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Volokh Conspiracy

A thought on the Papadopoulos plea


Robert S. Mueller III in August 2013. (Associated Press/Evan Vucci, File)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's first charges are in the news today, and I thought I would offer one small thought: although it's too early to know how big any of it will prove to be, it's the plea deal of George Papadopoulos, not the indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, that is likely the most significant news.

Papadopoulos pled guilty to trying to cover up efforts of Russians linked to the Russian government to coordinate with the Trump campaign. And his plea deal may be only part of the story. As Paul Waldman notes elsewhere in the Post:

I spoke this morning with Barbara McQuade, a professor at the University of Michigan law school who is a former U.S. Attorney and who has worked extensively in criminal and national security cases. I asked: If Papadopoulos was just some low-level nobody tossing around ideas that were rejected by the campaign's higher-ups, why would Mueller offer him a plea deal that is contingent on his cooperation? Doesn't that suggest that he has information that can be used to build a case against someone more important than him?

"I think it's a fair conclusion to think that he has information that is valuable in the prosecution of others," McQuade says. "You would only offer that cooperation if you've sat down with him and learned that he has information that is of value."

And that appears to be what is happening: in return for what will likely be a reduced sentence, Papadopoulos has agreed to sing.

As I said, it's too early to know how significant any of the developments today will be in the big picture of Mueller's investigation. But I wouldn't be surprised if it's the Papadopoulos plea, not the Manafort and Gates indictments, that proves the more significant step.