Special Counsel Robert Mueller recommended in a court filing on Friday that a judge sentence former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos to up to six months in prison for lying to agents investigating Russian interference in the 2016 USA presidential election.
Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser in Trump's 2016 campaign, pleaded guilty in October to making false statements to the special counsel's team, becoming the first person to admit guilty to Mueller's federal prosecutors, reports Politico news.
In the memo, the U.S. government claims that Papadopoulos' lies and obstruction helped Joseph Mifsud escape the country without being detained.
With the intent of harming the investigation, Papadopoulos "repeatedly lied throughout the interview in order to hide the timing and significance of information the defendant had received regarding the Russians possessing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, as well as his own outreach to Russia on behalf of the campaign", they explained.
"The defendant's lies undermined investigators' ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States", the memo said.
"The defendant's crime was serious and caused damage to the government's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election", according to the memo signed by Mueller.
Mueller, head of an investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election, said such a sentence was "warranted and appropriate". "The government understands that the professor left the United States on February 11, 2017, and he has not returned to the United States since then". Mueller's team claimed on Friday that those lies "undermined investigators' ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States", noting that "the Professor" left the USA a few weeks after Papadopoulos's first voluntary interview, and hasn't returned since.
"Instead of telling the truth, however, the defendant repeatedly lied throughout the interview in order to hide the timing and significance of information the defendant had received regarding the Russians possessing "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, as well as his own outreach to Russia on behalf of the campaign", Mueller said in the filing.
Mueller said in the filing that Papadopoulos lied about his interactions with a suspected Russian agent, described in the filing as "the professor".
Among "at least a dozen" lies at the interview, Papadopoulos concealed the "significance" of when he had learned that Russians possessed thousands of emails about Clinton.
Papadopoulos did, however, refer to the Russian dirt during a conversation he had in a London bar in May 2016 with the senior Australian diplomat in Britain. He told the authorities his interactions with Mifsud were "a very unusual coincidence".
The filing suggests Papadopoulos hampered the FBI's ability to figure that out.
"The defendant lied in order to hide his contacts with Russians and Russian intermediaries during the campaign", the memo said.
Those lies happened "early in the investigation, when key investigative decisions, including who to interview and when, were being made", it said.
The reviews from the Mueller team were not good.
"Had the defendant told the Federal Bureau of Investigation the truth when he was interviewed in January 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation could have quickly taken numerous investigative steps to help determine, for example, how and where the Professor obtained the information, why the Professor provided the information to the defendant, and what the defendant did with the information after receiving it", according to the court filing.
The special counsel's office also said that Papadopoulos has failed to provide "substantial assistance", to their investigators - which might have warranted leniency - and that he participated in a media interview without its knowledge in December 2017, prompting prosecutors to cancel an interview where he was to answer further questions.
The document says Papadopoulos had a series of communications over a period of months with the professor, a female Russian national, and a Russia foreign ministry connection "in which they discussed arranging a meeting between Russian officials and the Trump campaign".
It says he was warned about the seriousness of the investigation and that he might have important information to provide. It was only at the fourth meeting, accompanied by his lawyers, that he told them about a cellphone he had used overseas during the campaign that had logged his calls with Mifsud. He was questioned for several days and eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was not clear if that was her husband's belief as well.
Papadopoulos' attorneys, Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley, have until August 31 to file a sentencing recommendation of their own.
The sentencing memorandum also reveals Papadopoulos said he received roughly $10,000 in cash "from a foreign national whom he believed was likely an intelligence officer of a foreign country (other than Russia)". The filing noted that the country was "other than Russian Federation".
Papadopoulos' fate will be known soon, as Mueller asked U.S. District Court Judge Randy Moss to set Papadopoulos' sentencing for September 7.
Another defendant, Alex van der Zwaan, also pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.
The sentence will be up to a judge in the case.