Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday recommended that a federal judge sentence George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide, to up to six months in prison for lying to investigators in relation to Mueller’s Russia inquiry.
“The government does not take a position with respect to a particular sentence to be imposed, but respectfully submits that a sentence of incarceration, within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months’ imprisonment, is appropriate and warranted,” Mueller wrote in a government sentencing memorandum to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Story Continued Below
“The defendant’s crime was serious and caused damage to the government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” Mueller added. “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.”
Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser in Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to making false statements to the special counsel’s team, becoming the first person to admit guilt to Mueller’s federal prosecutors. The FBI accused him of lying to to investigators when it asked him about whether he had advance knowledge that Russians had obtained emails connected to Hillary Clinton’s campaign — and whether they intended to distribute them.
According to his plea agreement, Papadopoulos admitted to lying about the timing of his contacts with a professor, Joseph Mifsud, in London. Mifsud, according to prosecutors, told Papdopoulos after he had joined the Trump campaign in spring 2016 that Russians had obtained “dirt“ on Clinton. But Papadopoulos, according to Mueller, repeatedly denied that he interacted with the professor before to joining the campaign team.
It was Papadopoulos‘ description of his interaction with Mifsud to an Australian diplomat that ultimately led the FBI to open the Russia investigation in July 2016.
POLITICO previously reported that Mueller asked U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss to set Papadopoulos’ sentencing for Sept. 7. He faces a maximum possible sentence of five years in prison.
Mueller wrote in Friday’s filing that Papadopoulos “was explicitly notified of the seriousness of the ongoing investigation,” and warned by the special counsel’s prosecutors “that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’ that could get him ‘in trouble.’”
Instead, Mueller wrote, Papadopoulos “repeatedly lied throughout the interview in order to conceal the timing and significance of information the defendant had received regarding the Russians possessing ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, as well as his own outreach to Russia on behalf of the campaign.”
Mueller also maintained that Papadopoulos’ false statements “were intended to harm the investigation, and did so.”
“His lies negatively affected the FBI’s Russia investigation, and prevented the FBI from effectively identifying and confronting witnesses in a timely fashion,” he wrote. “His lies were not momentary lapses. He lied repeatedly over the course of more than two hours, and his lies were designed to conceal facts he knew were critical.”
In fact, Papadopoulos‘ comments prevented the FBI from detaining Mifsud when he was traveling in the United States in 2017, Mueller wrote.
“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,“ sentencing memo said. “The government understands that the Professor left the United States on February 11, 2017 and he has not returned to the United States since then.“
Mueller acknowledged in the filing that the government “cannot definitively know” Papadopoulos’ motivation for making the false statements, but noted that at the time of his interview with the special counsel’s investigators, he was pursuing a position within the new Trump White House “and had an incentive to protect the Administration and minimize his own role as a witness.”
Papadopoulos “had several communications” in January 2017 with incoming Trump administration officials in an attempt to secure a high-level role with the National Security Council or the Departments of State or Energy, according to the filing.
“In the hours after being interviewed by the FBI, the defendant submitted his biography and a description of work he did on the campaign in an effort to obtain a position as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Energy Department,” Mueller wrote.
Papadopoulos‘ wife, Simona, told POLITICO on Wednesday that she was encouraging her husband to withdraw his plea deal with the FBI, and she has become more vocal in recent weeks, accusing U.S. intelligence officials of “entrapment.“
“The information that we have today makes me believe that George has committed no crime, absolutely,” she said in a phone interview.
Simona Papadpooulos has made a public request for pro bono legal representation about the prospect of rescinding her husband‘s plea deal, though it’s unclear whether her husband or his attorneys are supporting that effort.
After the indictment, she tweeted, “I thought freedom of speech was a fundamental right.“
In a follow-up exchange, Simona Papadopoulos told POLITICO that her husband shared “all the information” he had and offered “full cooperation.” She questioned how her husband’s testimony could have prevented the FBI from questioning Mifsud and suggested that she hasn’t seen evidence of Mifsud’s connections to Russia — rather she says he may be a Western intelligence affiliate.
“When George was under the impression that Mifsud indeed had connections to Russia, he entertained conversations with him for months in the attempt to organize a meeting between Trump and Putin,” she said.