The Russia collusion narrative continues to unravel, while evidence supporting President Donald Trump’s “Spygate” charge continues to mount. It is impossible to know what future revelations await, but last week provided some important clues when Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos returned to the media circuit to defend her husband, the former Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to charges of lying to the FBI.
Mangiante’s statements last week and over the last year prove enlightening — and reliable — for two reasons: First, from pillow talk, she has knowledge of the events purportedly leading to the launching of Crossfire Hurricane, as well as evidence of attempts by spies, such as Stefan Halper, to target Papadopoulos. Mangiante is unlikely to lie about these events, because doing so would jeopardize her husband’s case: Should Mangiante contradict the information Papadopoulos provided to the Special Counsel’s office, he could face additional criminal charges. Second, while Mangiante has not been charged with a crime, should she reveal information that contradicts her sworn testimony before the grand jury, she could face criminal liability as well.
So, what can be gleaned from Mangiante’s comments in the last year? Two main points: Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia, but there is evidence of concerted efforts by individuals connected with foreign intelligence agencies, Obama administration officials, and career employees of the FBI, CIA, and DOJ to spy on the Trump presidential campaign.
Let’s break it down, after a quick refresher for those new to the story:
Introducing Mr. & Mrs. George Papadopoulos
Papadopoulos and (vicariously) Mangiante first grabbed the public’s attention when news broke on October 30 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had indicted him for lying to the FBI. Prior to joining Trump’s campaign, Papadopoulos had served a brief stint with Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson’s team, and before that he served as a research associate at the D.C.-based Hudson Institute think tank.
Papadopoulos “met” Mangiante, a native of Caserta, Italy — a city of 80,000 on the outskirts of Naples — through LinkedIn, in September 2016, when he noticed their mutual connection to the London Centre of International Law Practice. After sending Mangiante a note saying he liked her picture, the pair began chatting over the internet. They would not meet for six more months, when Mangiante flew to New York in March or April 2017. A love connection sent the couple on a three-month soiree, in which they traveled to Mykonos, Athens and Capri.
Papadopoulos flew home afterward, on July 7, but after he sent a quick text to Mangiante saying he had arrived safely, the FBI arrested him at Washington Dulles airport. Mangiante later flew to Chicago to be with Papadopoulos, and in September the couple became engaged. On Oct. 5, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. That same day FBI agents served Mangiante with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. While the couple intended to marry in Italy in the summer, the case dragged on, so they wed instead on March 2, 2018, in a civil ceremony in Chicago, Illinois.
The London Centre Is Not What It Seems
Not much is known about the London Centre, but from what Papadopoulos’ Statement of Offense reveals, and what Mangiante tells, it appears the Centre served as a base to set up the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos joined the London Centre in February 2016, but to date there has been no explanation of how he obtained his position there as the Director for International Energy and Natural Resources Law and Security. He remained affiliated with the center for only a few months, but during that stint he met several times with Professor Joseph Mifsud, including on April 26, 2016, when Mifsud told Papadopoulos over breakfast that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Mifsud also dangled his connections with Russia before Papadopoulos, offering to help him arrange meetings with various individuals connected to Russian President Vladimir Putin; Papadopoulos then passed on the possibility of arranging a meeting with Putin to the Trump campaign.
Mangiante also worked at the London Centre of International Law Practices, but not at the same time as Papadopoulos. She joined the London Centre in September 2016 to work for Mifsud, who at the time was running the organization. Mangiante would later describe the London office as “very messy” and consisting of a single table where employees worked on personal laptops. “It felt like something was weird,” she said, adding that while she didn’t meet any Russians there, “the centre certainly wasn’t what it pretended to be.” It seemed “fake,” she said, and “artificial.”
Mangiante quit the Centre in late October 2016 because she hadn’t been paid, but also said she quit after Mifsud’s partner asked her “to attend a secret meeting to discuss Iraq in Tripoli,” saying “I thought it was very suspicious.” Mangiante repeated this story in her interview with NPR, saying she was asked to attend a “secret symposium.” She was told “leaders all around the world will be there, but it’s secret so we cannot give you any details about it.” In this latter interview, Mangiante noted that she thought the meeting was to be held in Beirut.
What she shared about the London Centre’s head, Mifsud, was equally suspicious. She told The Guardian that “Gianni Pittella, a well-known Italian MEP,” introduced Mangiante to Mifsud in 2012, and for years she “always saw Mifsud with Pittella,” at the European parliament where Mangiante worked. Pittella confirmed his close friendship with Mifsud, and records also reveal that Pittella served as a Visiting Lecturer at the London Academy of Diplomacy, which Mifsud also ran.
During her interviews over the last year, Mangiante expanded on her views of Mifsud, calling him “shady,” and “sneaky, someone you can’t read.” Mifsud, who spoke to Mangiante in fluent Italian, was “extremely connected at high level, different governments including the Italian government,” Mangiante would tell ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos.
