Image via George Papadopoulos’s LinkedIn account
Karma came quickly for Aaron Zelinsky, one of the four federal prosecutors on the Roger Stone case who recommended the maximum sentence, then resigned in protest after Attorney General William Barr revised it downward. He was also one of the three Stone prosecutors who had worked on Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel team.
Some background. Former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos had been targeted by Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud in Rome and London in the spring of 2016. (He had been targeted by several others as well, but this particular conflict involves only Mifsud.)
Investigative journalists John Solomon and Lee Smith reported today that newly declassified FBI documents obtained through a FOIA request “directly conflict” with the sentencing memo signed by Zelinsky and two others.
August 17, 2018 Sentencing Memo (Document can be viewed here.):
Papadopoulos was accused of lying to the FBI and eventually agreed to a plea deal and served two weeks in prison. Zelinsky was one of three who signed off on the sentencing memo which claimed “Papadopoulos hindered federal prosecutors’ ability to question or arrest a European professor named Joseph Mifsud in mid-February 2017 while the Maltese academic was in Washington.”
[Papadopoulos’] lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the Professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States. 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.
Further, it said, “the defendant’s false statements were intended to harm the investigation, and did so. Lies negatively affected the FBI’s Russia investigation, and prevented the FBI from effectively identifying and confronting witnesses in a timely fashion.
In his October 2017 plea agreement, Papadopoulos accepted responsibility for making “false statements and omissions that impeded the FBI’s ongoing investigation into the existence of any links or coordination between individuals associated with the Campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.”
Papadopoulos’ February 1, 2017 interview with the FBI:
The FBI 302 from a February 1, 2017 interview shows that Papadopoulos “expressed his willingness to participate actively in helping the bureau locate Mifsud personally.”
Papadopoulos is quoted telling agents he “could potentially meet with Mifsud during a planned trip to London.” Solomon notes that this offer was not mentioned in the two court documents filed by Zelinsky et al.
Papadopoulos also told the FBI that Mifsud had recently contacted him and had “indicated that he may be traveling to Washington, DC in February 2017.”
Papadopoulos’ February 10, 2017 interview with the FBI:
According to the FBI’s 302 report from that meeting, Papadopoulos told agents he had “inquired to Mifsud about how he knew the Russians had [Clinton’s] emails, to which Mifsud strangely chuckled and responded, ‘they told me they have them.’”
The 302 also said that Papadopoulos “provided that Mifsud recently reached out to him via email, and advised that he was in Washington, DC at the time of this interview.”
It also showed that, contrary to the FBI’s claims in the sentencing memo, Papadopoulos “had supplied information that would have enabled investigators to challenge or potentially detain or arrest Mifsud while he was in the United States.” This was omitted from the plea agreement and the sentencing memo.
Mifsud’s February 10, 2017 interview with the FBI:
The Mueller report says the FBI had also interviewed Mifsud on February 10, 2017. The agents asked Mifsud how he knew that the Russians had obtained the emails, but he “denied that he had advance knowledge that Russia was in possession of emails damaging to candidate Clinton.” This is the opposite of what Papadopoulos told agents that same day.
Mifsud was in Washington until February 11. There was nothing to stop the FBI from contacting Mifsud for a second time on the 10th regarding the conflict between what Papadopoulos told the FBI about the emails and what Mifsud had told them earlier. Papadopoulos did not prevent them from doing so.
Papadopoulos’ information should have enabled investigators to confront Mifsud with conflicting testimony on a point of critical importance to the stated purpose of the Russia collusion investigation before the professor’s departure. But this information was not mentioned in Team Mueller’s original statement of offense, or plea agreement, filed Oct. 5, 2017 nor its later sentencing recommendation. In contrast, those documents portray Papadopoulos as trying to thwart the investigation.
In securing Papadopoulos’ October 2017 plea, the special counsel advanced the narrative that the Republican candidate’s campaign had colluded with Russia to win the presidency. By then, both the FBI and special counsel knew the case for collusion was dead. Nearly half a year before the special counsel was even appointed, investigators were already aware that their central source of evidence tying Trump associates to Russia — a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele — was rife with vaguely attributed, uncorroborated, and disavowed allegations.
Mifsud and his contacts with Papadopoulos were the cornerstone of the FBI’s “predicate,” or legal justification, for starting an investigation of the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia. The probe, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” was opened July 31, 2016, after an Australian diplomat reportedly alerted U.S. authorities that Papadopoulos claimed to know that Russia possessed information potentially damaging to Hillary Clinton.
That information was allegedly sourced to Mifsud, who according to DOJ documents had told Papadopoulos the Russians had thousands of Clinton’s emails. The Mueller team’s omissions regarding Papadopoulos’ cooperation with the FBI weren’t the only ones that Russia probe investigators made in court filings.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz excoriated the FBI and DOJ for omitting from the FISA warrant application exculpatory statements that Papadopoulos made to an undercover informant.
In addition, that IG report alleges in Appendix I that information about Papadopoulos’ contact with another figure in the Russia case that was used in one of the FISA applications was, in fact, inaccurate.
It won’t surprise anyone to hear that neither the DOJ or Zelinsky responded to Solomon’s “queries.”
Solomon spoke to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who was one of the first to investigate and to expose the Russian Collusion hoax. The Nunes memo, released in February 2018, was confirmed by the December 2019 Inspector General’s report. He told Solomon:
The declassified 302s provide our first evidence of the Mueller team lying to the court. The whole idea seemed nonsensical from the beginning that in the sentencing memorandum they would say that he stalled their investigation into Joseph Mifsud. Now, we know from the 302 actually the opposite is true. The truth is that Papadopoulos offered, told the FBI, that Mifsud was going to be in the United States…Now, the sad part is that Papadopoulos served his [time] in jail.
(Note: John Solomon has just launched a new website, “Just the News” (justthenews.com). A podcast which includes his discussion with Nunes will be aired on Tuesday.)