- Simona Mangiante, the fiancée of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, described in an interview with Business Insider this week what her life has been like since Papadopoulos was arrested and put on house arrest last July.
- Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with a Russia-linked professor, and Mangiante soon found herself in Mueller’s crosshairs, too.
- Mangiante says she and Papadopoulos are trying to keep their relationship as normal as possible, and are planning an engagement party later this year.
Simona Mangiante says her fiancé, George Papadopoulos, is staying positive.
“George is very calm,” the 29-year-old Italian lawyer said in an interview with Business Insider this week. “There are moments, of course, when we get down. There are a lot of restrictions.”
Papadopoulos, a young energy consultant whose work for the Trump campaign has landed him squarely in the crosshairs of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, has been on house arrest since last July at the home he owns with his mother and younger brother in Chicago.
Mangiante and Papadopoulos first met in person in New York in April 2017, she said, about seven months after they first started chatting on LinkedIn. They travelled to Europe that summer for a whirlwind vacation and parted ways in late July, with Mangiante staying in Italy and Papadopoulos heading back to the US.
“We had travelled to Mykonos, to Athens, and to Capri,” Mangiante said. “He had finished his work for the campaign and I had left my job at the European Parliament. We spent every second together.”
Papadopoulos texted Mangiante when he landed at Dulles airport in Washington, DC on July 27 – minutes before he was arrested by the FBI. By the time he emerged from his Alexandria jail cell on July 28, Papadopoulos had become a cooperating witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.
Mangiante said she did not hear from him again until five days later, on August 1.
“It was traumatic, and completely unexpected,” Mangiante said. Papadopoulos’s cousin wrote to her on Facebook in the interim, explaining that he had been arrested.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Mangiante said. “So I went to the US, and everything changed completely.”
Mangiante flew to Chicago to see Papadopoulos and was promptly served with a subpoena by a federal agent working for special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller is investigating potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and had charged Papadopoulos with lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia-linked foreign nationals during the election. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to the charge.
“It was something, just, unreal,” she said. “When he came to deliver my subpoena, my first reaction was to contact the Italian embassy.”
The embassy told her that they could find an American lawyer to represent her in Chicago. But the rate would be about $US800 per hour – money she said she didn’t have. So she went into the interview without one.
“The interview lasted about two hours, and they asked a lot of questions about Joseph Mifsud,” Mangiante said, referring to the London-based professor who told Papadopoulos in April 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
“It was shocking to me that they wanted me as a witness, but I have nothing to hide,” she added. “And I think they were happy with the interview.”
‘I knew something was wrong from the first day I arrived’
The FBI’s interest in Mangiante makes sense given the three months she spent working for Mifsud – from September through November of 2016 – at the London Centre of International Law Practice.
The organisation listed Mifsud as its director as recently as October, but his biography was deleted from the website following Papadopoulos’ indictment. The special counsel’s statement of offence outlined Papadopoulos’ contact with a London-based “professor” who was later identified as Mifsud in news reports.
Mangiante said she first met Mifsud when she started her job at the European Parliament in 2009. He described himself as someone who worked “to connect people from different governments,” she said.
When her contract was up in September 2016 with the European Parliament in Brussels, Mangiante wanted to move to London. Scouring LinkedIn, she noticed that Mifsud’s organisation was looking to hire people with experience working for the EU.
“I knew something was wrong from the first day I arrived there,” Mangiante said. “It all felt very artificial. I had worked in real diplomatic environments and this didn’t feel that way at all. I never even had clarity about who [Mifsud] actually was.”
Mangiante left the organisation in November 2016. By that point, she had already begun chatting with Papadopoulos, who had messaged her on LinkedIn two months earlier after seeing that they shared a mutual professional connection – Mifsud.
“How do you know him?” Mangiante said Papadopoulos asked her at the time, referring to Mifsud. “What does he do?”
“Not even George really knew anything about him,” Mangiante said.
A mysterious résumé
Mifsud came under renewed scrutiny last weekend, when The New York Times reported that Papadopoulos drunkenly told an Australian diplomat in May 2016 – one month after meeting with Mifsud – that Russia had dirt on Clinton.
The diplomat relayed the details of his conversation with Papadopoulos to Australian government officials, who in turn relayed it to the US government shortly after news surfaced that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked. Papadopoulos’ inadvertent disclosure, combined with the massive data breach, is what triggered the FBI’s Trump-Russia probe.
Before it was scrubbed, Mifsud’s London Centre biography said he had “lectured extensively throughout the world,” “worked in a number of universities,” “attended and chaired conferences” and “organised major ministerial and institutional meetings on pan-Mediterranean dialogue.” He also worked for the government of Malta, where he is from.
Mifsud has been filmed speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club, a think tank based in the Russian city of Veliky Novgorod that is close to President Vladimir Putin and hosts him every year for a keynote address. Mifsud also wrote three pro-Russia articles that are featured on Valdai’s website.
Beyond that, not much is known. In November, Mifsud disappeared from Link Campus University (LCU) in Rome, the private university where he has worked on-and-off since the early 2000s. Mifsud managed the university’s international partnerships, according to BuzzFeed, including one with Lomonosov Moscow State University. LCU has since removed Mifsud’s biography from their website.
The school also removed the biography for Nagi Idris, the director of the London Centre of International Law Practice. Mangiante said she was introduced to Idris on her first day of work at the Centre.
‘It’s very naïve to dismiss someone like that when you have evidence’
Mangiante emphasised that she could not discuss the details of Papadopoulos’ case. But court documents filed by Mueller’s team and made public in late October show that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to federal agents about the timing and nature of his conversations with Mifsud.
He told the FBI in his January interview that Mifsud was “a nothing” and “just a guy talk[ing] up connections or something.”But he did not tell the agents initially about Mifsud’s claims that he had high-level Russian government connections and had learned of Kremlin dirt on Clinton.
The Trump campaign was quick to downplay Papadopoulos’ role on the campaign following his guilty plea, describing him as a “coffee boy” who played no meaningful foreign policy role – a claim at which Mangiante bristles.
“I’ve seen the emails,” Mangiante said, referring to Papadopoulos’ communications during the election with high-level members of the Trump campaign. She told ABC last month that Papadopoulos had communicated with Steve Bannon, who chaired the campaign before becoming the White House chief strategist, and Michael Flynn, a top campaign surrogate who Trump later appointed national security adviser.
“It’s very naive to dismiss somebody like that, as a ‘coffee boy,’ when you have evidence,” Mangiante said. “They’re just undermining all of George’s efforts. He even helped to organise a meeting between Trump and [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi through a connection he had at the Egyptian embassy.”
Papadopoulos represented the campaign at numerous points during the election. He attempted for months to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin, helped craft Trump’s first major foreign policy speech, and gave an interview as a Trump campaign official to Russia’s Interfax News Agency six weeks before Election Day. He also represented the campaign at a Republican National Convention event and met with Israeli leaders as a foreign policy adviser during Trump’s inauguration.
Asked why she thought Papadopoulos told the Australian diplomat about Russia’s Clinton dirt, or what he may have meant by it, Mangiante said she couldn’t say with certainty.
“I was not there,” she said. “But they clearly had had many drinks.”
Mangiante reiterated that she and Papadopoulos had nothing to hide and were looking to the future. Right now, for example, they’re busy planning their wedding.
Papadopoulos proposed at the end of September, about a year after he sent her that first LinkedIn message.
“We’ve created such a strong bond in such a short time,” Mangiante said. “We’ll have an engagement party in the US this month, and we were hoping to get married this summer in Italy.”
They just have to wait for his sentencing first.
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