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Looking At George Papadopoulos' Connections In The Russia Investigation


George Papadopoulos is the reason the FBI started its investigation into whether President Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia to influence the 2016 election. We know this from that House intelligence memo that went public earlier this month. Papadopoulos was arrested last July and has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Now he's cooperating with investigators. So we're going to look at how he got involved with this investigation.


FREDERICK RYAN: Mr. Trump, welcome to The Washington Post.


RYAN: Thank you for making time...

SHAPIRO: The story starts in March 2016 when candidate Trump announces his foreign policy team to The Washington Post. He lists five people, including...


TRUMP: George Papadopoulos. He's an oil and energy consultant - excellent guy.

SHAPIRO: From our podcast Embedded, NPR's Ryan Lucas and Kelly McEvers pick up the story from there.

KELLY MCEVERS, BYLINE: George Papadopoulos had briefly worked for the Ben Carson campaign before he joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. Papadopoulos also worked as an energy consultant in London.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: He had established a sort of relationship with a professor in London by the name of Joseph Mifsud who, according to court papers, has ties to the Russian government and Russian intelligence services.

MCEVERS: These court papers Ryan's talking about documents that lay out what is now the federal government's case against George Papadopoulos. They call it a statement of offence.

LUCAS: And Mifsud took an interest in Papadopoulos after it was announced that Papadopoulos was going to be an adviser to the Trump campaign.

MCEVERS: And just explain Mifsud. He's not himself Russian. Describe who he is a little bit.

LUCAS: So Mifsud is a Maltese professor. He was working in London, tends to travel a lot.

MCEVERS: He's also a former official in the Maltese Foreign Ministry. He helped negotiate Malta's entrance into the EU.

LUCAS: And has pretty good contacts with officials in a Russian think tank - but that think tank has ties to the Russian government - and people in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

MCEVERS: And according to these court papers, Mifsud and Papadopoulos first meet in Italy in March 2016. And they keep meeting. They later talk about setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Papadopoulos emails his supervisor in the Trump campaign about this and gets a response - great work. And then the court papers say Mifsud and Papadopoulos meet again the following month in London.

LUCAS: So this meeting takes place on April 26. And Mifsud and Papadopoulos have breakfast at a hotel in London. And during the meeting, Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that he just got back from a trip to Moscow where he had meetings with high-ranking Russian officials. And he learned that the Russians had what he called dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that the dirt is basically thousands of emails that the Russians have hacked, which we now know, of course, was true.

MCEVERS: It's true the Russians had the emails. The FBI, CIA and NSA say Russian intelligence hacked the Democratic National Committee. Joseph Mifsud denies knowing or saying anything about this to George Papadopoulos.

LUCAS: The court papers don't say what Papadopoulos did with this information, whether he took it back to senior Trump campaign officials or not. What we do know from the court papers is that Papadopoulos did continue to correspond with campaign officials and that he kept in communication with Mifsud and an official with ties to the Russian Foreign Ministry. But we don't know specifically what he did with the information about the Russians having dirt on Hillary Clinton.

MCEVERS: After this meeting between Papadopoulos and Mifsud, Papadopoulos is having drinks with an Australian diplomat and he tells him what he heard about Russia and the dirt on Clinton. And then the FBI opens its investigation, all this according to The New York Times. George Papadopoulos actually worked in an office in London that was run by Mifsud for a few months in 2016. And later that year, so did this woman.

SIMONA MANGIANTE: Simona Mangiante.

MCEVERS: Simona Mangiante.


MCEVERS: And where are you from?

MANGIANTE: I'm from Italy, from nearby Naples.

MCEVERS: Simona Mangiante is now George Papadopoulos' fiancee. She and George actually met because George saw on LinkedIn that they had both worked in this same weird place.

MANGIANTE: We worked with this London Centre for International Law Practice, which was a partner of the London Academy of Diplomacy. And Mifsud offered me this job.

MCEVERS: He recruited her because she was working for the European Parliament. And he recruited her like, come work for my center.

MANGIANTE: And he was interested to hire let's say young people with political connection to have access to their network.

MCEVERS: But that it was just like this table and, you know, you had to, like, bring your own laptop. And it was never really totally clear what exactly your job was.

MANGIANTE: It was really looking, like, weird. No work agenda. And they didn't even pay me.

MCEVERS: And that, like, she was told to attend a secret symposium.

MANGIANTE: Secret symposium. Leaders all around the world will be there. But it's secret, so we cannot give you any details about it.

MCEVERS: And like, somebody even bought plane tickets.

MANGIANTE: I think it was through Beirut - through Beirut, yeah.

MCEVERS: But then we asked her, you know, when you found out later from the United States government that he's considered to be somebody in touch with Russia, like, did that surprise you? And she said...

MANGIANTE: Not be surprised.

MCEVERS: It wouldn't surprise you?


MCEVERS: We should say we reached out to Mifsud and to another man who ran this center. Neither of them responded. Ryan Lucas says if these U.S. government allegations are true, the idea of a Maltese professor connecting a Trump campaign staffer with Russian officials fits a pattern.

LUCAS: I will say that if you talk to people in the intelligence community about how the Russian intelligence apparatus works, this is entirely consistent with how they would do this.


LUCAS: So you have somebody who isn't, one, working for the Russian government directly. Two, they don't have to be a Russian themself. But they are allowed to kind of cultivate these people and kind of act as a middleman between somebody of interest like George Papadopoulos and the Russian government.

MCEVERS: So that's the special counsel's version of George Papadopoulos. Trump's version is different. The White House and former Trump campaign advisers like Michael Caputo say George Papadopoulos was just a low-level, unpaid volunteer.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: He was somebody that played a minimal role, if one at all.


MICHAEL CAPUTO: I never heard of Papadopoulos. He never showed up at Trump Tower, never had any interaction with any of the campaign leaders around me. He was the coffee boy.

LUCAS: But of course, it also turned out that there was a photograph of a foreign policy meeting that Trump was at. Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at it as well because Sessions took part in the foreign policy team. And who was at the table as well? George Papadopoulos.

MCEVERS: So George Papadopoulos was probably more than the coffee boy. But it's also possible the Trump campaign was so chaotic and so different from any other campaign that people just didn't know what he was up to.

LUCAS: One thing that people on both sides of the political spectrum will say about this campaign is that it's much more difficult to get a read on how serious anything is because it was so unorthodox.


LUCAS: And there is an alternative explanation for almost everything. And often that explanation is naivete, incompetence, just not knowing what it was they were doing. And with the case of somebody like George Papadopoulos, nobody really knew how much he did.

MCEVERS: And here are two things we've confirmed George Papadopoulos did as a foreign policy adviser. He helped set up a meeting between Donald Trump and the president of Egypt. And when Trump delivered a big foreign policy speech...


TRUMP: I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible.

MCEVERS: ...George Papadopoulos helped edit the speech.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Kelly McEvers and Ryan Lucas from our podcast Embedded. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kelly McEvers is a two-time Peabody Award-winning journalist and former host of NPR's flagship newsmagazine, All Things Considered. She spent much of her career as an international correspondent, reporting from Asia, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. She is the creator and host of the acclaimed Embedded podcast, a documentary show that goes to hard places to make sense of the news. She began her career as a newspaper reporter in Chicago.