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Former Trump adviser Papadopoulos to be sentenced Friday
George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty nearly a year ago to lying about his Russia contacts, is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Friday.
His sentencing will mark a milestone in Robert Mueller's Russia investigation as the special counsel makes headway on several other fronts, including interviewing individuals linked to former Trump adviser Roger Stone and readying for the Washington, D.C., trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Papadopoulos admitted to lying to FBI agents in October about the extent, nature and timing of his contacts with Russian individuals whom he tried to use to broker a meeting between the campaign and the Russian government.
Government prosecutors are asking that Papadopoulos be jailed for up to six months and that he face a $9,500 fine for his crime, arguing in a recent court filing that his false statements "caused damage to the government's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election."
"The defendant's false statements were intended to harm the investigation, and did so," prosecutors wrote in an Aug. 17 sentencing memorandum.
Papadopoulos's defense attorneys, meanwhile, are challenging the notion that their client did deliberate harm to the investigation, writing in a filing on Aug. 31 that Papadopoulos "misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master."
They argue he should face one-year probation.
The Papadopoulos case is noteworthy because he was the first Trump associate to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors in Mueller's investigation.
There is no indication that he played more than a minimal role during his months as a foreign policy adviser on the campaign. The White House aggressively sought to downplay his involvement last year, with the president dismissing him as a "low-level volunteer" in a tweet following his guilty plea.
The sentencing of Papadopoulos, 31, will tie up one loose end in the special counsel's sprawling investigation, and signals Papadopoulos's cooperation is no longer needed in the investigation.
His guilty plea created a media firestorm last October, revealed the same day Mueller charged Manafort and Richard Gates, another former Trump campaign aide, in an elaborate illegal foreign lobbying scheme unrelated to the work they did for the campaign.
Court filings told the curious story of a young aide who misled FBI agents during a January 2017 interview about his contacts with a professor, later identified as Joseph Mifsud, who claimed substantial connections to the Russian government and who told Papadopoulos that the Russians possessed "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails" - months before hacked Democratic emails began to leak on the web.
The New York Times later reported that it was Papadopoulos's discussions with an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, about those emails in May 2016 that helped trigger the FBI's inquiry into Russian interference the following July.
Papadopoulos also misled FBI investigators about his contacts with other Russians, including a woman believed to be a relative of Putin, who he sought to use to broker a meeting between the Trump campaign and Moscow - lies that the government says were damaging to an investigation in its infancy.
Prosecutors have suggested his cooperation did not bear much fruit, writing in August that he did not offer "substantial assistance" to the investigation and that much of the information he provided "came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas."
The Papadopoulos defense attorneys tell a different story. They say that, since his guilty plea, he has provided government investigators with "critical information" about his contacts with members of the Trump campaign. In the recent filing, they referenced a key meeting in March 2016 during which he allegedly broached the subject of arranging a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"While some in the room rebuffed George's offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions, who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it," they wrote in the August filing, referring to Jeff Sessions, who at the time was a Republican senator from Alabama and a key campaign surrogate.
The detail runs counter to testimony Sessions, now attorney general, delivered before the House Judiciary Committee last November. At the time, he said he "pushed back" on the idea of the meeting with the Russian government. A Justice Department spokesman said Sessions stands by his congressional testimony. Trump's personal lawyers were not available to comment on the claim about the president.
Mueller's probe has made considerable strides since last fall. The special counsel has charged more than two-dozen Russians in separate plots to use social media to sow discord among the American public and hack into Democratic organizations and U.S. electoral systems.
He has secured the cooperation of Gates and Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser who also pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts. Last month, a jury in Alexandria, Va., convicted Manafort on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, a verdict that is likely to give Mueller's team momentum heading into its second federal trial against Manafort in D.C. later this month.
Still, the questions of potential collusion and obstruction of justice remain unanswered, spurring broad speculation in Washington about what Mueller's probe has left to reveal about the president or his allies.
Papadopoulos will be the second individual sentenced in the Russia investigation. Dutch lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan was handed 30 days in prison and slapped with a $20,000 fine in April after pleading guilty to making false statements relevant to the government's investigations into foreign lobbing by Manafort and Gates.
Papadopoulos's wife, Simona Mangiante, had signaled in recent weeks that her husband was mulling walking away from the plea deal with Mueller, though she backed down from those suggestions late last week.
Papadopoulos will appear for his sentencing hearing before Judge Randolph Moss in federal court in Washington at 3 p.m. Friday.