11:45 GMT18 January 2021
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    George Papadopoulos, a former advisor to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was the first individual to be convicted in the so-called Russiagate scandal, in which US officials charged the Republican business mogul of ‘colluding’ with the Kremlin against Hillary Clinton. Trump pardoned Papadopoulos and other political allies this week.

    George Papadopoulos has expressed gratitude to President Trump for pardoning him, and attacked special counsel Robert Mueller over what he said was a “fantasy” Russia collusion investigation, suggesting authorities still need to get to the bottom of how the phony probe got started in the first place.

    “This simply was the weaponisation of the Obama administration’s intel agencies targeting Americans affiliated directly with the rival presidential campaign to essentially spy on them, to find out what this rival presidential campaign was up to, to set various traps for them,” Papadopoulos said, speaking to Fox News’ Hannity.

    “We saw it with me, with the perjury trap, with General Michael Flynn, where Vice President Biden was essentially saying ‘we can’t get him on stumping, let’s go after him with the Logan Act,’ a crime that no one’s been prosecuted in for 200 years. So this essentially was an effort to basically halt the smooth transition of power from the Obama to a Trump administration, and to ensure that if Donald Trump was elected, which he was, to handcuff him to not allow him to govern the country properly,” he added.

    Suggesting that this effort had failed, and that Trump had come out of it “stronger than ever,” Papadopoulos stressed that “we still need answers to find out how this whole thing started.”

    In October 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI regarding his interactions with a London-based Maltese professor who claimed to have dirt on then-2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, with his conviction becoming the first among the Trump officials charged in the Russiagate probe.

    However, like all of the other Trump officials who would be convicted, none were charged with crimes having anything to do with Russia.

    “Russia collusion was a fantasy and I go a step further than calling it a hoax – I call it a premeditated counterintelligence setup by the Obama administration, because that’s exactly what seems to have happened here,” Papadopoulos said in the interview.

    The former aide recalled that Trump’s State Department investigators have travelled the globe to investigate the extent of the Obama administration’s plot to target himself and other Trump campaign officials, involving officials from the UK, Australia, Italy, and Ukraine. “This was not simply an FBI operation going rogue,” Papadopoulos stressed.

    Future Surprises In Store for President Biden

    Earlier this month, Attorney General Bill Barr appointed US attorney John Durham to the post of US Special Counsel to allow him to continue his investigation into the origins of the Russiagate investigation under the next administration, following up a probe he was ordered to start in 2019.

    According to Papadopoulos, Durham’s appointment could have a “monumental” impact on the Biden presidency. As President Obama’s vice president, Biden is believed to have been intimately involved in crafting the Russia collusion claims in late 2016 and early 2017. Earlier this year, Trump suggested that Obama and Biden should have been given “50 year sentences” for targeting Flynn, and called their actions “the greatest political crime in the history of our country”.

    Papadopoulos was among the 20 persons pardoned by Trump on Tuesday, with the president announcing 29 more pardons a day later, including key 2016 campaign officials Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, as well as Charles Kushner, the disgraced real estate developer and father to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    Trump has received a backlash for some of his pardons, which included reprieves for four Blackwater mercenaries convicted of massacring civilians in Iraq in 2007, and has been urged to use his pardoning powers to grant clemency to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

    Related:

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    ‘War Propaganda’: US Media Uses Russiagate Playbook to Demonize China
    Trump's Decision to Pardon Flynn Puts Final Nail in Russiagate Coffin, Ex-Diplomat Believes
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