George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser for the Donald Trump campaign, lied to the FBI during the Russian probe and should spend up to six months in jail, according to a court filing by prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller.
Those lies, they said, resulted in the FBI missing an opportunity to properly question a professor Papadopoulos had met during the campaign who had tipped him that the Russians had “dirt” on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Papadopoulos was the first Trump campaign adviser to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation.
He had also triggered the initial counterintelligence probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election by revealing to an Australian diplomat, during a night of heavy drinking at a London bar in May 2016, that Russia had political dirt on Clinton.
The diplomat passed along the information to U.S. officials, setting the investigation into motion. The probe was later taken over by Mueller.
The document, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., Friday revealed several new details about the early days of the probe and charged that Papadopoulos caused irreparable damage to the investigation by repeatedly giving false information during a January 2017 interview.
The document says Papadopoulos had a series of communications over a period of months with the professor, a female Russian national, and a Russia foreign ministry connection "in which they discussed arranging a meeting between Russian officials and the Trump campaign."
The filing by the special counsel’s office strongly suggests the FBI had contact with Professor Joseph Mifsud while he was in the U.S. during the early part of the investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates.
The prosecutors charged that Papadopoulos, in early 2016, believed that the unidentified female Russian national had connections to high-level Russian government officials and could help him arrange a potential foreign policy trip to Russia.
"(H)e informed the campaign of his beliefs regarding her connections; and during the campaign he emailed and spoke over Skype on numerous occasions with her about the potential trip to Russia," the document says. "The defendant also did not reveal his extensive interactions with the Russia MFA Connection, including over Skype, even though he was asked if he had met during the campaign with any Russian nationals or '(a)nyone with a Russian accent.'"
According to prosecutors, the FBI “located” the professor in Washington about two weeks after the Papadopoulos’ interview and that his lies “substantially hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question” him.
“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,” Mueller’s team wrote, noting that the professor left the U.S. in February 2017 and has not returned since.
Prosecutors also note investigators missed an opportunity to interview others about the professor’s comments or anyone else at that time who might have known about Russian efforts to obtain derogatory information on Clinton during the campaign.
“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 obtained the information, why the professor provided the information to the defendant, and what the defendant did with the information after receiving it,” according to the court filing.
The filing recommends that Papadopoulos spend at least some time in jail and pay a nearly $10,000 fine. Under federal guidelines, his recommended sentence is zero to six months, but prosecutors note another defendant in the case spent 30 days in jail for lying to the FBI.
Mueller, who was named special counsel after the firing of FBI director James Comey, has returned indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three companies on charges of participating in a conspiracy to sow discord in the U.S. political system primarily by manipulating social media platforms.
He has also indicted 12 Russian intelligence operatives, accusing them of hacking into the computer systems of Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and then releasing tens of thousands of private emails through WikiLeaks.
According to that indictment, by April 2016, the Russian intelligence operatives had already stolen emails from several Democratic groups including the Clinton campaign and were beginning to plan how they were going to release the documents.