After spending more than a year in hock to the FBI, former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos has finally received his sentence - 14 days in federal prison - for allegedly deceiving investigators pursuing operation Crossfire Hurricane, the bureau's official pre-Mueller probe into potentially illicit connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. And with his involvement with the investigation behind him, Papadopoulos is free for the first time to share his side of the story with the press. And share he has.
In a pair of interviews with CNN and ABC, Pap offered convincing rebuttals to allegations that he provided the initial spark that ignited the Russia probe, and - more importantly -that he informed Trump campaign operatives about Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud's claims that Russia had unspecified "dirt" on then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
While Papadopoulos readily admits to telling then-candidate Trump and other senior campaign officials about his efforts to organize a summit between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the now-infamous March 2016 meeting of the Trump campaign's national security advisors, he eagerly pushed back against allegations that he told campaign officials about the alleged "dirt", arguing that, at the time, he harbored doubts about Mifsud's credibility and the legitimacy of his claims. Pap also pointed out that if he had indeed informed John Mashburn about Mifsud's claims via email - as Mashburn testified - then that email would've been produced as evidence (and, we imagine, probably been leaked to the press). But alas, no such email has ever been entered into evidence.
In his interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Pap offered a step-by-step accounting of his April 2016 meeting with Mifsud (the meeting where Mifsud allegedly first shared news of the so-called dirt) and what Pap shared - or, crucially, didn't share - with the Trump campaign.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And in April, that other meeting with Professor Mifsud where he said for the first time that he knew of possible hacked Hillary Clinton e-mails. What exactly did he say?
PAPADOPOULOS: So this meeting took place at the Andaz hotel by Liverpool Street Station in London. As far as I remember, what happened was Joseph Mifsud had informed me that he would be travelling to Moscow the week before we met at the Andaz hotel where he had a series of meetings at the -- at the Duma, which I believe --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Russian parliament.
PAPADOPOULOS: Exactly, which I believe is the equivalent of the Russian parliament. Then he sat me down and he was quite giddy. And he told me, I have information that the Russians have thousands of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. There’s a misunderstanding that he told me about DNC or Podesta or any of these --
STEPHANOPOULOS: Because that was right after the hack of John Podesta’s e-mails.
PAPADOPOULOS: This was late April. I think Podesta’s e-mails were hacked --
PAPADOPOULOS: Yes. I just -- to my recollection, I never heard the name Podesta DNC. I saw him as somebody at the time -- you have to -- we have to understand what my impression of this individual was at the time. At the time, I was actively seeking to leverage him to meet with the Russian ambassador in London. After he promised that they would be inclined to meet, he was unable to set up any meetings with me and any senior Russian officials.
He introduced me to a low level think tank official in Moscow, Ivan Timofeev and a Russian student who he purported was the niece of Vladimir Putin.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But this news about the e-mails is pretty big.
PAPADOPOULOS: It was very big, but because of his inability to really connect me the way I wanted him to, when he did state this, you know, I guess it was a momentum statement, at the time I thought how could this person possibly hold the keys to the kingdom of such a massive conspiracy when he couldn’t even introduce me to the people I wanted.
So I was – of course I was shocked, but at the same time, this wasn’t a Russian official telling me this either.
STEPHANOPOULOS: John Mashburn, who was working on the campaign, testified that you sent an e-mail to him talking about this.
PAPADOPOULOS: If – I have no recollection of doing that, George. If I did send an e-mail and especially if others were copied on it, I’m sure that evidence would have been produced by now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you can’t guarantee that you did not.
PAPADOPOULOS: I could just say if that e-mail was sent, even I had deleted it, if that’s what people are – believe I did, there would be a copy somewhere else.
Pap doubled down on this claim during his interview with CNN's Jake Tapper (which aired a day before the ABC interview), affirming that he had no recollection of telling anybody in the Trump campaign about Mifsud's claims.
"As far as I remember, I absolutely did not share this information with anyone on the campaign," Papadopoulos said, adding, "I might have, but I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee. All I can say is, my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign."
In fact, the only official of some important with whom Pap shared Mifsud's claims was the Greek foreign minister (the Greek government has declined to confirm this, but it's safe to say that this individual had no discernible connection to the Trump campaign).
Complicating these denials, Papadopoulos admitted that he told a senior Greek official about the Russian dirt while visiting the country on a trip authorized by the Trump campaign.
"He explained to me that where you are sitting right now, tomorrow Putin will be sitting there," Papadopoulos said. "And then a nervous reaction I had, I blurted out, I heard this information."
The Greek government confirmed to CNN that the meeting happened but declined to say what was discussed. Papadopoulos described the conversation as "gossiping among diplomats."
