A foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to FBI agents about “dirt” he was offered on Hillary Clinton.
George Papadopoulos, 30, pleaded guilty on October 5, but the case wasn’t unsealed until Monday, according to a statement from Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
He becomes the third adviser to Trump’s campaign to face criminal charges in the FBI investigation after Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and his associate, Rick Gates, surrendered on Monday morning.
Papadopoulos reached a plea deal with prosecutors, and has since been cooperating with Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Prosecutors’ statement of the offence alleges Papadopoulos was offered thousands of emails containing “dirt” on Clinton in April 2016 ― months before the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee was known.
On Twitter, Trump boasted that the Manafort and Gates indictments suggested there was “no collusion” with Russia.
But he made no mention of the Papadopoulos guilty plea, which commentators have hailed as “significant”.
Former US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Trump earlier this year, tweeted: “Special Counsel Mueller already has one criminal conviction. And this plea portends more charges to come.”
Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School and a former assistant district attorney, noted the publication of Papadopoulos’ plea agreement online sends a certain message.
“You can tell that he’s a cooperator from that,” she told the Daily News. “My only speculation is they’re trying to get people to flip. They’re saying to people, publicly, We have more information than you think you have.”
According to the statement, Papadopoulos “made material false statements and material omissions” during a January 27 interview with the FBI and was arrested on July 27.
Under a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to recommend between no prison time to six months.
What has he done?
Papadopoulos was living in London when he joined the Trump campaign, according to the statement.
Papadopoulos told the FBI a London-based professor had “told him about the Russians possessing ‘dirt’ on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails,’ but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the campaign”, according to court documents.
In fact, Papadopoulos was contacted after he learned he’d be joining the campaign, and the professor only mentioned the “thousands of emails” after he’d been on the Trump campaign for more than a month.
The professor, the statement indicates, had “substantial connections to Russian government officials” even though Papadopoulos claimed the professor was “a nothing”.
Papadopoulos sent a “High-Ranking Campaign Official” an email titled “New message from Russia” back in June 2016, in which he said the Russian ministry of foreign affairs wanted to meet with either Trump or a campaign official in an off-the-record capacity, according to the prosecutors’ statement.
A Trump campaign supervisor encouraged Papadopoulos to make the trip “if it is feasible” on August 15, 2016.
What does Trump say?
Trump has tried to completely distance himself from the controversy. In the past, the Trump team has tried to write off troubling individuals as peripheral to their operation.
While Papadopoulos was a low-level official, he was certainly a part of the campaign. He attended a meeting with Trump and Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general, in March 2016.
There’s even a photo of them at a table together, with Papadopoulos sitting four places to Trump’s right and two places to Sessions’ left.
“He’s an energy consultant,” Trump told The Washington Post of Papadopoulos in 2016. “Excellent guy.”
On Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ importance, saying his involvement with the campaign was “extremely limited” and that he was simply a “volunteer”.
She said that anything Papadopoulos did was not in an “official capacity” on behalf of the campaign.
What else do we know?
Papadopolous is an international energy lawyer who is a 2009 graduate of DePaul University in Chicago, before moving to London to get a master’s degree in security studies, The Washington Post reports.
He is currently an oil, gas and policy consultant, according to his LinkedIn page.
Previously, he was an adviser to Ben Carson’s presidential campaign and was the US representative at the Geneva International Model United Nations in 2012, though two people in the delegation that year said they had “no recollection of him being there”.
The newspaper notes that Papadopoulos “has not left much of a paper trail”, pointing to handful of newspaper op-eds and articles with Israeli news outlets.
What does Papadopoulos say?
From his lawyers: “We look forward to telling all the details of George’s story.”