Former Donald Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos has been sentenced to 14 days in prison for lying to the FBI during its investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October last year to lying to FBI agents in a voluntary interview in January of that year about the timing and significance of his contacts with Russians, including a professor who told him the Russians had “dirt” on Mr Trump’s Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
He is the first former campaign aide to be sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia probe, which is also investigating any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Federal District Judge Randolph D Moss cited “the gravity of the investigation” and the need to send a message to the public as the reason for the imprisonment.
Judge Moss said that Papadopoulos’ deception was “not a noble lie” and that he had lied because he wanted a job in the Trump administration and didn’t want to jeopardise that possibility by being tied to the Russia investigation.
“In some ways it constitutes a calculated exercise of self interest over the national interest,” the judge said.
In addition to the prison time, Papadopoulos was sentenced to one year of supervised release and 200 hours of community service after his jail time is complete. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $9,500 (£7,400).
Papadopoulos apologised for his actions, telling a judge that he had made a “dreadful mistake” and was eager for redemption.
“I hope to have a second chance to redeem myself,” Papadopoulos said. “I made a dreadful mistake but I am a good man.”
Papadopoulos joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor in March 2016, aged 29. A month after that, a contact of his, London-based professor Joseph Mifsud allegedly promised Papadopoulos incriminating information on Ms Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails”.
Mr Mifsud also introduced the campaign advisor to a woman named Olga, who claimed to be a niece of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a man named Ivan Timofeev, who claimed to have a connection to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Prosecutors said Papadopoulos’s false statements to the FBI contributed to their inability to secure an interview with the professor.
“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,” they wrote in court papers, noting that Mr Mifsud left the US in February 2017 and has not returned.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of six months in prison. They said Papadopoulos thwarted a national security investigation with his false statements
In court on Friday, prosecutor Andrew Goldstein said Papadopoulos’s cooperation “didn’t come close to the standard of substantial assistance”.
He said Papadopoulos’s deception required investigators to scour more than 100,000 emails and gigabytes of data to reconstruct the timeline of his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries.
Lawyers for Mr Papadopoulos – a former foreign policy advisor – had asked for leniency, claiming the 31-year-old was in over his head on the campaign and never intended to derail a federal investigation. They are asking for a sentence of probation, but no jail time.
“[Papadopoulos’s] motives for lying to the FBI were wrongheaded indeed, but far from the sinister spin the government suggests,” his lawyers wrote in a sentencing memo. “Caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation, Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master.”
In court, Papadopoulos’s lawyer, Thomas Breen, criticised Mr Trump for calling the Russia probe “fake news” and a “witch hunt”.
“The president of the United States hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could,” Mr Breen said.
Mr Trump looked to distance himself from Papadopoulos in comments to reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to an event in Fargo, North Dakota on Friday.
“I see Papadopoulos today; I don’t know Papadopoulos, I don’t know,” Mr Trump said, adding: “They got him, on I guess, on a couple of lies.” he has
According to court documents, Papadopoulos boasted about his contacts at a 2016 meeting with Mr Trump and other senior campaign officials, including then campaign advisor, now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He also proposed setting up a meeting between Mr Trump and Mr Putin – a proposal Mr Sessions has said he pushed back against.
Papadopoulos’s lawyers challenged Mr Sessions’ version of events in their filing last week, writing: “Mr Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.”
Other Trump associates have been charged with lying to federal investigators. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents in December, and former campaign official Rick Gates pleaded guilty to the same charge in February. Both men have yet to be sentenced.
Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report
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