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, and they come as Attorney General Jeff Sessions faces intense scrutiny over two previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the US – one of which was timed to the convention.
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 steering the language change – Gordon reportedly told CNN that “this was the language Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for back in March ” – is 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.”
When asked why he told Acosta that Trump did weigh in on the subject, when he told BI in January that neither Trump nor Manafort were involved, Gordon emphasized that he had told BI that Trump was not involved “in the details” of the platform.
“Meaning they weren’t part of the process to write, draft, edit the document, or weigh in with the delegates at all,” Gordon said in an email. “That said, the overarching thought of better relations with Russia was certainly their strategic position.”
Paul Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager from April through August. 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 unverified 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.
‘Authority and responsibility to shape the GOP platform’
“There was nothing different in what I told you and Jim,” Gordon said in an email, referring to Acosta. “His tweet was an issue of semantics, which I’ve shared with him just now to ensure we’re all on the same page.”
“The RNC & Trump Campaign intent @ GOP Platform Week was to ‘prevent’ adding any glaring contradictions to the draft GOP Platform we brought to Cleveland and previously stated Trump positions,” Gordon added. “This included the notion that arming Ukraine would have been contrary to the goal of improved relations with Russia.”
“The RNC and Nominee’s Campaign have the authority and responsibility to shape the GOP Platform,” Gordon said. “Delegates who have their amendments defeated in part and in whole should understand the process.”
Gordon said in January that neither Trump nor Manafort was involved in the platform change, however. He also said his only role as a Trump campaign representative at GOP Committee Week – which took place in the week before the RNC’s kickoff – was “to monitor the process and facilitate any questions from delegates.”
Campaign representatives are not permitted to publicly debate the merits of an amendment at a subcommittee platform meeting, a member of the subcommittee told Business Insider on the condition of anonymity.
USA Today on Thursday reported 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.” He added that he briefed Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the meetings on Thursday, according to CNN.
Sanders told BI in an email that she and Gordon spoke on Thursday “for about three minutes, mostly about the conference logistics – how many people, who put it on, how many ambassadors, etc. It was far from a briefing and JD was a volunteer on an advisory committee on the campaign.”
Gordon insisted in January that his only role as a Trump campaign representative at GOP Committee Week – which took place in the week before the RNC’s kickoff – was “to monitor the process and facilitate any questions from delegates.”
“This is standard practice,” he said, “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 Gordon and another Trump campaign representative asked the cochairmen 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 cochairmen,” 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 whom 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 the committee member present at the meeting, who requested anonymity to discuss the deliberations, said “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.”
This story has been updated to include comments from Gordon and Sanders.