WASHINGTON — Claiming that he’s been “vindicated” by special counsel Robert Mueller’s reported findings, former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos says he is considering withdrawing his guilty plea in the Russia investigation and seeking a pardon from President Trump.
“My lawyers have formally applied for a pardon. They’re involved in that discussion,” Papadopoulos said in an interview at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington and recorded for Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast.
“So the president has an unorthodox way of handing out pardons,” he continued. “And he does, he will. If he doesn’t, he won’t.”
The White House has been noncommittal about whether the president will consider pardon requests now that Mueller’s probe is over, saying only that so far there have been no discussions about the topic.
But Papadopoulos, now on a book tour for “Deep State Target,” said he is simultaneously “actively” exploring whether he has grounds to withdraw his October 2017 guilty plea. He admitted in court to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russia-connected professor who informed him that the Kremlin had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
“We believe there was misjustice done in my case,” he said. “I personally believe that, and I think most reasonable observers of this entire story, especially once they read my book, would probably agree with that.”
Whether Papadopoulos will be able to persuade many readers — much less a federal judge — that he was the victim of a miscarriage of justice is far from clear.
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At his own sentencing, Papadopoulos told the judge that he was “terribly ashamed” of his own conduct after admitting that he had lied to the FBI, falsely claiming that his talks with Joseph Mifsud, the professor who told him about the Clinton emails, took place before he joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. (“I wasn’t even on the Trump team. ... This was a year ago, this was before I even got with Trump,” Papadopoulos had claimed on Jan. 27, 2017, when he was first questioned by FBI agents about a series of conversations with Mifsud that began shortly after he was named to the Trump foreign policy advisory board in March 2016.)
Papadopoulos now acknowledges that even his own lawyers at the time “just never really bought into my story” that he was set up as part of a deep state conspiracy and urged him to “just plead out” in order to avoid the time and expense of fighting the government’s case against him.
In his book, Papadopoulos argues that the supposed deep state conspiracy to target him was far more extensive and elaborate than his contacts with Mifsud. As he presents it, the plot to set him up also involved a diverse group of characters that included a Russian woman who pretended to be Vladimir Putin’s niece, an Israeli who offered him $10,000 in cash, an Australian diplomat, an American professor in London whom he believes was acting an FBI informant, a series of senior Obama administration officials and ultimately Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors.
The role of Alexander Downer, at the time Australia's top diplomat in London, is especially crucial. It was while having drinks with Downer at a bar in London in the spring of 2016 that Papadopoulos first blurted out the information he had heard from Mifsud about the Kremlin having possession of Clinton’s emails. After WikiLeaks dumped tens of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails that July, the Australian government informed the FBI about the conversation, thereby triggering the launch of “Crossfire Hurricane,” the FBI investigation into Russian efforts to cultivate the Trump campaign.
If his claims of a deep state plot are true, then “the Australian government is lying, Downer is lying, the FBI is lying and Robert Mueller is lying,” Papadopoulos was challenged by this reporter in the interview.
“What’s so hard to believe about that?” Papadopoulos replied, noting that there is an ongoing Justice Department inspector general’s investigation into the FBI’s conduct. “[W]ho are these government officials? The ones who are under investigation themselves currently. ... These are not choirboys.”
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