George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser whose loose talk overseas about Russians having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton triggered an FBI investigation into election interference, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in federal prison for lying to the FBI early in that inquiry.
Papadopoulos was also given 12 months of supervised release, commonly known as probation, and must perform 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay a $9,500 fine.
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U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss rejected pleas by Papadopoulos’ lawyers and his outspoken wife that he be spared jail time despite his guilty plea last October and thanks to his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team. Mueller’s office had urged that Papadopoulos receive up to six months in jail and argued that some jail time was appropriate, but prosecutors did not recommend a specific term.
They argued that Papadopoulos’ dishonesty hindered efforts to determine whether the Kremlin had infiltrated the Trump campaign and sought to influence the 2016 campaign.
Specifically, prosecutors said Papadopoulos had cost them an opportunity to question a crucial witness in the case: Josef Mifsud, a London-based professor with Russian ties who allegedly told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that Moscow had “thousands of emails” damaging to Clinton.
Friday’s hearing took a dramatic and unexpected turn when Papadopoulos’ attorney Thomas Breen lit into Trump, arguing that the president himself was more culpable than his client.
Trump, Breen said, “hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could,” by calling the FBI’s Russia inquiry a “witch hunt” and casting doubt on credible allegations of wrongdoing by his associates.
“The president of the United States, the commander in chief, told the world that this was fake news,” Breen said, contrasting this with Mueller’s “professional” and “well-prepared” team.
Breen suggested the president’s dismissive attitude towards the issue and the investigation encouraged a Trump backer like Papadopoulos to dismiss the probe’s significance and left him more willing to deceive investigators.
Shortly after the sentence, Trump took to Twitter to ridicule it and Mueller’s inquiry. “14 days for $28 MILLION — $2 MILLION a day, No Collusion. A great day for America!” Trump wrote. A report issued in May said Mueller’s team had spent $17 million through March. It’s unclear where Trump got his figure.
Breen’s confrontational approach toward Trump in the courtroom on Friday was sharply at odds with public efforts in recent weeks by Papadopoulos’ wife to argue that Papadopoulos was the victim of a set-up involving U.S. intelligence and the FBI. Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, who was in court with her husband on Friday, has accused the FBI of using confidential informants to bait her husband into incriminating the Trump campaign.
Mangiante Papadopoulos also did TV interviews seeking a pardon for her husband, and publicly appealed for new lawyers to try to withdraw her husband’s guilty plea.
But George Papadopoulos’ lawyers made no effort Friday to point fingers at Mueller’s office or the FBI. In fact, they flatly rejected any suggestion of impropriety by the prosecution.
“Our firm would in a second stand up if we saw prosecutorial or governmental misconduct. We have seen no such thing,” Breen said in response to a question from POLITICO at a brief news conference after the sentencing. “We have seen no entrapment. We have seen no set-up by U.S. intelligence people. … Everything we saw, they’ve been on the square.”
Breen also said that while search warrants were obtained to get information about his client, there was no indication that Papadopoulos was the subject of secret foreign-surveillance warrants.
“We never received and have no reason to believe whatsoever there was a FISA warrant involving George Papadopoulos,” the defense attorney said.
During the court hearing Friday, Breen was tough on his own client, but also sought to stress his youth and inexperience. He called Papadopoulos “naive” and “a fool.”
For his part, Papadopoulos told the court that he was contrite about his misjudgment and that his role in the Trump-Russia controversy had upended his life.
“In January 2017, I made a terrible mistake for which I paid dearly and I am terribly ashamed,” Papadopoulos told the judge Friday. I made a dreadful mistake, but I am a good man. … I was young and naïve, but I have done my best to atone for my mistakes.”
Papadopoulos acknowledged that his false statements to the FBI were intentional and were aimed at concealing details about his contacts with Mifsud. “I hid many aspects of my relationship with Joseph Mifsud. That was wrong and it was a crime,” the former Trump adviser said.
In his first media interview, conducted after his sentencing, Papadopoulos left open the possibility that he told Trump campaign officials that Russia had the damaging Clinton emails.
“As far as I remember, I absolutely did not share this information with anyone on the campaign,” Papadopoulos said in the interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, which was set to air later Friday as part of a CNN documentary.
But when pressed, he said: “I might have, but I have no recollection of doing so. I can’t guarantee. All I can say is, my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.”
Complicating his denial, though, Papadopoulos also admitted that he told a top Greek official about the Russian email dirt during a meeting in Athens that was part of a trip authorized by the Trump campaign.
“He explained to me that where you are sitting right now, tomorrow Putin will be sitting there,” Papadopoulos quoted the official as saying, referring to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. “And then a nervous reaction I had, I blurted out I heard this information.”
Papadopoulos also provided more detail about his claim last week that then-candidate Trump — and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, the campaign’s top national security adviser and now attorney general — appeared interested in his offer to use his Russian contacts to set up a summit meeting of sorts between Trump and Putin.
Papadopoulos said he met Trump for the first time at a March 2016 meeting of the campaign’s foreign policy team, and aired his proposal. “I sat down and, you know, I looked at the candidate,” Papadopoulos told CNN. “I looked at candidate Trump directly in his eyes and said, ‘I can do this for you if it’s in your interest and if it’s in the campaign’s interest.’”
