Prosecutors said Friday that a sentence of up to six months in prison would be appropriate for George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the first charged defendant to cooperate in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about Russian contacts during the campaign, in which he served on a volunteer national security advisory panel and tried for months, unsuccessfully, to arrange a meeting between campaign aides and Russian officials.
Friday’s 10-page filing provided fresh details of how Papadopoulos’s lies impeded the FBI, according to prosecutors, who went on to say his lack of cooperation justified a prison term.
They said Papadopoulos’s initial lies hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question, challenge or detain a London professor who Papadopoulos said first told him that Russians had ‘dirt”on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.
The FBI located the professor in Washington about two weeks after Papadopoulos’s initial Jan. 27, 2017, interview with Mueller’s investigators, but the professor left the country on Feb. 11, 2017, and has not returned to the United States, prosecutors said.
While saying the government cannot know what motivated Papadopoulos to lie, Mueller’s office wrote in the sentencing memo that he was seeking a high-level position in the new administration’s National Security Council or the State or Energy departments.
Mueller’s prosecutors declined to recommend a specific sentence for Papadopoulos ahead of a hearing set for Sept. 7, but they said “ a sentence of incarceration, within the applicable Guidelines range of 0 to 6 months’ imprisonment, is appropriate and warranted.”
The special counsel’s office also said that Papadopoulos has failed to provide “substantial assistance,” to their investigators — which might have warranted leniency — and that he participated in a media interview without its knowledge in December 2017, prompting prosecutors to cancel an interview where he was to answer further questions.
Papadopoulos’s attorneys, Thomas M. Breen and Robert W. Stanley, have until Aug. 31 to file a sentencing recommendation of their own.
In a signed plea agreement Oct. 5, Papadopoulos, 31, and prosecutors agreed he faced zero to six months under federal guidelines if he cooperated, committed no further crimes and had no other criminal history. Both sides reserved the right to ask for a harsher or more lenient punishment.
The prosecutors’ filing came after an unusual public campaign in conservative media this week by Papadopoulos’s wife in which she asked for new attorneys and suggested he tear up his plea deal and face trial.
“I don’t want him to be the sacrificial lamb of a witch hunt, and there are many exculpatory [pieces of] evidence, shady people,” Simona Papadopoulos told Fox News’s Tucker Carlson Thursday.
Her stance marked a turnabout from January, when she told The Washington Post that Papadopoulos would be remembered like John Dean, the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to his role in the Watergate coverup and then became a key witness against other aides to President Richard M. Nixon.
She later explained that the couple reassessed his role after learning that his contacts with the London professor Joseph Mifsud led the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia. And Papadopoulos was also upset to learn that a Cambridge professor who hired him to write an energy paper in the fall of 2016 was a source for the FBI, she said in June.
Breen and Stanley at the time issued a statement saying, “The most accurate account of Mr. Papadopoulos’ plea agreement and plea of guilty is contained in the publicly filed court records and the transcript of Mr. Papadopoulos’ guilty plea.”
The filing of the sentencing recommendation by prosecutors could suggest they no longer need assistance from the young oil and gas consultant.
The investigation into Papadopoulos was formally opened after Australian officials alerted the FBI to professor Joseph Mifsud’s unusual interaction with him in London in July 2016.
The Australians said Papadopoulos told one of their diplomats that he had been informed by Mifsud that the Russians had damaging material about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
That September , Stefan A. Halper, a retired Cambridge professor and FBI source, invited Papadopoulos to London, offering him $3,000 to discuss an energy-related research paper. The activities of Halper, which were recently disclosed by The Washington Post and other news organizations, have led Trump and his allies to accuse the FBI of spying on his campaign.
Trump has dismissed Papadopoulos as a low-level volunteer whose actions should not reflect on the campaign. But internal campaign emails described to The Post show Papadopoulos kept top campaign staffers apprised of his activities. He exchanged emails with top officials during the campaign and presidential transition, including former top adviser Stephen K. Bannon and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
In a March 31, 2016, meeting of the advisory board attended by Trump and then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, Papadopoulos announced that he could arrange a meeting for Trump with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
About that time, prosecutors have said, the London-based professor, Mifsud, began showing interest in Papadopoulos. Mifsud told Papadopoulos in April 2016 about the damaging emails, indicating that he had been told about the documents while attending a recent conference in Russia, according to court documents.
Mifsud also introduced Papadopoulos to two Russian contacts — a woman and a man who had connections with the Russian Foreign Ministry, court documents show.
In response to Papadopoulos’ repeated mentions of Russia’s interest in a meeting, then Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — facing trial in Mueller’s probe on an 18-count indictment alleging bank and tax fraud for his earlier political work in Ukraine for pro-Russian interests — emailed his deputy, deputy Rick Gates, writing, “We need someone to communicate that [Trump] is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
In his guilty plea, Papadopoulos admitted that he had lied to FBI agents during a February 2017 interview and misled them about interactions he had with Mifsud and his Russian contacts.