Lying to the FBI is a felony that can entail serious punishment.
But supporting violations of international law by Israeli settlers is, well, generally ignored or acclaimed by many in Washington.
George Papadopoulos, former foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, provides a prime example.
Americans learned Monday that he pleaded guilty early last month to making a false statement to the FBI “about the timing, extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.”
He was arrested in July and later agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
In a video addressed to the settlers coinciding with Trump’s inauguration as president, Papadopoulos said, “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria” – calling the West Bank by the name Israel uses.
Papadopoulos appeared in the video with Yossi Dagan, head of the Samaria Regional Council, a settler body in the occupied West Bank.
Dagan was among a number of settler leaders who traveled to Washington for Trump’s inauguration, where they received a warm welcome.
All of Israel’s settlements on occupied Palestinian land are illegal under international law. But those violations, which are subsidized by the US government and by tax-deductible US charitable contributions, have never been a concern for US prosecutors.
Promoting Israel’s interests
David M. Weinberg, a columnist for the right-wing Jerusalem Post, reported last year that Papadopoulos visited Israel in April 2016, where he spoke to Weinberg and associates of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
Weinberg, an apparent Trump enthusiast, wrote that he did not hear from Papadopoulos “any dialing-back of the ridiculous Trump boast that he could get an Israeli-Palestinian deal in a flash.”
According to Weinberg’s account, Papadopoulos told his Israeli audience that Trump views Russian President Vladimir Putin “as a responsible actor and potential partner.”
Putin “has been respectful of Israeli concerns in Syria and elsewhere, too,” Weinberg wrote, describing one of Papadopoulos’ reasons for Trump’s rosy view of the Russian leader.
While Papadopoulos is not thought to have played a major part in the president’s election campaign, Trump did praise him in a March 2016 Washington Post interview as “an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.”
In fact, Papadopoulos has written op-eds promoting Israel’s energy exports in right-wing settler publication Arutz Sheva and the reputedly more liberal Haaretz.
Based on Papadopoulos’ remarks, Weinberg – who has close ties to Israel’s right-wing think tanks and political establishment – called it “refreshing” to learn that “Trump has somewhat of a prism on world affairs, and that there are some reasonably informed people trying to advise him.”
It might appear that this is the end of Papadopoulos’ political aspirations and that he will never have any sway over US policy toward Israeli settlements. He still faces sentencing, though his cooperation means he is likely to get less than the maximum five years and $250,000 fine the law allows.
But that’s not necessarily the case. Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state during the Reagan administration, pleaded guilty in 1991 to withholding information from Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal – where US officials secretly facilitated arms sales to Iran in order to funnel the proceeds to US-backed militias trying to overthrow Nicaragua’s left-wing government.
He looked finished politically. As The New York Times wrote at the time, “Few members of the Iran-Contra crew more symbolized the lawlessness of the Reagan administration than Mr. Abrams.”
But less than a decade later Abrams was back. President George W. Bush picked the man his father, President George H. W. Bush, pardoned.
Abrams served in a variety of roles – beginning in 2001 – including deputy national security adviser starting in February 2005.
The fiercely pro-Israel Abrams was a key proponent of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Abrams successfully pressed for funding and arming militias linked to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to undercut Hamas following its 2006 election victory – setting the stage for a decade of Palestinian division and infighting after Hamas foiled the plan by ousting their rivals from Gaza.
The plan was as disastrous as Abrams’ previous interventions in Nicaragua. Vanity Fair described the botched anti-Hamas putsch as “yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-Contra, part Bay of Pigs.”
Perhaps Papadopoulos will, like Abrams, receive his own presidential pardon and somehow continue to rise through the ranks in Washington.