WASHINGTON (AP) — George Papadopoulos made his first appearance Thursday before congressional investigators, part of an effort to clear his name after pleading guilty in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Papadopoulos, who admitted lying to the FBI and was sentenced in September to two weeks in prison, met behind closed doors with two GOP-led House committees for roughly seven hours. Republicans leaving the meeting said it raised more questions about the start of the FBI’s Russia investigation in 2016, further fueling their suspicions that there was bias against then-candidate Donald Trump at former President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.
Papadopoulos spoke briefly to reporters as he left. “I answered as truthfully as I possibly could,” he said.
The interview is one of several the GOP-led House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform panels are conducting as part of their investigation into the Justice Department. Democrats say the investigation is an attempt to undermine Mueller, who was appointed last year to take over the FBI probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I see this whole thing as a footnote to a sideshow of a wild goose chase,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, who attended the interview.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. Since he was sentenced, he has been eager to talk publicly. He has spent many nights on Twitter, along with his wife, venting anger with the FBI and implying that he was set up in the investigation.
He tweeted before the interview that he would like to talk to Congress about his “suspicious encounters” with an Australian diplomat and a professor who were links to his case. His lawyer sent a letter to the committees this week in which he listed nine people related to his case that he wanted to discuss, including both of those men. Neither Papadopoulos nor lawmakers leaving Thursday’s interview would say what was discussed, citing committee rules on confidentiality.
Republicans said they learned new facts from Papadopoulos but wouldn’t detail what they learned. They repeated their claims, echoed by Trump, that the Justice Department made mistakes in 2016 as it cleared Democrat Hillary Clinton in an investigation of her emails and started a probe of Trump’s Russia ties.
“These facts continue to lend themselves to the narrative that there were folks in the Obama FBI and Justice Department that prejudged Hillary Clinton’s innocence, and prejudged Donald Trump’s guilt or involvement with the Russian government and potential collusion,” said Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe.
Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, has been a central figure in the probe dating back before Mueller’s May 2017 appointment. He was the first person to plead guilty in Mueller’s probe and 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.
According to a sweeping indictment, Russian intelligence had stolen emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other Democratic groups by April 2016, the same month Papadopoulos was told by the professor, Joseph Mifsud, that Russian officials had told him they had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” According to a New York Times report last year, Papadopoulos then told the Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, who tipped off the FBI. It was that tip that triggered the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Papadopoulos later lied about those contacts. He told a judge during sentencing that he was “deeply embarrassed and ashamed” of his lies.
The interview was sparsely attended by lawmakers, who are on recess in the weeks before the November election. Republican and Democratic staffers were in the room.
Papadopoulos has also said he wants to talk to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. A House Intelligence Committee investigation wrapped up earlier this year, with Republicans saying that there was no evidence of collusion between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.
By MARY CLARE JALONICK , Associated Press