- First Trump campaign aide sentenced in Mueller probe
Foreign policy advisor to US President Donald Trump’s election campaign, George Papadopoulos, arrives at US District Court for his sentencing in Washington, DC on September 7, 2018.
George Papadopoulos, a former campaign advisor on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in jail for lying to investigators during their probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Papadopoulos, 31, who was also sentenced to one year of supervised release, is the first member of the Trump campaign to be sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation.
“I made a terrible mistake,” Papadopoulos said at his sentencing in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Papadopoulos’ lawyers had argued that Trump’s constant attacks on Mueller’s probe as “fake news” and a “witch hunt” hindered the investigation “more than George Papadopoulos ever could.”
Trump’s bellicose stance on the probe had influenced Papadopoulos’ decision to lie, his lawyer argued.
Defense lawyers had asked Judge Randolph Moss for a sentence of probation. Mueller’s prosecutors, however, sought a sentence between zero and six months in prison.
The prosecutors had argued in court filings that Papadopoulos’ lies to the government were “material to the investigation” of Russian election interference that preceded the appointment of the special counsel.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with London-based professor Joseph Mifsud, who told Papadopoulos in late April 2016 that Russians had “dirt” on Trump’s campaign rival, Hillary Clinton.
Trump had weighed in before the sentencing Friday, connecting Papadopoulos’ experience with the special counsel to his own tug-of-war over a potential in-person interview with investigators.
“I see Papadopoulos today. I don’t know Papadopoulos. I don’t know him. I saw him sitting at one picture at a table. That’s the only thing I know about him. I don’t know him. But they got him on, I guess a couple of lies,” Trump said.
Trump was referring to a March 2016 foreign policy in which he shared a table with Papadopoulos and other advisors.
In an interview with The New York Times, Papadopoulos said he informed then-candidate Trump and the other officials during that meeting that Mifsud was interested in scheduling a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Trump was at least open to this,” Papadopoulos said.
“Though he wasn’t committed either way, but he nodded and deferred to [Attorney General] Jeff Sessionswho I remember being actually quite enthusiastic about a potential meeting between then-candidate Trump and Putin.”
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Papadopoulos falsely told investigators at least a dozen times that the conversation with Mifsud occurred before he joined the campaign in early March of that year, according to the prosecutors.
The foreign policy advisor, who was 28 years old at the time he joined Trump’s campaign, lied “to minimize both his own role as a witness and the extent of the campaign’s knowledge of his contacts,” prosecutors said.
The New York Times reported in December that the FBI’s investigation into Russian attempts to sway the 2016 election wasspearheaded by Papadopoulos blabbingabout compromising Clinton information to an Australian diplomat a month after his meeting with Mifsud.
But Papadopoulos’ lawyers disputed the prosecutors’ characterization in their own memo to the judge filed last week.
While acknowledging that Papadopoulos “is ashamed and remorseful” for committing an “unquestionably serious” offense by lying to FBI agents, his defense attorneys contend that those lies did not harm the investigation.
The defense team portrayed Papadopoulos as a young and naive aide who had gained a prominent foothold in Trump’s campaign and overstretched himself by trying to organize a meeting between Russian officials and the campaign.
“To say George was out of his depth would be a gross understatement,” the attorneys wrote. But they maintained he misled the FBI for personal reasons, rather than to send the investigation astray.
“Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard,” Papadopoulos’ lawyers wrote.
His attorneys argued that Papadopoulos, who was arrested in July 2017, has already spent thirteen months under pretrial supervision, which they considered the equivalent of one year of probation.
Within that time, Papadopoulos has mainly been represented in public through the Twitter account of his wife, Simona Mangiante Papadopo