George Papadopoulos was headed to prison — and he was scared.
He had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was sentenced to two weeks’ hard time at a minimum-security federal facility in rural central Wisconsin. The 31-year-old erstwhile Trump campaign aide, who was a focus of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, was told it would be no big deal, just some white-collar criminals caught up in financial crimes, “stuff like that,” he wrote in his new book, “Deep State Target.”
But, still, it was prison.
“All I knew about prison was what I’d seen in the movies — gang violence, prison rapes, segregation, abusive jailers,” Papadopoulos recounted in the book. “On top of everything, it was going to be freezing cold, with crappy weather. I wasn’t sure I would last a day.”
But when he showed up at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wis., in late November, he almost immediately realized he had nothing to worry about.
In his telling, Papadopoulos arrived at the facility by car and dashed inside, trying to avoid camera crews and photographers looking for a perp-walk visual. Inside, he got a warm welcome.
“I’m not speaking for the Bureau of Prisons, but as a private citizen,” he says one employee told him. “I want to say that I think what happened to you was terrible. … We just want the situation to be as pleasant as possible and that no one bothers you. If you need any help, please contact us.”
This was no Shawshank, no Green Mile, he thought.
“Then I realized,” he wrote. “I’m in Trump Country — I’m going to be okay.”
Papadopoulos, whom a fellow aide once dismissed as a mere “coffee boy,” served as one of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisers. He attracted FBI attention for his association with the Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, who told him in 2016 that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton, court papers say.
Papadopoulos then relayed this to an Australian diplomat in a London bar, which helped spark the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s campaign.
He finished his sentence in December and began to claim that he was “set up” by Western intelligence officials who were opposed to Trump. Even the cover of his book, which sports a large crosshairs near his head, seems to underline his assertion: He was targeted.
It’s this fighting spirit, he said, that endeared him to both the guards and the inmates at FCI Oxford.
In an interview with MSNBC’s Ari Melber this week, Papadopoulos claimed his association with Trump and his rabble-rousing about the charges leveled against him gave him “street cred” at the prison.
“Uh, let’s say I had some street cred,” he said. “They considered me as that, as a fighter, and that counts for street cred when you get into a place like that."
In his book, Papadopoulos said the guards were especially friendly. One of them told him, “Listen, you don’t have to worry in here. This is Camp Cupcake.”
But that was nothing compared to the reception he said he got when he walked into the TV room.
“Somebody let out a whoop, people were looking in my direction,” he wrote. “The guys started clapping — the prisoners and the guards — and rising to their feet. They gave me a standing ovation. … They knew I’d gotten a raw deal.”
A spokeswoman for the prison did not respond to questions about the veracity of Papadopoulos’s account. His lawyers have formally requested a presidential pardon, and if granted, Papadopoulos said, it would be an “honor” to accept.
Asked by Fox News host Sean Hannity whether he was considering a pardon for Papadopoulos or former national security adviser Michael Flynn, President Trump didn’t rule it out.
“Many, many people were hurt, incredibly hurt by this whole scam . . .” Trump said. “I don’t want to talk about pardons now, but I can say it’s so sad on so many levels.”
Papadopoulos has said that there is a lot of “disinformation” and “misunderstanding” about him, and he just wants to move on. Turns out, prison may have been the easy part.
Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.