WASHINGTON (Reuters) - George Papadopoulos, a former aide to then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, was sentenced on Friday to 14 days in prison after pleading guilty last year to lying to federal agents investigating whether campaign members coordinated with Russia before the election.
Prosecutors for Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Papadopoulos lied to agents about his contacts with Russians during the campaign “to minimize both his own role as a witness and the extent of the campaign’s knowledge of his contacts,” according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
Among those contacts were London-based professor Joseph Mifsud, who told him the Russians had “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic presidential rival Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
Papadopoulos defended himself and contradicted White House officials in a CNN special programme Saturday night, “The Mysterious case of George Papadopoulos.”
In the interview with CNN reporter Jake Tapper, Papadopoulos said that he raised the prospect of Trump and his campaign officials meeting with the Russians.
“The candidate (Trump) gave a nod, but did not commit either way,” he said.
Trump has denied knowing anything about contact with Russians and his campaign.
Russia has denied U.S. allegations that it interfered in the campaign and Trump denies campaign collusion.
Prosecutors had asked Judge Randolph Moss in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to impose a prison sentence of up to six months, saying that Papadopoulos’ lies impeded their investigation and that he did not cooperate.
“He didn’t come close to the standard of ‘substantial assistance,’” prosecutor Andrew Goldstein told the judge at the sentencing hearing. “It was at best, begrudging efforts to cooperate.”
In addition to the prison time, Papadopoulos was sentenced to one year of supervised release and 200 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $9,500.
Friday was his first public court appearance since he pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to the FBI while the case was still sealed.
“I hope to have a second chance to redeem myself,” Papadopoulos told the judge.
“I made a dreadful mistake but I am a good man.”
He and his wife left the courthouse without speaking to the press. However, Papadopoulos’ mother Kiki told reporters she was satisfied he had received a fair sentence.
“I am very happy with the judge. He was very fair,” Kiki Papadopoulos said. “I would have preferred less time in jail, but that’s OK. It will give him time to think things over.”
The White House distanced itself from Papadopoulos, referring to his campaign role as nothing more than a low-level coffee boy, after his guilty plea.
His mother said on Friday that she “still supports” Trump.
The sentence that Papadopoulos received is about half the prison time given to Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer who was also charged with lying to the FBI during the special counsel’s probe. Van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison.
Moss said he wanted to impose some prison time because while he did not “remotely believe Mr Papadopoulos was seeking to assist the Russian government,” he was nevertheless troubled by Papadopoulos’ selfish motives to lie to the FBI so that he would not lose a shot at getting a possible job in the Trump administration.
Ultimately, Moss said he felt Papadopoulos expressed genuine remorse. The judge who sentenced Van der Zwaan, by contrast, did not feel he was contrite about his crimes.
During Friday’s hearing, Papadopoulos’ attorney Thomas Breen went out his way to praise the FBI, and he also criticized 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,” Breen told the judge.
He portrayed Papadopoulos as a naive young man who was “being worked by a pro,” a reference to Professor Mifsud, whom he later said he believes was working for Russia and trying to take advantage of his client.
“No offence, but he was unsophisticated, he was naive and he was foolish,” Breen said in court.
Breen told reporters after Friday’s hearing that Papadopoulos does not recall telling anyone in the Trump campaign about Mifsud’s comments about the Russians having dirt on Clinton.
The lies Papadopoulos told in his voluntary interview with the FBI on Jan. 27, 2017, prosecutors said, “undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States.”
In addition, they said Papadopoulos did not provide “substantial assistance” and only came clean after he was confronted with his own emails, texts and other evidence.
In December 2017, two months after his guilty plea, the FBI had plans for a follow-up meeting with Papadopoulos.
The FBI cancelled the meeting when it discovered that Papadopoulos had sat down for a media interview about the case. He and his wife later participated in more media interviews.
Papadopoulos was pictured in March 2016 sitting at a table with Trump, then-campaign adviser Jeff Sessions who went on to become U.S. attorney general, and other foreign policy campaign advisers.
At that meeting, Papadopoulos proposed brokering a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Sessions has previously testified to Congress that he pushed back against the proposal, but the memo filed by Papadopoulos’s lawyers contradicts Sessions’ account, saying that both Trump and Sessions appeared receptive to the idea.
But Papadopoulos, referring to Sessions, said to CNN, “I remember that he was enthusiastic about a potential meeting.”
CNN’s Tapper noted that Session’s attorneys said that Sessions stands by his testimony, and denied encouraging a meeting with Russians.
The court filing confirms reporting by Reuters in March about the difference between Sessions’ testimony and how others recounted his reaction to the proposal at the meeting.
Papadopoulos told CNN that he hopes to return to politics in the future.
“I made mistakes and I will pay for my mistakes,” he said, adding, “I don’t want to give up my goal of staying in politics.”
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Eric Beech and Rich McKay; Editing by Grant McCool, Robert Birsel