The White House did not know that a former top Trump campaign official was testifying before a federal grand jury last week as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
ABC News reports that Sam Clovis, the campaign’s co-chairman, did not give the White House a heads up before the testimony. Instead, Trump administration officials learned about the testimony earlier this week through press reports.
On Thursday, Clovis withdrew his name from consideration for a top posting at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Clovis, a former conservative radio host, came under intense scrutiny this week because of exchanges he had last year with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.
Mueller’s prosecutors unsealed court documents this week showing that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last month for lying to the FBI about contacts he had with Russians while on the campaign.
Those documents showed that Papadopoulos claimed that one person he had contact with, a London-based professor named Joseph Mifsud, claimed in April 2016 to have been told by Russian government officials about “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos said that Mifsud claimed Russians had “thousands” of Clinton’s emails.
It is still unclear whether Papadopoulos told others in the campaign about the emails.
But Papadopoulos did receive encouragement from Clovis for some of his endeavors, campaign emails show.
According to a statement of offense unsealed by Mueller, Clovis “encouraged” Papadopoulos in an Aug. 15, 2016 email to make a trip with another campaign adviser to meet “off the record” with Russian government officials.
The meeting did not occur, according to Mueller’s statement of offense.
Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, disputed the idea that her client was seriously suggesting a secret meeting with Russians. She said that Clovis was humoring Papadopoulos because he is “a nice Iowa gentleman.”
Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27. According to unsealed court documents, he has been cooperating with investigators.
Toensing told ABC that her client is not under investigation.
“The White House was surprised to learn Mr. Clovis had been contacted by the Special Counsel’s office as part of their separate probe of Mr. Papadopoulos’ activities,” a White House source told ABC.