- Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos’ defence lawyers filed a motion withdrawing from representing him on Tuesday.
- They said in the court filing they were dropping out because “the criminal case [against Papadopoulos] has concluded, and the time for Mr. Papadopoulos to file an appeal has passed.”
- DOJ veterans tell INSIDER that it’s unusual for lawyers to file such a motion.
- Instead, they said Papadopoulos’ lawyers likely withdrew from representing him for one of two reasons: because they wanted to distance themselves from him as he spreads unfounded conspiracy theories, or because Papadopoulos is actively considering withdrawing his guilty plea.
- Either way, said one former federal prosecutor, Papadopoulos has “got nowhere to go here. It’s a self-defeating gambit.”
Two defence lawyers who represented George Papadopoulos, a former aide to President Donald Trump’s campaign, filed a motion Tuesday to withdraw from representing him.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI last year and began cooperating with the special counsel Robert Mueller, who is spearheading the FBI’s Russia investigation.
Papadopoulos’ cooperation ended earlier this year, and he was sentenced in September to two weeks in prison.
Papadopoulos and his wife, Simona Mangiante, have since taken to Twitter and the media to promote the unfounded theory that he was entrapped by the FBI, and the bureau wanted to “infiltrate” and “sabotage” the Trump campaign. Writing on Twitter that he will soon “expose the biggest political scandal in modern history,” Papadopoulos is also actively considering withdrawing his guilty plea.
In their motion Tuesday, Papadopoulos’ former defence lawyers, Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley of the law firm Breen & Pugh, said they were withdrawing “because the criminal case has concluded, and the time for Mr. Papadopoulos to file an appeal has passed.”
But Elie Honig, a former prosecutor from the Southern District of New York, told INSIDER that Papadopoulos’ lawyers’ reasoning is atypical.
“Normally, when a case is over, and a defendant is sentenced, the lawyers don’t formally withdraw from representing that person,” Honig said. “The case just ends. The lawyer doesn’t say, ‘OK, I’m out.'”
Honig said it was more likely that Papadopoulos’ “lawyers are trying to disassociate with him because of the conspiracy theories he’s spreading, or perhaps they told him to knock it off, and he’s not listening.”
Papadopoulos tweeted in September that his meeting with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer – where he told Downer that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the form of “thousands of emails,” an encounter that kicked off the Russia probe – was a setup by British intelligence. Breen responded to his then client’s tweet by telling The Washington Post, “Most of our clients listen and follow all of our advice, some follow most of our advice, some follow some of our advice, some follow none of our advice.”
Papadopoulos’ lawyers leaving his case “could be due to the fact that Papadopoulos is now pursuing an odd strategy involving a conspiracy rather than a legal theory,” Jeffrey Cramer, a former prosecutor who spent 12 years at the DOJ told INSIDER. “I don’t know if he is appealing his conviction on some grounds or merely keeping himself in the public domain to raise money.”
“Regardless,” Cramer added, “he doesn’t need a trial or appellate lawyer now. Tom Breen is a wonderful trial attorney and counsel. He isn’t a publicist, however, which it seems is what Papadopoulos is looking for at this time.”
A ‘self-defeating gambit’
The other possibility, Honig said, is that if Papadopoulos is seriously considering withdrawing his guilty plea, his lawyers would no longer be able to represent him because of a conflict of interest.
If Papadopoulos is gearing up to file a motion to withdraw his plea, he would have to show a judge that he was somehow misled or coerced into pleading guilty, and the plea was not fully voluntary.
On a practical level, that would set up a defendant to argue that his lawyers didn’t explain the full terms of the plea correctly, that they lied to him, or that they otherwise coerced him into entering a guilty plea.
“If he does make that motion, Papadopoulos will end up adverse to his own lawyers,” Honig said. “And obviously they can’t then represent him if they’re also going to be witnesses.”
Successfully withdrawing a guilty plea is extraordinarily difficult, DOJ veterans told INSIDER. And if Papadopoulos does succeed, he may find himself in deeper trouble than he was before, because his indictment would resurface, and he would not have the option of pleading guilty with an agreement to cooperate.
Mueller’s team indicated in the former Trump campaign aide’s sentencing memo that in addition to lying during his initial FBI interview, Papadopoulos also lied while cooperating with prosecutors.
The special counsel’s office added that Papadopoulos failed to provide “substantial assistance” to their investigators, which may have warranted leniency, and that he participated in a media interview last December without their knowledge. The interview, prosecutors said, prompted them to cancel a sitdown with him where he was set to answer more questions.
“There’s no way Mueller would cooperate with him again if Papadopoulos withdrew his plea,” Honig said. “So his only options are to enter a guilty plea without a cooperation agreement, which would almost certainly require him to do more than 14 days. Or he can go all the way and go to trial, where he would be buried.”
“So he’s got nowhere to go here,” Honig added. “It’s a self-defeating gambit.”