Those who have been closely following the intricate drama surrounding the genesis of operation Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's links to Russia, will recall that the grave mistake that landed Papadopoulos in the crosshairs of the FBI was telling a pair of investigators that he wasn't involved with the Trump campaign when he had his fateful meeting with Mifsud. During his interview with ABC, Pap readily admitted to lying, but explained that he wasn't protecting Trump from prosecution so much as he was trying to protect his own professional reputation - a key distinction that cuts against the mainstream media narrative.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And it was in that context on January 27, 2017 when you met with the FBI and lied to them about your meetings with Joseph Mifsud. Why did you lie to them?
PAPADOPOULOS: As you stated quite eloquently, at the time of my interview with the FBI, I think around three or four days before that, I was at the inauguration attending parties with senior level transition officials.
I understood that there was an incipient investigation into a Russian interference in the 2016 election. And I found myself, as somebody who worked incredibly hard over the past year with the campaign to actually have the candidate Trump be elected.
And then I found myself pinned between the Department of Justice and the sitting president and having probing questions that I thought might incriminate the sitting president.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You were trying to protect the president.
PAPADOPOULOS: Of course.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why of course?
PAPADOPOULOS: Because, you know, I didn’t understand really the nature of what was going on. Of course I’m remorseful, I’m contrite and I did lie but, you know, you’re just taken off guard I guess in a such a momentous situation where you’re potentially sitting there, incriminating the president, even though of course I don’t think I did.
You know, that was probably in the back of my mind, of what exactly am I doing here talking about Russian hacking or election interference with the candidate that I just worked for.
Pap also confirmed that the Trump campaign supported his efforts to set up a summit with Putin, but during his national security meeting, Pap said that Trump appeared noncommittal. However, Pap took the opportunity to throw Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the bus by implying that Sessions lied during testimony to Congress last year.
PAPADOPOULOS: So basically what happened was we had a -- a -- some sort of round table where we all discussed what our backgrounds were, what we were actually going to contribute to the campaign now that we were all sitting across from the principles, Jeff Sessions and candidate Donald Trump. I explained to them that I come from a think tank background and I work in the energy industry but I do have a connection that can establish a potential summit between candidate Trump and President Putin.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What was the reaction?
PAPADOPOULOS: The reaction, of course, was mixed. There were many people in that room that came from conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation, who you know, nodded in disapproval. Candidate Trump at the time nodded at me. I don’t think he was committed either way. He was open to the idea. And he deferred, of course, to then senior Senator Jeff Sessions, who I remember being quite enthusiastic about hosting --
As a tactic to help his client win a lighter sentence, Papadopoulos's lawyer, Thomas Breen, tried to deflect some of the blame for his client's lies toward the president (as the NYT reminds us)...
The sentencing hearing, which lasted more than 90 minutes in a packed courtroom, veered in unexpected directions. Mr. Papadopoulos’s defense lawyer, Thomas M. Breen, tried to shift some of the blame for his client’s lies to President Trump. He suggested that Mr. Papadopoulos took his cues from Mr. Trump, who has tried to discredit the inquiry by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russia’s interference in the election and whether any Trump associates conspired.
"The president of the United States hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could," Mr. Breen said. "The message for all of us is to check our loyalty, to tell the truth, to help the good guys."
But Papadopoulos insisted to ABC that this was merely a rhetorical ploy on the part of his lawyer, and insisted again that he acted alone in pursuing his contacts with Mifsud.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your lawyer said that President Trump hindered the investigation more than you did. Do you agree?
PAPADOPOULOS: Those are their opinions. I have no idea about that.
Furthermore, when asked for his opinion on Trump's job performance, Papadopoulos asserted that, in his estimation, Trump has done "a good job." Stephanopoulos, unsurprisingly, was unwilling to let this assertion go unchallenged, and promptly pushed back. But Pap stood his ground.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe -- is President Trump still the candidate, been the kind of candidate, president you expected to be when you signed up?
PAPADOPOULOS: When I signed up I was a foreign policy adviser. I wasn't dealing with social issues or economic issues for that matter. On foreign policy, I think he's done a good job.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Done a good job.
PAPADOPOULOS: I think he's done a good job.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How so?
PAPADOPOULOS: I see improvement on the Korean peninsula. I see NATO expanding their capabilities under President Trump. I do see a detente emerging between U.S. and Russia. I think things are stabilizing around the world.
Of course, the mainstream media will try to twist Pap's words into an act of betrayal. But a careful reading of the transcript shows that it was anything but. Despite being written off as a "coffee boy" (a claim that infuriated his wife, Simona Mangiante), Papadopoulos had an opportunity to implicate the president, but he didn't.
That should tell you everything you need to know about the Russia probe.
Watch an excerpt from CNN's interview below:
And here's the ABC interview in full: