Special counsel prosecutors are asking a U.S. judge to sentence former Donald Trump aide George Papadopoulos to up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI during the investigation over his interactions with foreign contacts who had connections to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, a CNN report claims.
The former Greek American Trump campaign staffer pleaded guilty last October to one count of lying to investigators over his interactions with foreign contacts.
The special counsel alleged that they might have been more successful in their investigation in early 2017 if Papadopoulos had not lied, as they had cornered the man they suspected could be part of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Specifically, the CNN report states, the former Trump staffer lied to the FBI in January 2017 about his contact in London with Joseph Mifsud, known as “the Professor”. Mifsud had told Papadopoulos the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Federal authorities then found Mifsud in Washington two weeks later, but allowed him to leave the country.
“The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the Professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States,” prosecutors wrote. “The defendant’s false statements were intended to harm the investigation, and did so.”
Mifsud who “has not returned to the United States” since February 2017, has not been publicly charged with a crime.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team, who took over the investigation after Papadopoulos’ initial interview in January 2017, said that Papadopoulos lied “to minimize both his own role as a witness and the extent of the campaign’s knowledge of his contacts”.
At the time of the interview, the FBI agents were looking for people with information about the Trump campaign and its connections to Russia. They were also pursuing leads about Russia’s involvement in the U.S. presidential election almost three months before the interview, the new filing said. They reminded Papadopoulos several times in that interview that he should not lie and could be prosecuted if he did, the filing said.
Papadopoulos concealed the “significance” of when he had learned that Russians possessed thousands of emails about Clinton. He said several times he had communicated with Mifsud before he joined the Trump campaign.
However, the Trump campaign staffer had started speaking with Mifsud in March 2016 and the latter “showed interest in the defendant only after learning of his role on the campaign,” the filing said.
Papadopoulos learned about the “dirt” the Russians had on Clinton the following month, after he began working for Trump, the filing said. He told the authorities his interactions with Mifsud were “a very strange coincidence”.
“The defendant lied in order to conceal his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the campaign,” the filing said. Those lies happened “early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made,” it said.
Several Russians involved in the hacking of Clinton and Democratic email servers were criminally charged by Mueller’s team about a month ago.
“Had the defendant told the FBI the truth when he was interviewed in January 2017, the FBI could have quickly taken numerous investigative steps to help determine, for example, how and where the Professor (Mifsud) obtained the information, why the Professor provided the information to the defendant, and what the defendant did with the information after receiving it,” the filing said.
Another detail in the filing is that the special counsel team said Papadopoulos had been given $10,000 in cash “from a foreign national whom he believed was likely an intelligence officer of a foreign country.” The filing noted that the country was “other than Russia.”
George Papadopoulos and the Trump campaign
Papadopoulos was a member of the Trump campaign on foreign policy issues. Born in Chicago from parents originally from Thessaloniki, he studied political science at DePaul University in 2010 and got his Master’s degree from the University College London.
Before joining the Donald Trump camp, Papadopoulos was adviser in the Ben Carson election campaign, who withdrew from the electoral race by announcing his support of Trump.
Papadopoulos’ recent business activities focused on the cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel for the conclusion of an energy alliance. In a recent interview with Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros, Papadopoulos spoke of the key role Cyprus could play for stability in the Middle East.
Trump dismissed Papadopoulos after it was proven that he had lied to the FBI investigation over his contacts with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” Trump posted on Twitter right after firing Papadopoulos.