Los Angeles: George Papadopoulos' fall from one-time foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump to inmate at a US federal prison began with "one or two" gin and tonics at an upscale London bar in 2016 with Australia's then high commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer.
Papadopoulos received a 14-day jail sentence and 200 hours of community service on Friday for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries before the 2016 election. The judge saying he wanted to send a message to the public about the consequences of impeding an inquiry of national import.
US District Judge Randolph Moss said Papadopoulos deserved prison time because he had deceived investigators probing "a matter of grave national importance." He also fined him $US9500 ($13,000) and ordered him to complete 200 hours of community service and one year of probation after his release.
Prosecutors argued that Papadopoulos' repeated lies during a January 2017 interview with investigators stymied the inquiry at a critical moment. In part because Papadopoulos misled authorities, they said in court papers, they failed to arrest a London-based professor — suspected of being a Russian operative — before he left the United States in the following month, never to return.
During an interview with The New York Times this week, Papadopoulos, 31, for the first time gave his own account of why he deceived FBI agents after they arrived at his house in Chicago that January asking about any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian intermediaries.
"I wanted to distance myself as much as possible — and Trump himself and the campaign — from what was probably an illegal action or dangerous information," he said. At the time of the FBI interview, he said, he was being considered for a job in the Trump administration and was concerned about where the escalating investigation might lead. He made no suggestion that anyone else on the Trump campaign or in the administration had directed him to lie.
Downer, in an interview with The Australian newspaper earlier this year, said Papadopoulos told him Russia had "damaging" material on Trump's presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
Downer said he forwarded the information back to Canberra within days.
It was one of the sparks that launched the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the US election and eventually led to Special Counsel's Robert Mueller's far-reaching probe - repeatedly branded a "witch-hunt" by Trump.
Papdopoulos and Downer both said their 2016 meeting was not a boozy affair, as some media reports have suggested.
"No one was drunk, as some articles stated that we might have been," Papadopoulos told the New York Times in a new interview.
"At least I don't remember being drunk."
Papadopoulos also said he does not remember telling Downer about the dirt Russia apparently had on Clinton.
"I don't remember talking about that with him at all," he said.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contact with Russian nationals and Maltese professor, Joseph Mifsud.
Prosecutors wanted Papadopoulos to serve up to six months' jail, but Judge Randolph Moss said he had shown "genuine remorse" and no "desire to aid Russia in any way".
"Just the process of having to go to prison will leave a strong impression on him for the remainder of his life," the judge said.
Papadopoulos' lawyer Thomas Breen said Papdopoulos lied to FBI investigators during an interview in January, 2017, just after Trump's inauguration, because he wanted a job in the new president's administration.
Papadopoulos was allowed to walk out of court on Friday and was to surrender himself for the two week jail stint at an undisclosed date.
Papadopoulos is one of a growing group of Trump associates in legal trouble, with the list including the President's former lawyer Michael Cohen, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former campaign aide Rick Gates and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
AAP, New York Times