By Nathan Layne
NEWYORK (Reuters) – George Papadopoulos, the first Trump campaign aide charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, disavowed his guilty plea in a book released on Tuesday, claiming he was unfairly pressured into cutting a deal.
Papadopoulos, who was plucked out of obscurity to work as a foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign, has become an increasingly vocal critic of Mueller’s Russia probe since completing a 12-day prison term in December.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to FBI agents about the timing and nature of his communications with a Maltese professor with ties to Russian government officials while working on the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos says Mueller’s team threatened that if he did not agree to the plea deal he would be charged for not registering as a foreign agent in relation to his dealings with an Israeli businessman who gave him $10,000 in cash.
“I was faced with a choice: accept the charges that I lied or face FARA charges,” he wrote in the book, “Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump.” “I made a deal. A deal forced on me.”
FARA refers to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
His claims could gather traction after Attorney General William Barr said on Sunday that Mueller’s team of investigators did not find evidence that Trump or his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. [nL1N21B02H]
“My story is part of a larger story. The story of Trump and the story of stopping Trump, or trying to,” the 31-year-old Papadopoulos wrote in his book. “The Trump presidency was the primary target of all this insanity.”
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
Under his plea deal, Papadopoulos acknowledged that Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor, told him in April 2016 that Russia had “dirt” on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
In July 2016, WikiLeaks published a trove of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee, one in a series of operations that U.S. intelligence agencies say were carried out by Russia and which roiled Clinton’s campaign.
Papadopoulos admitted he lied when he told the FBI that Mifsud had shared that information on the emails with him before he became an adviser to the Trump campaign.
Mifsud has denied discussing the emails with Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos also helped trigger an FBI counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign by telling an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer, in May 2016 that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton.
Australian officials passed that information to their U.S. counterparts two months later when the leaked Democratic emails appeared online.
In his book, Papadopoulos said his alleged lies to the FBI were unintentional, contradicting his plea agreement and his final statement to the judge in which he apologised for not being honest and for possibly hindering Mueller’s probe.
“Without consulting my calendar or my emails, I did not accurately remember the timeline of events,” he wrote in the book.
(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Leslie Adler)