeting. It was a very unimportant meeting took place a long time. Don't remember much about it.

MARTIN: So Attorney General Jeff Sessions, apparently, was also at this meeting where Papadopoulos said he had the ability to bring together, you know, a meeting with Russians who could help Trump in the campaign. Earlier this year, Jeff Sessions, though, testified before Congress that he had no awareness of any Russian connections during the campaign. So how does this new information that he was in this room, that he knew about this, how does this complicate situation for Jeff Sessions?

KEITH: Well, it certainly complicates things. And whether it becomes a problem for him or not may just depend on President Trump and also on Congress. Democrats in the Senate are demanding that Sessions come back and explain this discrepancy - how he could have been in the room for a meeting where someone said this thing and then said he knew nothing about Russian connections during the campaign. But, you know, Republicans hold the gavel. So it's not clear whether he will be called back to answer on this.

MARTIN: Meanwhile, the president, all morning long, has been tweeting about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats saying the Justice Department and the FBI should be looking there.

KEITH: Yeah. And he's - every time you ask about Russia, he says, but what about the Democrats? Yesterday, he was on "The Larry O'Connor Show" on WMAL. And O'Connor asked, you know, people are upset that the Justice Department isn't going after Hillary Clinton. And this is how the president responded.


TRUMP: You know, the saddest thing is that because I'm the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I'm not supposed to be involved with the FBI. I'm not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I'm very frustrated by that.

KEITH: And then, this morning, he promptly said that he is also disappointed in the Justice Department. These remarks from the president sort of saying what the Justice Department should investigate run afoul of decades-old traditions when officials from both political parties after Watergate demanded that the Justice Department be insulated from political pressure.

MARTIN: NPR's Tamara Keith. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.