There is a classic video on YouTube of Regent University School of Law Professor James Duane explaining to a class why you have to be a moron to talk to the police. The punchline takes place about half-way through when he invites one of his students, a detective, to give his perspective on talking to the police.
One of the surprises today was a guy named George Papadopoulos pleading guilty to lying to federal agents. While few have heard of Papadopoulos — and for damned good reason because he was a bit player in this whole sorry melodrama — his indictment was preordained at the very moment he agreed to be interviewed by federal agents because if they want you, they got you.
Martha Stewart didn’t go to prison for insider trading, she went to prison for lying to federal authorities. Scooter Libby didn’t go to prison for leaking about Super Spy Valerie Plame’s’ Secret Identity. He went to prison because his recollection of where he heard a story differed from the memory of late newsman Tim Russert.
This is the backstory: In March 2016, Papadopoulos, then 29 years old, tried to attach himself to the Trump campaign. His strategy was to portray himself as someone who could arrange a meeting with Vladimir Putin. The offer went nowhere because a) he didn’t have the juice to make it happen, and no one in the campaign was particularly eager to pursue his offer.
Fast forward nine months. There are allegations of “collusion” being flung around Washington, Papadopoulos seems to have realized that being associated with that was not a great evolutionary strategy and when given the chance to be interviewed by the FBI, he accepted. Let’s take a look at the indictment/guilty plea:
2. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS made the following material false statements and material omissions to the FBI:
a. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS claimed that his interactions with an overseas professor, who defendant PAPADOPOULOS understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials, occurred before defendant PAPADOPOULOS became a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS acknowledged that the professor had told him about the Russians possessing “dirt” on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” but stated multiple times that he learned that information prior to joining the Campaign. In truth and in fact, however, defendant PAPADOPOULOS learned he would be an advisor to the Campaign in early March, and met the professor on or about March 14, 2016; the professor only took interest in defendant PAPADOPOULOS because of his status with the Campaign; and the professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS about the “thousands of emails” on or about April 26, 2016, when defendant PAPADOPOULOS had been a foreign policy adviser to the Campaign for over a month.
BOOM! The proof of when he learned this is an email he sent. Is that actually documentation of when he learned of something? Hardly. He could have learned of it when he said he did but didn’t email it until a more advantageous time. But it is more than enough to nail his ass for lying. I don’t know about anyone else but I know that I, myself, have slipped dates in my mind of when things happened…or so my wife tells me. Taken in its worst light, it is difficult to see how Papadapoulos’s recitation of facts is enough out of kilter to actually impede an investigation or why this nonsense was brought to the level of an indictment.
The other stuff is Papadopoulos soft-selling his own involvement…for good reason…juxtaposed with his triumphant emails to the campaign hard-selling how connected he was with people who were connected with people who were connected to the Kremlin. Again, it is hard to see how he impeded an investigation. His attempts to downplay his own efforts to sell the campaign on a Trump-Putin summit are entirely human but, getting back to the indictment, it is hard to see how his interview was so materially different from the documents that indicting him is anything more than a gratuitous we-can-so-we-will gesture.
But a scalp is a scalp. Once he agreed to talk, Papadopoulos should have known that his own hair was going to be decorating the lodgepole in Mueller’s tepee (sorry about the cultural appropriation in the metaphor.) And that is a lesson for all of us.