Special Counsel Mueller obtains first guilty plea in Russia probe

A former foreign policy aide to President Donald Trump’s campaign has plead guilty to lying to FBI agents investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller presented some of the first evidence showing contacts during the campaign that were aimed at getting ‘dirt’ on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The guilty plea by George Papadopoulos, was entered on October 5, but not unsealed until after a separate morning announcement of an indictment of two top Trump Campaign officials, Paul Manafort, and Richard Gates III.

The indictment of Manafort and Gates centered on money laundering and tax evasion charges, dealing with foreign activities by the two men, which were not linked in any way to the 2016 campaign or any efforts to get information from Russian sources about Hillary Clinton.

That was eagerly noted at the White House by President Trump.

Mr. Trump though said nothing about the guilty plea of Papadopoulos, who was arrested in July, and has clearly been cooperating with investigators on how the Trump campaign tried to get information about Hillary Clinton from Russian sources.

The details provided in the Papadopoulos guilty plea showed a number of efforts to acquire information about Clinton, after he was told in April that the Russians had “thousands of emails” about the former Secretary of State.

If you go back to that time frame – the hack of top Clinton aide John Podesta occurred on March 17, 2016 – Papadopoulos was being told five weeks later that Russia had that information, as he tried to make more contacts with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish connections between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government.

The guilty plea document does not specifically mention who Papadopoulos was in contact with back at the Trump campaign about these issues, instead referring to them as a “Senior Policy Advisor,” “High-Ranking Campaign Official,” “Campaign Supervisor,” and more.

Papadopoulos was interviewed on January 27, 2017 by FBI agents about his contacts, but the document says he “made numerous false statements and omitted material facts” about the matter.

After a second interview with the FBI on February 16, the guilty plea says that Papadopoulos “deactivated his Facebook account,” and then created a new one, deleting any information related to his Russian contacts.

The FBI also says Papadopoulos stopped using his cell phone on February 23, and switched to a new number.

The document concludes by saying that Papadopoulos was arrested July 27 – and that he has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation since that time.

If you have never heard of Papadopoulos – or think he was a minor player, and that this guilty plea is being overplayed by the news media – here is a tweet made by then-Candidate Donald Trump, in late March of 2016, where Papadopoulos was at the table on national security matters.

In Congress, Democrats were very interested in the developments.

“The George Papadopoulos statement of charges changes all the timelines we thought we had for Russian hacking and when people knew,” said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). “And it’s a disturbing change.”

At Monday’s White House briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeatedly downplayed the campaign role of Papadopoulos, saying he had ‘no official capacity,’ and was just a volunteer.

“He was not paid by the campaign,” Sanders said. “He was a volunteer on a council that met once.”

But the details in the guilty plea from Papadopoulos certainly showed he had access to top officials.