On Monday, special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the ongoing probe into allegations that President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election, unsealed documents revealing a campaign adviser admitted to lying to the FBI about his contact with Kremlin-connected individuals.
George Papadopoulos, a 30-year-old former foreign policy adviser who is believed to be cooperating with Mueller, was arrested in July and entered a guilty plea on Oct. 5. He confessed to misleading federal agents when he was initially interviewed in January, shortly after President Donald Trump's inauguration, and before Mueller took over the investigation.
The Papadopoulos case could be an indication of what's to come as the investigation continues. As journalist Jeremy Scahill noted, "snagging a campaign adviser like Papadopoulos can definitely lead to bigger fish."
Snagging a campaign adviser like Papadopoulos can definitely lead to bigger fish. That’s the thing to watch for.
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) October 30, 2017
Papadopoulos was interviewed regarding his communication with an overseas professor with ties to the Russian government—who, according to the records released Monday, "had told him about the Russians possessing 'dirt' on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of 'thousands of emails'"—and a handful of other Russian nationals with connections to officials at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Over a period of months, according to the statement of the offense, the former adviser "repeatedly sought to use the professor's Russian connections in an effort to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials." The indictment claims that "through his false statements and omissions," Papadopoulos "impeded the FBI's ongoing investigation" into whether Trump campaign officials coordinated with the Russian government in attempts to influence the election.
In addition to the indictment signed by Mueller that was released Monday, CNN published an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint against Papadopoulos, detailing email exchanges between the former adviser and his Russian contacts as well as Papadopoulos' efforts to conceal messages by shutting down a Facebook account after a February interview with the FBI.
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News of Papadopoulos' guilty plea followed reports on Monday that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were indicted on federal charges (they've pleaded not guilty to all charges). After the pair was ordered to surrender to federal authorities, Trump took to Twitter to declare, "there is NO COLLUSION!"
During a Monday afternoon press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders continued to deny the allegations of the campaign's collusion with Russia, and emphasized that Papadopoulos had an "extremely limited" role within the campaign, adding: "It was a volunteer position and again, no activity was ever done in an official capacity on behalf of the campaign in that regard."
However, as Vox co-founder Ezra Klein wrote in a piece detailing what has been uncovered and shared with the public during the investigation so far, although the unsealed documents "don't provide a 'smoking gun' proving collusion... they make it almost impossible to believe there wasn't collusion between Trump's operation and Russia."
And as attorney Philip Rotner writes in a column for the Huffington Post on Monday, "Forget Manafort—The Big News is the Papdapoulos Plea Deal."
"Unlike the Manafort indictment, the Papadopoulos guilty plea goes directly to the heart of the charge of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia," argues Rotner. "Indeed, it establishes conclusively that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian representatives, although it remains unclear exactly which Trump campaign officials were involved. Remember that, unlike the charges against Manafort, which are likely to be contested, the charges against Papadopoulos have been admitted and stand as proven facts."
Read the full Papadopoulos "statement of offense" below and the supporting affidavit here.