WASHINGTON — George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who triggered the Russia investigation, was sentenced to 14 days in prison Friday by a judge who said he had placed his own interests above those of the country.
Papadopoulos, the first campaign aide sentenced in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation, said he was "deeply embarrassed and ashamed" for having lied to FBI agents during an interview last year and acknowledged that his actions could have hindered their work.
"I made a dreadful mistake, but I am a good man who is eager for redemption," Papadopoulos said.
The punishment was far less than the maximum six-month sentence sought by the government but also more than the probation that Papadopoulos and his lawyers had asked for.
Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump's campaign, has been a central figure in the Russia investigation dating back before Mueller's May 2017 appointment. He was the first to plead guilty in Mueller's probe and is now the first Trump campaign adviser to be sentenced. His case was also the first to detail a member of the Trump campaign having knowledge of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election while it was ongoing.
U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss said that Papadopoulos' deception was "not a noble lie" and that he had lied because he wanted a job in the Trump administration and didn't want to jeopardize that possibility by being tied to the Russia investigation.
"In some ways it constitutes a calculated exercise of self interest over the national interest," the judge said.
Memos authored by House Republicans and Democrats , now declassified, also show that information about Papadopoulos' contacts with Russian intermediaries triggered the FBI's counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. That probe was later taken over by Mueller.
According to a sweeping indictment handed up this summer, Russian intelligence had stolen emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign and other Democratic groups by April 2016, the same month Papadopoulos was told by a professor that Russian officials had told him they had "dirt" on Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails."
Papadopoulos later used his connections with the Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud, and other Russian nationals in an attempt to broker a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He admitted last year to lying to the FBI about those contacts. In court papers filed ahead of the sentencing, prosecutors say those lies caused irreparable harm to the investigation during its early months.
Prosecutors wrote that those false statements, made during a January 2017 interview with federal investigators, caused the FBI to miss an opportunity to interview Mifsud while he was in the United States.
"The defendant's lies undermined investigators' ability to challenge the Professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States," they wrote, noting that Mifsud left the U.S. in February 2017 and hasn't returned.
In court Friday, prosecutor Andrew Goldstein said Papadopoulos's cooperation "didn't come close to the standard of substantial assistance."
"It was at best begrudging efforts to cooperate and we don't think they were substantial or significant in any regard," he said.
He said Papadopoulos's deception required investigators to scour more than 100,000 emails and gigabytes of data to reconstruct the timeline of his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries.
Defense lawyer Thomas Breen said his client was affected by Trump's cries of "fake news" ahead of the interview and was torn between wanting to cooperate with investigators and wanting to remain loyal to the president.
"The president of the United States hindered this investigation more than George Papadopoulos ever could," Breen said.
Even after his arrest and plea agreement last year, prosecutors say Papadopoulos continued to be difficult with investigators, only providing information after being confronted with documents such as emails and text messages.
In response, Papadopoulos' attorneys have acknowledged his offense was "unquestionably serious," but they downplayed any damage he caused. His attorneys, Breen and Robert Stanley, said their client lied to save his career and to "preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master," a reference that is not fully explained in court papers.
Stanley and Breen also argued that their client "cooperated fully." He participated in four proffer sessions, they said, and "was willing to answer any questions posed."
"His arrest and prosecution served as notice to all involved that this was a serious investigation," the attorneys wrote. "He was the first domino, and many have fallen in behind."