A lawyer for the special counsel's office told a federal judge earlier this month what many people have been speculating about throughout the day Monday: The first guilty plea of Robert Mueller's investigation is just the beginning as far as his office is concerned.
"Your Honor, the criminal justice interest being vindicated here is there's a large-scale ongoing investigation of which this case is a small part," Aaron Zelinsky — a lawyer working for Mueller's investigation — said at an Oct. 5 hearing detailing George Papadopoulos's guilty plea to one count of making false statements.
The question arose when US District Judge Randolph Moss asked Zelinsky to explain what interests would justify the court allowing Papadopoulos to waive his rights to seek information about the government's case against him under the Freedom of Information Act.
Papadopoulos appeared in federal court for the hearing, at which Moss detailed the provisions of the plea agreement. A transcript of the hearing details that the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser initially was charged with one count of "deletion or destruction of records" — in addition to the "false statement" charge to which he pleaded guilty.
The initial "deletion or destruction" charge — the affidavit submitted with the original complaint makes clear — related to Papadopoulos's reported deletion of his Facebook account.
The guilty plea, transcript, initial complaint, and all related matters in the case had been sealed until today.
In resolving the FOIA issue, Zelinsky suggested just how key Papadopoulos has been to aspects of the special counsel's investigation.
"The other important factor in this case is that in the process of his ongoing efforts to cooperate, the Government has shared substantial information with the Defendant that has provided a road map of sorts, if you will, to information that might then be sought on FOIA," he said.
Robert Stanley, Papadopoulos's lawyer, said that Papadopoulos "at this time has no intention of issuing FOIA requests," and the parties eventually agreed to a provision that would limit Papadopoulos from filing any FOIA request during the pendency of Mueller's investigation.
Later in the hearing, when Judge Moss raised the issue of when the hearing itself could be made public, Moss said, "I was persuaded that there was compelling reason to proceed today under seal, to have these proceedings under seal and to have them remain under seal so as not to interfere with an ongoing investigation."
Moss added, however, that he wanted them to be made public as soon as reasonably possible.
A lawyer for the special counsel's office responded that the government believed the reasons for needing the hearing to be sealed at the time would be addressed "in the near term."
Papadopoulos's lawyer replied that they did not object to sealing the hearing at the time, adding, "I certainly understand the Special Prosecutor's position on this matter considering the very expansive investigation that's going forward."
This report was updated to provide additional information about the initial charges against Papadopoulos.