WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was sentenced to 14 days in prison on Friday for lying to investigators about his contacts with Russians during the 2016 election.
The probation office recommended a sentence of 30 days, but U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss opted for a shorter punishment after concluding that Papadopoulos was genuinely remorseful.
Citing the seriousness of the crime, however, Moss said he could not justify letting Papadopoulos off with probation.
“I made a terrible mistake for which I have paid dearly,” Papadopoulos said in a statement to the court during the 90-minute hearing.
Belying his relaxed facade, Papadopoulos shared that he is struggling with depression for having disappointed his family and his friends.
Though special counsel Robert Mueller’s team reached a cooperation deal with Papadopoulos as part of his guilty plea in October 2017, they disclosed earlier this month that the 31-year-old’s cooperation has been minimal and that his dishonesty harmed the investigation.
“He didn’t come close to the standard of substantial assistance,” prosecutor Andrew Goldstein said in court Friday afternoon.
Indeed most of the information Papadopoulos gave Mueller’s team was delivered only after they confronted him with a trail of his emails, text messages and internet search history, prosecutors said.
“It was at best begrudging efforts to cooperate,” Goldstein noted during the sentencing hearing.
Papadopoulos’ attorney Robert Stanley with Breen & Pugh did not deny that his client’s offense of lying to FBI agents was serious, but pushed back against the government’s claim that he intended to undermine or harm the investigation.
In an Aug. 31 sentencing memo, Stanley said Papadopoulos cooperated fully with the investigation and acquiesced to the government’s three requests to delay his sentencing “as a courtesy.”
In court Friday, defense attorney Thomas Breen called his client’s conduct “a stupid mistake,” and described him as “naive,” “unsophisticated” and “a fool.”
Breen tried to persuade Moss that his client has already suffered in the court of public opinion, saying “he’s taken his pounding.”
“I don’t know what his life is going to be like after this,” Breen said. “He certainly won’t be put on any high-ranking committees.”
Prosecutors took no position on an appropriate sentence last month but recommended a sentence of 0 to 6 months. Papadopoulos meanwhile had argued that probation is a more appropriate sentence and that jailing him “would create an unwarranted sentencing disparity.”
The former Trump campaign adviser landed in legal hot water after lying to federal investigators about contacts he had with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign. These contacts included London-based professor Joseph Mifsud, who claimed to have connections to the Kremlin, and a woman named Olga claiming to be related to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The pair told Papadopoulos they could help arrange a meeting for the Trump campaign with Russian government officials.
During their final meeting, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that Kremlin operatives had “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, including thousands of emails.
Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo downplays the significance of this revelation.
“Not knowing what to make of this comment, George continued his efforts to make the Trump – Russia meeting a reality,” the memo states. “As he expressed in an email to Professor Mifsud, George believed that the meeting would be ‘history making.’”
In court Friday, attorney Breen said Mifsud started “working George” the moment he realized Papadopoulos was working for the Trump campaign.
“He doesn’t know he’s being worked by a pro,” Breen said.
Prosecutors say Papadopoulos had been on the Trump campaign for at least a month before he met with Mifsud, but that Papadopoulos repeatedly told investigators that he was not yet part of the campaign when the meetings took place.
This dishonesty undermined the ability of prosecutors to question or detain Mifsud about the emails before he left the United States in February 2017, the government has said.
Attorney Stanley has countered meanwhile that his client’s dishonesty stemmed not from nefarious intent, but a desire to further his career.
“Caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation, Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master,” his sentencing memo said.
In court Friday, Moss pushed back on the notion that Papadopoulos could use that to excuse his behavior.
“He had plenty of opportunity to come back and say he made a mistake,” Moss said. “And he didn’t do that.”
Breen nonetheless tried to portray his client as a victim of the circumstances at the time. He noted that, one week prior to Papadopoulos’ first interview with Mueller’s investigators on Jan. 27, 2017, President Trump had set out to frame Russian election meddling as fake news.
