Highlights of the Special Counsel’s Case Against George Papadopoulos – New York Times
WASHINGTON — In the first charges in the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his conversations with people linked to the Russian government about potential “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and Russia’s openness to “cooperation” with the campaign.
Separately, President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul J. Manafort Jr., and his business partner, Rick Gates, were indicted. The charges they face do not relate to Mr. Trump or the campaign, but it is widely believed that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is hoping to pressure Mr. Manafort into providing information about the central subject of his investigation.
The facts surrounding the criminal case against Mr. Papadopoulos are directly significant to that focus. Here are highlights:
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Lies about contacts with Russia-linked people
On or about the 27th day of January, 2017, defendant GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS did willfully and knowingly make a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement and representation in a matter within the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the Government of the United States, to wit, defendant PAPADOPOULOS lied to special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, concerning a federal investigation based out of the District of Columbia, about the timing, extent, and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.
Mr. Papadopoulos is charged with lying to the F.B.I. during an interview in early 2017. A 14-page statement of the offense that accompanies the brief criminal information filing shows that Mr. Papadopoulos was questioned by the F.B.I. about his interactions during the campaign with two apparent Russian agents — an unnamed professor and an unnamed “female Russian national,” who each had substantial connections to Russian government officials. The filing says Mr. Papadopoulos falsely played down the significance of those conversations and falsely said he had not yet joined the campaign when they reached out to him.
Lying to federal investigators is a felony that can carry a sentence of up to five years in prison, giving Mr. Papadopoulos an incentive to cooperate in exchange for leniency.
How they began talking
On or about March 14, 2016, while traveling in Italy, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met an individual who was a professor based in London (the “Professor”). Initially, the Professor seemed uninterested in defendant PAPADOPOULOS. However, after defendant PAPADOPOULOS informed the Professor about his joining the Campaign, the Professor appeared to take great interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS was interested in the Professor because, among other reasons, the Professor claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials, which defendant PAPADOPOULOS thought could increase his importance as a policy adviser to the Campaign. On or about March 21, 2016, the Campaign told The Washington Post that defendant PAPADOPOULOS was one of five named foreign policy advisers for the Campaign. On or about March 24, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met with the Professor in London. The Professor brought with him a female Russian national (the “Female Russian National”), introduced to defendant PAPADOPOULOS as a relative of Russian President Vladimir Putin with connections to senior Russian government officials.
The court filing identifies neither the professor nor the woman, who turned out not to be Mr. Putin’s relative. It also does not identify senior campaign officials, like Mr. Papadopoulos’s supervisor, to whom he reported on his contacts.
Trump was told of efforts to set up a meeting with Putin
On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisers for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin. After his trip to Washington, D.C., defendant PAPADOPOULOS worked with the Professor and the Female Russian National to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government, and took steps to advise the Campaign of his progress.
Senior campaign officials were aware of these efforts and apparently sanctioned them; Mr. Papadopoulos’s supervisor told him “great work” in one email.
Learning the Russians have ‘emails’ and ‘dirt’ on Clinton
On or about April 26, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for breakfast at a London hotel. During this meeting, the Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high level Russian government officials. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They (the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”
The court filing says Mr. Papadopoulos continued to discuss setting up a campaign-Russia meeting after this encounter. It does not say whether he conveyed to his campaign superiors this information about what Mr. Putin was said to possess.
Russians were ‘open for cooperation’
On or about May 4, 2016, the Russian MFA Connection sent an email (the “May 4 MFA Email”) to defendant PAPADOPOULOS and the Professor that stated: “I have just talked to my colleagues from the MFA. The[y] are open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.” Defendant PAPADOPOULOS responded that he was “[g]lad the MFA is interested.” Defendant PAPADOPOULOS forwarded the May 4 MFA Email to the High-Ranking Campaign Official, adding: “What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?” The next day, on or about May 5, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS had a phone call with the Campaign Supervisor, and then forwarded the May 4 MFA Email to him, adding to the top of the email: “Russia updates.”
The professor had put Mr. Papadopoulos in contact with someone described as “an individual in Moscow” who told Mr. Papadopoulos he had connections with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or the MFA. A week after Mr. Papadopoulos learned from the professor that the Russians had “emails” and “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he received this apparent offer to cooperate with the foreign affairs ministry liaison. The filing does not say what the Trump campaign officials interpreted the word “cooperation” to mean when they saw the email.
Trump campaign officials were apparently cautious but interested
The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Notably, it was less than a month later that Donald Trump Jr. received an email from an intermediary with contacts in Russia saying the Russian government had information that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” which described as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” setting up a now-famous meeting in Trump Tower on June 9.
A shift to pursuit of a potential secret meeting with campaign officials
From mid-June through mid-August 2016, PAPADOPOULOS pursued an “off the record” meeting between one or more Campaign representatives and “members of president putin’s office and the mfa.” For example, on or about June 19, 2016, after several email and Skype exchanges with the Russian MFA Connection, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed the High Ranking Campaign Official, with the subject line “New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.” After several weeks of further communications regarding a potential “off the record” meeting with Russian officials, on or about August 15, 2016, the Campaign Supervisor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that “I would encourage you” and another foreign policy adviser to the Campaign to “make the trip, if it is feasible.”
The court filing tersely states that the proposed trip did not take place but does not explain why. But Mr. Mueller almost certainly knows more than he is willing to reveal at this stage. The court filings also reveal that Mr. Papadopoulos was arrested on July 27 and has been cooperating, meeting with federal officials “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”
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