Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III urged a federal judge to sentence George Papadopoulos to up to six months in prison, saying in a court filing Friday night that his lies harmed the Russia investigation.
“The defendant’s false statements were intended to harm the investigation, and did so,” prosecutors wrote in a scathing sentencing memo.
Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy aide to the Trump campaign, was the first person charged in the Russia investigation. He pleaded guilty last year to making false statements to FBI agents, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 7.
One of those lies — which occurred when he first met FBI agents on Jan. 27, 2017 — may have allowed a key figure in the case to slip away, according to the court filing.
Papadopoulos told the agents that he hadn’t joined the Trump campaign when he talked to a London-based academic who had Russian connections.
“Those statements substantially hindered investigators' ability to effectively question the professor when the FBI located him in Washington, D.C., approximately two weeks” later, the court filing said.
“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.”
The potential impact of Papadopoulos’ lies was not previously known.
A bit player in the campaign, Papadopoulos played an outsized role in the Russia investigation.
The FBI first launched the counterintelligence investigation in mid-2016 after Papadopoulos reportedly told an Australian diplomat in London that he heard Moscow had political dirt on Hillary Clinton, including hacked emails. Australian officials passed the information to their U.S. counterparts.
Friday night’s prosecution memo was filed hours after Trump again denounced the Mueller investigation as “a rigged witch hunt,” and appeared to blame it on Democrats, not Russia’s interference in the election.
Prosecutors suggested that Papadopoulos lied because he wanted a job in the Trump administration and “had an incentive to protect the administration and minimize his own role as a witness.”
In early 2017, the court filing said, he was seeking a “high-level position” at the National Security Council, State Department or Energy Department. He even submitted a resume to buttress his application within hours of speaking to FBI agents, the court filing said.
The memo also sheds light on why Mueller has moved to sentencing for Papadopoulos while delaying it for several other defendants who have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Among them is Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, who also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents last year but has not been sentenced.
Papadopoulos wasn’t that helpful a witness, the court filing said.
“The defendant did not provide ‘substantial assistance,’ and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas,” the court filing said.
In addition, Papadopoulos withheld a cellphone that he used during the campaign, only providing it when requested, according to the court filing.