George Papadopoulos, the former foreign policy advisor to President Trump's campaign whose suspicious conversations triggered the Russia investigation, was sentenced Friday to 14 days in prison and one year of supervised release.
The sentencing, coming nearly one year after he pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents, ends an important yet mysterious story line in the examination of whether anyone from Trump’s team conspired with Moscow to influence the presidential election.
Judge Randolph D. Moss said the sentence could have been higher but he sensed “genuine remorse” from Papadopoulos. The judge said there’s no evidence Papadopoulos had “any desire to aid Russia in any way.” However, by lying to the FBI in hopes of maintaining his shot at a job in the Trump administration, he placed “self-interest over the national interest,” Moss said.
Papadopoulos, 31, had never before appeared in a public court hearing; he admitted his guilt during a closed session last October.
Before the sentencing, Papadopoulos made a statement, describing himself as a “patriotic American” who made a mistake by lying to investigators. “I was not honest, and I might have hindered the investigation.”
The junior advisor first appeared on investigators’ radar during the campaign after he told an Australian diplomat that Russians had political dirt on Hillary Clinton, who was on her way to becoming the Democratic nominee for president. When hacked emails were released publicly that summer — part of an operation that intelligence officials later concluded was orchestrated by the Kremlin — the diplomat informed U.S. officials and a counterintelligence investigation began.
About a week after Trump’ January 2017 inauguration, FBI agents knocked on the door of the Chicago home where Papadopoulos was living with his mother, Kiki.
“I see two tall men in black suits,” Kiki Papadopoulos told reporters outside the courthouse on Friday. “I say, oh my God, trouble.”
She said her son, who had just stepped out of the shower, received a text from the men saying they were with the FBI, and he urged his mother to let them in. The agents started talking with Papadopoulos, and he agreed to an interview at their field office downtown.
“I said, ‘George, please stop; they’re not your friends,’” his mother said. “He wouldn’t listen.”
During the interview that day, Papadopoulos lied to the agents about his April 2016 conversation with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor working in London who had ties to Russian officials. Although Papadopoulos confirmed that Mifsud told him Russians had "thousands of emails" involving Clinton, he claimed he hadn’t yet joined the Trump campaign when they spoke.
Before Papadopoulos sat down for the interview, Trump had been blasting the Russia investigation as “fake news” and a “witch hunt,” said Thomas Breen, a lawyer for Papadopoulos. Because of Papadopoulos’ loyalty to the president, “that’s the mind-set going in there” with the FBI, Breen said.
It’s unclear if the conversation between Mifsud and Papadopoulos was part of Moscow’s larger scheme to boost Trump’s candidacy. Mifsud’s current whereabouts are unknown, and Papadopoulos has denied telling anyone else from the president’s campaign about Mifsud’s claims.
Trump and his allies have repeatedly downplayed Papadopoulos’ role on the campaign, with one of them describing him as a mere “coffee boy.” The president told reporters on Air Force One on Friday that “I don’t know Papadopoulos.”
“I saw him sitting in one picture at a table with me, that’s the only thing I know about him,” Trump said, referring to a widely circulated photo of Papadopoulos in a meeting with Trump and several other advisors.
Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had asked the judge to sentence Papadopoulos to up to six months in prison, saying his false statements “were intended to harm the investigation, and did so.”
The FBI met with Mifsud while he was visiting the United States in early 2017, but Papadopoulos’ lies “undermined investigators' ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him.”
In a court filing, lawyers for Papadopoulos had argued for probation, saying he was “ashamed and remorseful” but wasn’t trying to undermine the Russia probe when he was “caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation.” They said prosecutors have not provided any proof that Papadopoulos “actually harmed the investigation as alleged.”
The lawyers portrayed Papadopoulos as “out of his depth” as a foreign policy advisor for a candidate for whom he had “unbridled loyalty.”
Papadopoulos’ goal in speaking with Mifsud was not related to seeking dirt on Clinton, the lawyers said, but an effort to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When Papadopoulos pleaded guilty last year, he pledged to help the special counsel’s office with its investigation. But prosecutors said his assistance was negligible.
“He didn’t come close to a standard of substantial assistance,” Andrew Goldstein, one of the prosecutors, told the judge on Friday. He added, “It was, at best, begrudging attempts to cooperate.”
Papadopoulos disagreed in his own court filing, arguing that he “cooperated fully" and provided "critical information.”