‘I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me, that’s the only thing I know about him…’
(Chris Megerian, Los Angeles Times) George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign whose suspicious conversations triggered the Russia investigation, was sentenced Friday to 14 days and one year of supervised release.
The sentencing, coming nearly one year after he pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, ends an important yet mysterious story line in the examination of whether anyone from Trump’s team conspired with Moscow to influence the presidential election.
Judge Randolph D. Moss said the sentence could have been higher but he sensed “genuine remorse” from Papadopolous. The judge said there’s no evidence Papadopolous had “any desire to aid Russia in any way.” However by lying to the FBI, he placed “self interest over the national interest,” Moss said.
Papadopoulos, 31, had never before appeared in a public court hearing; he admitted his guilt during a closed session last October.
Before the sentencing, Papadopolous made a statement, describing himself as a “patriotic American” who made a mistake by lying to investigators. “I was not honest, and I might have hindered the investigation.”
The junior adviser first appeared on investigators’ radar during the campaign after he told an Australian diplomat that Russians had political dirt on Hillary Clinton, who was on her way to becoming the Democratic nominee for president. When hacked emails were released publicly that summer—part of an operation that intelligence officials later concluded was orchestrated by the Kremlin—the diplomat informed U.S. officials and a counterintelligence investigation began.
FBI agents interviewed Papadopoulos in January 2017, and he lied about his April 2016 conversation with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor working in London who had ties to Russian officials. Although Papadopoulos confirmed that Mifsud told him Russians had “thousands of emails” involving Clinton, he claimed he hadn’t yet joined the Trump campaign when they spoke.
It’s unclear if the conversation between Mifsud and Papadopoulos was part of Moscow’s larger scheme to boost Trump’s candidacy. Mifsud’s current whereabouts are unknown, and Papadopoulos has denied telling anyone else from the president’s campaign about Mifsud’s claims.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly downplayed Papadopoulos’ role on the campaign, with one of them describing him as a mere “coffee boy.” The president told reporters on Air Force One on Friday that “I don’t know Papadopoulos.”
“I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me, that’s the only thing I know about him,” Trump said, referring to a widely circulated photo of Papadopoulos in a meeting with Trump and several other advisers.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had asked the judge to sentence Papadopoulos to six months in prison, saying his false statements “were intended to harm the investigation, and did so.”
The FBI met with Mifsud while he was visiting the United States in early 2017, but Papadopoulos’ lies “undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him.”
In a court filing, lawyers for Papadopoulos had argued for probation, saying he was “ashamed and remorseful” but wasn’t trying to undermine the Russia probe when he was “caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation.” They said prosecutors have not provided any proof that Papadopoulos “actually harmed the investigation as alleged.”
Before the sentencing, his lawyer, Thomas Breen, told the court about how Trump had blasted the investigation as “fake news” and a “witch hunt” before Papadopolous met with the FBI and lied. Because of his loyalty to Trump, “that’s the mind set going in there.”
The lawyers portrayed Papadopoulos as “out of his depth” as a foreign policy adviser for a candidate for whom he had “unbridled loyalty.” They also said he stumbled through his FBI interview because he was trying to keep alive his shot at a job in the Trump administration.
“Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master,” the lawyers wrote.
Papadopoulos’ conversations with Mifsud were not related to seeking dirt on Clinton, the lawyers said, but an effort to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last year, he pledged to help the special counsel’s office with its investigation. But prosecutors said his assistance was negligible.
“The defendant did not provide ‘substantial assistance,’ and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas,” the court filing said.
Not only that, Papadopoulos withheld a cellphone that he used during the campaign, prosecutors said, and provided it only when asked about the phone.
Papadopoulos disagreed in his own court filing, arguing he “cooperated fully” and provided “critical information.”
(c)2018 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.