We now know that Mifsud has gone missing, and according to two colleagues of the Maltese professor, he was told to go dark by Italian secret service. This recent development provides context to Mangiante’s earlier comments concerning Mifsud’s connections to the Italian government and Pittella.
Papadopoulos didn’t know anything about the hack of the DNC’s emails:
In December, The New York Times ran a story implying that the FBI launched its investigation into the Trump campaign upon learning that Mifsud had told Papadopoulos the Russians had thousands of Clinton’s emails, and further suggesting the emails referenced were the ones hacked from the DNC and released by WikiLeaks in July 2016. However, this theory does not withstand scrutiny. At the time the FBI launched operation Crossfire Hurricane, it knew only that Papadopoulos had learned from an individual with Russia connections that Russia had damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos’ first mention of the emails came much later, when the FBI interviewed him on Jan. 27, 2017.
In her interviews last week, Mangiante added a further detail on this fabricated justification for the launching of the investigation: She told The Daily Caller that the FBI’s rationale for launching Crossfire Hurricane made no sense, since “Mifsud referred only to Clinton-related emails, not DNC documents that sparked the FBI’s investigation.” While Mangiante is admittedly relying on her husband’s word, she maintains that “Papadopoulos believed Mifsud was talking about 30,000 emails that Clinton had deleted from her private email server. That batch of emails was a topic of intense interest during the campaign.”
She added: “He never saw those emails. He never did anything.” As for Mifsud? “Mifsud never offered [Papadopoulos] anything. He just talked about emails,” Mangiante noted, telling Tucker Carlson last week that Mifsud was “talking casually” with her now-husband “about information already in public domain.”
“This was gossip,” she stressed.
Russia Wasn’t George’s ‘Thing’
While Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty on Oct. 5, 2017, to one count of lying to FBI agents, the details of the charges remained under seal until Oct. 30, when the court unsealed the case. The press immediately pounced, framing Papadopoulos’ plea as evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia.
Here’s Chris Cillizza writing for CNN:
“Papadopoulos copped to lying to the FBI about the timing of his contacts with Russians. In his initial interview in January 2017, Papadopoulos was insistent that he had reached out to his foreign contact ‘The Professor’ (amazing!) before he had formally joined the Trump presidential campaign. He was arrested in July, pleaded guilty in October and appears to have been cooperating in between. And, most importantly the ‘Professor’ only showed interest in Papadopoulos after it became known that he was employed by the Trump campaign. That. Is. A. Very. Big. Deal.”
Cillizza then claimed that “Papadopoulos’ interactions with ‘The Professor’ were driven by the promise of ‘dirt’ on Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails’ regarding Clinton,” before adding that “Papadopoulos seems to have been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation since July.”
The mainstream media had become so invested in the Russia collusion narrative that they have interpreted Mangiante’s every word as confirmation of Trump’s guilt. So, last week, when Mangiante reappeared on the airwaves, the press registered surprise and portrayed her as presenting a “markedly changed tone,” when she made clear her husband had not provided the Special Counsel with evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“Six months ago, George Papadopoulos’s fiancée was making the rounds in the news media with a disquieting message for Trump supporters,” NBC News reported, “but in recent days, Mangiante, now Papadopoulos’ wife, has … taken to right-wing media to proclaim that Papadopoulos played no role in collusion with Russia.”
But the media wasn’t listening: Mangiante never claimed Papadopoulos had any evidence about collusion with Russia. For instance, in her December interview with Stephanopoulos, when asked whether Trump would be pleased with what Papadopoulos had to tell Mueller’s team, Mangiante replied: “I think it’s not right to dismiss George as a coffee boy.” She added that Trump may not be happy that the evidence shows that’s not the case.
In her earlier interviews, Mangiante had also told The Washington Post “there was a lot to come” and “history will remember [Papadopoulos] like John Dean” — the White House counsel who exposed Watergrate. The Russia-obsessed media assumed Mangiante meant evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign. Not so. “[I] was referring precisely to the situation with Halper,” Mangiante told The Daily Caller, adding that “operation is more evidence of George being a target to infiltrate the campaign.”
Stefan Halper, of course, was the FBI informant who had contacted Papadopoulos and two other Trump campaign workers in the spring and summer of 2016, and then met with Papadopoulos in mid-September 2016, asking the Trump aide what he knew about the Russians having the Democrats’ emails. Papadopoulos told Halper he did not know what he was talking about, and at that, as Mangiante relayed, Halper began “acting aggressively” and “showing disappointment” at Papadopoulos’ denials.
Seriously, Russia Wasn’t George’s Thing
While Mangiante put to bed the theory that Papadopoulos provided the connection necessary to prove collusion with Russia, she unwittingly woke another conspiracy theory when she spoke with CNN’s Jack Tapper. After noting that both Mifsud and Halper were “shady characters,” Mangiante added that she had witnessed another incident personally.