In response, Papadopoulos said, Trump “gave me a sort of a nod” and “wasn’t committed either way.” But Sessions, the chairman of the campaign’s national security committee, “was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin,” he said.
Sessions told Congress last year that he actually pushed back against Papadopoulos’ offer, but he has yet to specifically address the bombshell claim, which his lawyer first made in a court filing last week.
Trump has said he does not “remember much” from the “very unimportant meeting.”
After the sentencing on Friday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the vice chairman and ranking member of Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement: “I still have significant questions about how high that information went, and I know the Senate Intelligence Committee would like to hear directly from Mr. Papadopoulos.”
The office of the committee‘s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), declined to comment when asked whether the panel wanted to interview Papadopoulos.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said he intended to try to bring Papadopoulos in to interview with the panel’s Democrats, who have already interviewed Papadopoulos’ wife.
Judge Moss said he went into Friday’s hearing inclined to sentence Papadopoulos to 30 days in prison, in line with a sentence handed down earlier this year to a Dutch lawyer who admitted lying in the same investigation, Alex Van Der Zwaan. However, the judge said he felt that Papadopoulos had shown “genuine remorse.”
“I struggled with this case a great deal as I often do when imposing sentence,” Moss said.
The judge noted that most defendants convicted on a false-statement charge don’t get any prison time, but he said he considered the Mueller investigation “a matter of enormous importance.” Moss, an appointee of President Barack Obama who served as a top Justice Department official under President Bill Clinton, described the inquiry as an attempt to investigate an “effort to interfere in our democracy.”
“It’s important that the public know there are real consequences when you mislead and tell lies to the FBI about a matter of grave national importance,” he said.
The judge, too, rejected any notion that Papadopoulos was tricked into lying. “There’s no reason to think the FBI bamboozled him in any way,” he said.
Breen said his client was trying to preserve his job prospects in the Trump administration, but Moss told the lawyer that those were “not noble reasons to tell a lie.”
“This was fairly calculated,” the judge said. “It took six months for Mr. Papadopoulos to correct the record.”
Prosecutor Andrew Goldstein struck a similar note, calling Papadopoulos’ cooperation with the investigation “at best, begrudging.”
“The defendant intentionally and repeatedly lied to agents of the FBI in the court of a highly significant federal investigation,” Goldstein said. “He chose to lie again and again. … He lied to obscure his contacts with Russian interests.”
Papadopoulos, an unknown in Washington circles until Trump named him as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016, is the second former Trump campaign figure jailed as a result of the Mueller inquiry. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been in custody since June, after prosecutors charged him with witness tampering, and was convicted last month on eight counts of tax and bank fraud unconnected to the campaign; he has yet to be sentenced in that case.
Mueller has also secured guilty pleas from two other former Trump hands: Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, both of whom have since cooperated with prosecutors. His team has also indicted two dozen Russians over a digital meddling campaign meant to influence the 2016 election.
Papadopoulos’ role, though, has long been shrouded in mystery. FBI officials say they lost a chance to interview Mifsud while he visited the United States in early 2017 because Papadopoulos declined to detail their connection in their first round of questioning. Mifsud has since seemingly disappeared, cutting off contacts and failing to appear for an appearance in an Italian court.
“The defendant lied in order to conceal his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the campaign and made his false statements to investigators on January 27, 2017, early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made,” Mueller’s team said in a filing ahead of the sentencing hearing.
Trump allies have long sought to downplay Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, describing him at times as a “coffee boy” or a bit player on a foreign policy team that was cobbled together when Trump was scrounging for expertise during a contested primary in which major establishment figures were shunning him.
On Friday, Breen noted the oddity of waiting with a colleague and Papadopoulos for a meeting at the FBI’s Chicago office, where official portraits of Trump and Sessions hung on the wall.
“We were going in there to potentially — and I’m not casting aspersions — potentially cooperate against those individuals,” Breen said.
Speaking at a campaign rally in North Dakota on Friday, Trump was dismissive of the former campaign adviser.
“I see Papadopoulos today, I don’t know Papadopoulos, I don’t know,” Trump said. “I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me — that’s the only thing I know about him.”
Papadopoulos’ sentencing Friday was the first time he has appeared in a public courtroom since he was arrested by FBI agents last July at Dulles Airport outside Washington, after stepping off a flight from Germany. His lawyers told POLITICO last year that the development was shocking to their client.
“Law enforcement likes to get somebody’s attention as much as they can in a lawful way,” Breen said.
Papadopoulos was held overnight at a jail in Alexandria, Virginia, then charged with making false statements and obstruction of justice. Afterward, he was taken to the nearby federal courthouse for a brief arraignment that took place behind closed doors. His lawyers said he quickly agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, but the scope of his cooperation has been unclear.
A defense filing last week claimed Papadopoulos said before he was charged that he was asked by the FBI whether he would “actively cooperate and contact various people” and that he replied that he was willing to try. “Active” cooperation in court papers often means wearing a wire or recording phone calls to get associates talking on tape. The filing doesn’t say whether Papadopoulos ever employed such tactics.
In October, Papadopoulos again appeared in a sealed courtroom, this time in Washington, to plead guilty to a single felony charge of making false statements in a federal investigation. His arrest and his plea remained a secret until later that month when the records and transcripts were unsealed on the same day Manafort and Gates appeared in court, revealing the first known prosecution by Mueller’s office.
Brent D. Griffiths contributed to this report.