George Papadopoulos’ late night with the FBI
When former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos stepped off a flight from Germany at Dulles Airport outside Washington last July, he had no inkling of the unwelcome surprise in store for him: FBI agents waiting to place him under arrest.
For the 29-year-old Chicago native, it was going to be a long night.
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Jail records obtained by POLITICO show Papadopoulos was booked in at the Alexandria (Va.) city detention center at 1:45 a.m. the following morning.
Despite the late arrival at the jail and the fact that Papadopoulos later agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, his Chicago-based defense lawyers Thomas Breen and Rob Stanley said in an interview that the FBI did not attempt to interrogate him right away.
Stanley said Papadopoulos arrived on a Lufthansa flight from Munich that touched down at about 7 p.m. on July 27, and the FBI intercepted him as soon as he got off the plane.
“He was arrested before he got to Customs and he was then held at the airport before being brought to a law enforcement office,” Stanley recalled.
Breen recalled being told by the FBI promptly that night that Papadopoulos was being taken into custody. “I got a phone call from counsel for the FBI around 6:30 p.m. [Chicago time,] saying he was being arrested and they would arrange for him to be able to call us,” the former Cook County, Illinois, prosecutor said.
Breen declined to get into specifics of his conversations with his client, but suggested Papadopoulos was agitated by the series of events that played out on July 27.
“That night, they did everything they could to let me and Rob talk to him and calm him down and explain to him that he was going to court tomorrow,” said Breen.
In those conversations, the self-described oil, gas and policy consultant with a slot on candidate Donald Trump’s foreign policy team learned that he was being charged with lying to the FBI in a January 2017 interview about his contacts with pro-Russia advocates and with obstruction of justice for shutting down his Facebook account one day after a follow-up interview with the FBI in February.
In a booking photo taken at the Alexandria jail in the early hours of July 28, Papadopoulos is wearing a black golf shirt. He looks serious, if a bit tired, with somewhat heavier 5 o’clock shadow than usual. He was assigned to cell 113 and was checked out to “federal authority” at 8:27 a.m., apparently to head to federal court for an arraignment.
While his late-night arrival at the jail may lead some to suspect a prolonged interrogation by the FBI, legal experts said it was highly unlikely agents would have attempted that. One reason: Papadopoulos already had Breen and Stanley on board as his lawyer by the time of the February interview, so any attempt to interview him without his lawyers could have violated legal ethics rules. If Papadopoulos was deemed to be in custody, any statements or admissions he made might have been unusable against him.
“My view is they’d have been in big trouble interviewing a guy they knew had a lawyer,” said former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg. “I don’t think that would fly. … I’d be ripshit.”
With that option appearing to be off the table, the FBI and Mueller’s team appear to have decided to shock Papadopoulos about the seriousness of his predicament by making the arrest.
“Law enforcement likes to get somebody’s attention as much as they can in a lawful way,” Breen observed.