“Someone we met in Mikonos, an Israeli person who came — flew to Mykonos just to discuss business,” she said. “Very appealing proposal — much money was offered to George in many directions as we know. And everything was highly suspicious.”
Mangiante expanded on this encounter, telling The Daily Caller that after meeting with the couple on the Greek island of Mykonos, an Israeli national “invited Papadopoulos to Cyprus and Israel to discuss business.”
“He offered Papadopoulos money, but he refused because he suspected entrapment,” Mangiante explained. The Daily Caller withheld the name of the individual, since he could not be reached for comment and had not previously been linked to Papadopoulos. Another twist came when Mangiante revealed to The Daily Caller that “George had nothing to do with Russia,” but rather “pled guilty,” according to Mangiante, because “[Mueller’s prosecutors] threatened to charge him with being an Israeli agent.”
This new information adds to the details disclosed earlier that connected Papadopoulos to Israel. In early December, when she appeared on CNN’s “Outfront,” Mangiante told the host that “Russia was really secondary,” and that Papadopoulos’s contribution to the campaign was his “big work with Egyptians, Israel.” At the time, Mangiante pointed to Papadopoulos “meeting with Israeli settlers around inauguration day,” but the CNN host seemed uninterested. Mangiante later told MSNBC during another interview that Papadopoulos “was the only one to talk to the Israeli, [at the] most famous energy conference.
The conference, Hadera EnergyTech Conference, was held in Israel in April 2016, and during one presentation Papadopoulos told attendees, “We want to see Israeli partnerships with European countries, especially from the Mediterranean, such as Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.”
How Many Spies Were There?
The FBI’s use of Halper as an informant to connect with fellow-Trump advisor Carter Page at a conference at Cambridge in July 2016 raises the prospect that the Israel convention in April 2016 served as the first outreach to Papadopoulos by the Israeli national or other informants. Halper also used Papadopoulos’ interest in Israel to lure him into a relationship, offering in a Sept. 2, 2016, email “$3,000 to write a policy paper on issues related to Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and the Leviathan natural gas field. Halper also offered to pay for Papadopoulos’s flight and a three-night stay in London.”
Since news of Halper’s role as an FBI spy broke, Papadopoulos “has grown skeptical of many of his contacts during and after the election,” Mangiante told The Daily Caller. In addition to Halper and the unnamed Israel-national, Mangiante points to Sergei Millian, who met Papadopoulos several times in Chicago and New York City, and according to Mangiante, Millian offered Papadopoulos “$30,000 a month to work as a consultant while” working also in the Trump administration. Significantly, Millian has been mentioned as one of the sources for the Steele dossier.
One would think Mangiante’s recent revelation that, in addition to Halper and Millian, a third individual had attempted to lure Papadopoulos into a shady deal would have prompted the press to consider what she has been asking: “The question today to me [is whether] these people are simply shady businessmen or are they part of a greater attempt to entrap George in illegal activity.”
But no, the connection to Israel instead triggered a new conspiracy theory: “What if the real secret of the Trump campaign isn’t that it’s a Kremlin operation, rather an Israeli operation masquerading as a Russian one?” former National Security Agency analyst John Schindler recently told the Observer, as dissected by Lee Smith at Tablet.
Mangiante, however, raised the better question: Was there a concerted effort by multiple informants and intelligence communities to inveigle Papadopoulos?
We know from his change of plea hearing that the government presented him with copies of the various e-mail and text messages, as well as communications via social media, to “jog” his memory and help the government put together a “road map” for the investigation. But, as the government clarified during that hearing, the government did not share other information with him, presumably including Halper’s role as an informant.
The bigger question is whether Mueller’s team is sharing the information with anyone outside, such as the congressmen charged with oversight or United States Attorney John Huber, who is investigating the FBI and DOJ’s abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. And if Mueller discovers evidence that individuals connected with foreign intelligence agencies were involved, with whom will he share that information?
A Pardon Might Not Be a Bad Idea
The final thread making headlines following Mangiante’s flood of interviews last week focused on her plea for a pardon for her husband from Trump. This is not a new request; she had also told CNN in December “she hopes President Trump will pardon [Papadopoulos] because he’s been loyal to him.” Pushing for a pardon, however, left Papadopoulos’ attorneys rather cross with her, so she made clear in a subsequent interview that “everything I say reflects exclusively my own opinion.”
Papadopoulos’ attorneys likely worried that by professing on camera that her husband had merely “made a mistake” and “was confused” on the dates of his conversations with Mifsud, the sentencing judge would find that Papadopoulos had not accepted responsibility for his crime. Under federal law, a detailed set of guidelines determine the appropriate sentencing range, and acceptance of responsibility will reduce the potential sentence. The government’s initial assessment set the sentencing range at zero to six months imprisonment. Papadopoulos’ attorneys likely want to make sure nothing Mangiante says causes the judge to come in with a higher sentence.
Of course, Trump could always pardon Papadopoulos. Doing so would give the president the perfect opportunity to present Papadopoulos as Exhibit 1 in Spygate.