A Trump campaign adviser has described how a fellow aide suggested setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin before the US election.
In an exclusive interview with Sky News, JD Gordon said he was sitting next to George Papadopoulos when the young adviser announced he could help arrange a discussion during a now infamous meeting of the campaign's national security committee on 31 March 2016.
The former spokesman for the Pentagon said Mr Papadopoulos, who has since pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents, was shot down by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
"He said that his friend was the Russian Ambassador in London," Mr Gordon revealed. "And that he could arrange such a meeting – and that was ultimately shut down within a few minutes by Senator Sessions, in no uncertain terms."
Mr Gordon described Mr Papadopoulos as a "peripheral figure" but someone who "they wanted to appease and not upset, at the same time as reining him in so that he doesn't embarrass the campaign."
Mr Gordon said he was in a paid role and more senior to Mr Papadopoulos, but claims the 30-year-old advisor went behind his back.
He told Sky News: "I was very surprised that we're still hearing about it today, because I had no idea that George was going around me, and going around Senator Sessions – his actual chain of command – to pitch this idea to others on the campaign who maybe weren't there that day, or maybe weren't paying attention to others."
Mr Gordon said he could not discuss what Mr Trump said when the Russian meeting was raised because of a non-disclosure agreement, but added that the President certainly did not say "yes" to the idea.
When asked about whether he was co-operating with the FBI or special counsel Robert Mueller, he said: "I can just say that any investigators that I've been speaking with, clearly I've been truthful… there's nothing to hide
"Which is why it's such a mystery why George Papadopoulos… would lie to the FBI about his meetings with Russians when they weren't illegal.
"Maybe a bit shady, but they weren't illegal."
Mr Gordon described the notion of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia in the 2016 US election as "the biggest hoax in history".
He said: "There is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The smoke you see is people lighting Trump associates on fire, trying to make a story."
But he predicted that "people will go to prison for other unrelated things, like tax evasion and money laundering."
He also felt that eventually the President may be asked to testify in front of a grand jury.
The retired navy commander said the campaign was naive to bring in people like Mr Papadopoulos and oil industry consultant Carter Page, but claimed they were "minor" figures.
He alleged that Mr Trump's former press secretary and now White House head of communications, Hope Hicks, had made the situation worse by making unequivocal statements suggesting the campaign had not spoken to Russians when they had.
He claimed the campaign spoke to lots of Russians "but there was nothing nefarious."
Ms Hicks, 28, is reportedly scheduled to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller's team.