That impacted his client’s mindset, Breen said.
“The president of the United States of America hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could,” Breen said.
Misguided loyalty to the new president and professional considerations led him to make the “stupid mistake” of lying to the FBI during his first interview, Breen later added.
The president, who consistently denies his campaign colluded with the Kremlin’s effort to disrupt the election and calls Mueller’s Russia probe a “witch hunt,” tweeted a swift response Friday to the sentence of his former foreign-policy adviser.
Trump wrote: “14 days for 28 MILLION – $2 MILLION a day, No Collusion. A great day for America!”
Both Moss and Breen acknowledged in court Friday that there didn’t seem to be any impropriety in how Mueller’s investigators handled the case. In fact, Breen complimented the special counsel’s office when he addressed the court, calling their interviews with his client “professional,” and saying the questions they had for him were long but fair.
Breen’s sentencing memo said Papadopoulos saw an opportunity in building a relationship with Mifsud to facilitate one of the Trump campaign’s primary policy goals: improving relations with Russia.
In court Friday, attorney Breen said the “dirt” on Clinton offered up by Mifsud was not at the forefront of his client’s mind, but rather furthering the campaign’s foreign-policy goal.
“He thinks he’s furthering the interests of the fellow he wants to be president,” Breen said.
According to his sentencing memo, Papadopoulos was witnessing his career skyrocket “to unimaginable heights.”
During the March 31, 2016, national-security meeting at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., Papadopoulos eagerly announced he could facilitate a foreign-policy meeting between Trump and Putin.
“While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it,” the memo states.
Ultimately the meeting never happened, but Breen said in court Friday that the attention Papadopoulos received because of the meeting “absolutely delighted” him.
Papadopoulos says investigators lured him into questioning about the FBI’s Russia investigation, which was not yet public and still under the direction of former FBI Director James Comey, by telling him they wanted to question him about Sergei Millian.
Millian’s name had surfaced as a source for the controversial dossier put together by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Papadopoulos claims he answered questions about Millian for roughly 20 minutes, but that the FBI quickly shifted gears and started inquiring about Russian influence on the election.
According to his sentencing memo, Papadopoulos told investigators he was unaware that anyone in the Trump campaign knew in advance that Clinton’s emails would be released.
“Further, George told the agents he had no knowledge of meetings between Russian government officials and people working on the campaign,” his sentencing memo states.
From his telling, Papadopoulos wanted to assist investigators but was also concerned about his professional future and desired to continue working for the campaign. So he misled investigators to distance himself from Mifsud.
“In his hesitation, George lied, minimized, and omitted material facts. Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard,” his sentencing memo says.
In his presentencing address to the court, Papadopoulos seemed to acknowledge that his lies had harmed a national-security investigation.
“I was not honest,” Papadopoulos said. “And I might have hindered the investigation.”
He said he decided to hide aspects of his relationship with Mifsud after the professor told him he had dirt on his boss’s political opponent.
Papadopoulos says he does not recall having ever told the campaign what Mifsud told him about Clinton’s stolen emails.
“Serving the United States with pride is all I ever wanted to do,” Papadopoulos said.
In addition to two weeks in jail, Papadopoulos will undergo 12 months of supervised release and must do 200 hours of community service. He must also pay a fine of $9,500.
Papadopoulos was not taken into custody after the hearing, and was seen getting into a car after exiting the courthouse.
“We are very satisfied with the sentence. I think the judge really took everything into consideration,” Breen told reporters after the hearing.
Clarifying what his client knew about the stolen Clinton emails, Breen told reporters that Papadopoulos “has never seen any emails that would’ve been hacked by Russia,” and does not recall having told anyone on the campaign about them.
If Papadopoulos did tell anyone about the emails, Breen added, he does not remember the identity of such persons.
Moss described having struggled with Papadopoulos’ sentence but said he was not impressed that aspirations of a job in the Trump administration led Papadopoulos to lie during an investigation with national importance.
“Those are not noble reasons to tell a lie,” Moss said.