Sipping a kale and cucumber smoothie on a swanky hotel rooftop in Los Angeles, George Papadopoulos looked a million miles away from a prison inmate.

Just a few days earlier, the former Trump campaign adviser whose actions had triggered the Russian election-meddling investigation was put behind bars.

Last year, he admitted lying to the FBI about conversations with figures touting Kremlin connections during the 2016 election race, shooting to infamy when the news broke.

The crime earned him 12 days in the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wisconsin, where he traded his black jacket and T-shirt at the door for a green jumpsuit.


But speaking to The Daily Telegraph in his first newspaper interview since his release the Friday before last, Papadopoulos showed few signs of scarring from his jail time.

"My nickname in there was Pappy," the 31-year-old said with a laugh over breakfast at his suggested location - the five-star Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills. "Or Papa D."

He had feared the reception he would get in prison, welling up in the ride there with his wife Simona. But after informing guards he was worried about an attack, Papadopoulos was told not to be concerned - the prison was nicknamed Camp Cupcake.

"I said 'What on earth does Camp Cupcake mean? This is a prison, no?"' he recalled.

"[Then] I walked in."

What greeted him was relative comfort. "Certain inmates had dogs that they could walk. There was a beautiful gym, basketball courts, a movie theatre... and bunk beds. I felt like I was in university again, except a little cleaner."

President Donald Trump. Photo / AP
President Donald Trump. Photo / AP

In the morning, he would make coffee and read The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times. During the day he would chat to fellow inmates - mainly white-collar criminals - or take exercise.

Throughout, he thought about prison reform and scribbled notes. There was time, too, to look back on a whirlwind three years. First a rise from obscurity: becoming a presidential campaign adviser, enjoying election victory and facing the prospect of an administration job.

And then, just as fast, the fall - FBI interviews, a criminal indictment, an admission of guilt, worldwide attention as a villain in the Trump-Russia saga and, eventually, jail.

For Papadopoulos, much of the latter can be traced back to what he calls the "bomb" - a remark so loaded that it would ultimately launch the probe that continues to this day under Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

It came in April 2016, seven months before the election. Papadopoulos had just joined Donald Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser, leveraging his years with the Hudson Institute think tank and a brief stint with Ben Carson, another Republican hopeful.

He was meeting Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor based in the UK, who had taken interest in him after his new role and touted his high-level Russian connections.

There was reason to meet - Mr Trump had made clear in public that he backed improved relations with Russia.

"We met at Andaz Hotel by Liverpool Street Station [in London], a beautiful hotel," Papadopoulos recalled. "He decided to drop a figurative bomb on me, which was that he discovered or learned from the Russians that they possessed thousands of Hillary Clinton's emails."

Papadopoulos said he doubted the veracity of the claim but "absorbed it" nonetheless. He would later tell a Greek foreign minister about the boast and - it is alleged - Alexander Downer, then Australia's high commissioner to the UK. When hacked Democratic Party emails were published by WikiLeaks that July, Mr Downer would alert the Americans and Crossfire Hurricane, an FBI investigation into Trump campaign ties to the Kremlin, was launched. More than two years on, it still hangs over the Trump presidency.

President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Photo / AP
President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Photo / AP

Papadopoulos insisted he never acted on the suggestion that Russia had Clinton emails. "I never told anyone on the campaign, I didn't tell Trump about it, because I didn't feel that he [Mifsud] was credible," he said.

He has also gone a step further - repeatedly claiming in recent months that Prof Mifsud, Mr Downer and others were in fact working with Western intelligence, who wanted to keep tabs on the Trump campaign. It is an allegation partly levelled at the UK Government.

"Trump supported Brexit; the establishment in the UK did not," Papadopoulos said, repeating his claims and noting the "very close" relationship between British and American intelligence agencies.

Challenged to spell out the rationale for why UK Government figures would take such a remarkable step, he said the British establishment was against Mr Trump's presidential bid and wanted to undermine it.

Last year GCHQ issued a rare public statement calling suggestions it conducted wiretapping against Mr Trump "utterly ridiculous".

But Papadopoulos is not without remorse. He regrets lying to the FBI about his contact with Prof Mifsud and others by claiming conversations only happened before he joined the Trump campaign - the crime he pleaded guilty to and which landed him in jail.

"Of course, I regret it now because it's turned my life upside down for two years," he said.

Asked why he lied, he replied: "I never wanted Trump or his associates to be involved in something that had nothing to do with them."

With his prison time over, he is looking to rebuild his life. He has a book coming out and a documentary crew filming his last few weeks, capitalising on the interest in his story.

He has moved to LA with his wife. Their new home is just below the city's Hollywood sign.

And then there is politics. He wants to become a politician himself."I'm planning on running for Congress in 2020," Papadopoulos revealed, making public his plan for the first time. "We all make mistakes," he said, referencing his crime. "It shouldn't preclude my future in politics in this country."

From prison to Congress in just two years. Is it really possible? To pull it off would be a political shock even his former boss would look on with envy.