-- The White House first learned one of its senior staffers met with the grand jury hearing the case presented by the special counsel into alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election not from the staffer but from media reports, sources with knowledge of the investigation tell ABC News.
Former Trump campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis recently testified before that grand jury into his role on President Donald Trump’s campaign. Clovis currently serves as the senior White House adviser to the Department of Agriculture.
Clovis’ testimony comes on the heels of another Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, pleading guilty to lying to federal authorities. As part of Papadopoulos’ admission of guilt, details of emails were disclosed that showed him describing to top Trump campaign officials communications he had with contacts in Russia.
The correspondence between Papadopoulos and a group of foreign nationals detail that within weeks of being described by Trump as an important part of his national security team, Papadopoulos was in London meeting with people who said they could deliver “dirt” on rival candidate Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”
The emails indicate multiple top level campaign officials that Papadopoulos communicated with including one listed as a “campaign supervisor”.
Sources familiar with the emails tell ABC News the “campaign supervisor” was Sam Clovis.
Clovis appeared to encourage Papadopoulos to engage with Russian contacts; in one instance Clovis responded directly to Papadopoulos, hailing him for his “great work” and saying “I would encourage you” to “make the trip, if it is feasible”, referring to a trip the young campaign adviser pitched to go abroad.
An attorney for Clovis confirmed his role in the communications to ABC News, adding that he has not spoken to Papadopoulos since the 2016 election and any trip he would have taken would not have been authorized by the campaign and would have been done on his own personal time and money.
A White House source familiar with the investigation tells ABC News “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.”
Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, told ABC News he is not under investigation.
The special counsel’s office has been calling witnesses for the last several months for both interviews at their Department of Justice offices in addition to testifying before a newly impaneled grand jury. White House staffers who have been called to meet with Mueller have usually kept the President’s legal team in the loop.
Clovis was the president’s pick to serve as undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture and was scheduled to face a Senate confirmation hearing next week. However, as scrutiny mounted into his testimony and qualifications for the post Clovis wrote President Trump on Thursday asking his name be withdrawn from consideration.
ABC News' Justin Fishel and Tara Palmeri contributed to this report