The Trump campaign's national-security policy representative for the Republican National Convention, J.D. Gordon, told CNN on Thursday that he pushed to alter an amendment to the GOP's draft policy on Ukraine at the Republican National Convention last year to further align it with President Donald Trump's views.
Gordon's remarks represent a dramatic shift from previous comments. In January, Gordon told Business Insider that he "never left" his "assigned side table" nor spoke publicly at the GOP national security subcommittee meeting, where the amendment — which originally called for "providing lethal defense weapons" to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian-backed separatists — was read aloud, debated, and ultimately watered down to "providing appropriate assistance" to Ukraine.
According to CNN's Jim Acosta, however, Gordon said that at the RNC, he and others "advocated for the GOP platform to include language against arming Ukrainians against pro-Russian rebels" because "this was in line with Trump's views, expressed at a March national security meeting at the unfinished Trump hotel" in Washington, DC.
"Gordon says Trump said at the meeting … that he didn't want to go to 'World War Three' over Ukraine," Acosta said.
Trump's apparent involvement in the discussions are also at odds with what Gordon told Business Insider in January, when he said "neither Mr. Trump nor Mr. Manafort were involved in those sort of details, as they've made clear."
Paul Manafort was Trump's campaign manager from April through August of 2016. He served as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from 2004 to 2012 and helped the Russia-friendly strongman Viktor Yanukovych win the Ukrainian presidency in 2010.
An unsubstantiated dossier presented to Trump in January by top US intelligence officials alleges that Trump "agreed to sideline" the issue of Russian intervention in Ukraine during his campaign after Russia promised to feed the emails it stole from prominent Democrats' inboxes to WikiLeaks. The dossier also claims Manafort was receiving "kickback payments" from Yanukovych's associates in Ukraine, where Manafort "had been commercially active … right up to the time (in March 2016) when he joined campaign team."
Manafort and Trump later denied having anything to do with softening the language of the GOP's platform on Ukraine.
"I wasn't involved in that," Trump said in an interview with ABC after the convention. "Honestly, I was not involved."
But he said his supporters were. "They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved," he said.
Getty Mario Tama
USA Today reported Thursday that Gordon and another former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, met with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at the RNC. Gordon said he considered it "an informal conversation just like my interactions with dozens of other ambassadors and senior diplomats in Cleveland."
According to CNN, Gordon said he and Kislyak discussed the Trump campaign's "goal to forge a better US relationship with Russia."
Gordon insisted in January that his only role as a Trump campaign representative at GOP Committee Week — which took place in the week prior to the RNC's kickoff — was "to monitor the process and facilitate any questions from delegates. This is standard practice, yet the media unfortunately reported it as something out of the ordinary."
Diana Denman, the GOP delegate who proposed amending the Ukraine platform to include the "lethal weapons" language, contradicted Gordon's version of events in an interview with Business Insider in January. She said that Gordon and another Trump campaign representative asked the co-chairmen of the subcommittee to table the amendment after she read it aloud.
"Two men sitting over to the side of the room — I had no idea who they were, but later found out they were Trump representatives — jumped up and tore over to get behind the three co-chairmen," she said.
Gordon then left the room to make a phone call, Denman said. Equal parts confused and angry over her proposal being scuttled, Denman said she confronted Gordon about who he was calling.
"I'm calling New York," Gordon replied, according to Denman.
"I work for Mr. Trump and I have to clear it," she recalled him saying, apparently in reference to the amendment.
Gordon said in an email at the time that Denman "sought to significantly elevate the Ukraine-Russia issue beyond the already strong position of RNC and Trump campaign," so the language had to be watered down.
But a member of the committee present at the meeting, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, said that "the language of Diana's original amendment didn't seem strong."
"It was controversial if you hold Donald Trump's express views on Russia, but it wasn't controversial with regard to GOP orthodoxy on the issue," the committee member said."This change definitely came from Trump staffers — not from RNC staffers."
Gordon and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday.