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George Papadopoulos, his bride-to-be, and the Russia-linked ‘professor’ who brought them together

George Papadopoulos with his fiancee, Simona Mangiante. (Simona Mangiante)

Simona Mangiante, the fiancee of former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, describes the moment she decided to speak out on behalf of her partner.

A day after the bombshell announcement that Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contact with the Russians — an indication that he was likely cooperating — Michael Caputo, another adviser on the campaign, said on television that Papadopoulos was nothing more than “the coffee boy.”

With those few words, Mangiante decided to stop turning down the interview requests that had been pouring in for weeks.

“That’s the moment that changed my mind,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post this week.

From the role of a silent and mostly unknown partner, Mangiante has since emerged as one of Papadopoulos’s most vocal defenders, carrying out a lonely campaign to push back on attempts by the president and his allies to minimize her fiance’s role in Trump’s campaign.

Mangiante describes her high-profile effort to set the record straight on media outlets like ABC, CNN, the Guardian, and The Washington Post as mostly accidental.

“To be honest with you, I never meant to have this role at all. I never contacted any newspaper,” she said in a phone interview. “I don’t represent George. I always talk on my behalf. I talk because they ask my opinion and based on the fact that I’m with him. But of course, the intention is to deliver a more realistic picture of who George is, which has been distorted in media before.”

This week, Mangiante was back at it again, retweeting months-old interviews she had done in the past that rebutted the notion — this time falsely pushed by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) — that Papadopoulos never met the president.

This is the story of their year-long romance, which has risen and fallen along with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. They were brought together through the serendipity of a mutual connection — a man who now plays a central role in Papadopoulos’s guilty plea. The couple’s wedding is on hold as Papadopoulos awaits sentencing.

Perhaps it is the perfect love story for these complicated times.

A mysterious connection, and a spark

There is no law of attraction, no prescription for the right way to meet your one and only, and Mangiante and Papadopoulos’s relationship just happened to hinge on a man listed in a sworn affidavit as a potential Russian cutout.

Love is a crazy thing.

The couple, then two strangers, first connected over the social networking site LinkedIn after Papadopoulos noticed that they shared a mutual connection, Joseph Mifsud, a mysterious former Maltese government official who ran an institute called the London Centre of International Law Practice in Britain.

Is there more than meets the eye with the professor at the center of the Trump-Russia probe? Or less?

Mangiante, 34, had started working at the organization after meeting Mifsud while she was employed at the European Parliament in Brussels. Papadopoulos, 30, who had worked for Mifsud’s organization as well, reached out to say he liked her profile picture.

“How do you know him?” Papadopoulos asked her about Mifsud, Mangiante said in an interview with Business Insider. “What does he do? Not even George really knew anything about him.”

Mangiante left the Centre after about three months, after concluding the purported law office was “a facade for something else.”

But the two continued to talk over the Internet, before meeting in person for the first time in New York in spring 2017. They hit it off and quickly fell in love, she has said. They spent the summer traveling around Europe; Mykonos and Athens in Greece, and Capri, Italy, according to Business Insider. Life was good.

Federal agents at the airport

Their troubles began just moments after Papadopoulos had set foot back in the United States on July 27, 2017. Moments after Papadopoulos landed at Washington’s Dulles Airport, he was arrested by federal agents and spent about a day in custody.

He was cooperating with investigators by the time he was released, Business Insider reported. Mangiante was still in Europe. And she says she didn’t hear from him for five days after the text, until Aug. 1, when a family member reached out to her to explain what had happened.

When she flew to Chicago to meet with Papadopoulos, she was served a subpoena for the special counsel’s investigation. During her interview with Mueller’s team, she was asked extensively about her stint working for Mifsud.

“We went from paradise to hell,” she told The Washington Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman last month.

Still, they stuck together, with Mangiante spending time in the United States with Papadopoulos, who could no longer travel. And one morning he woke up with a question for her, she said in an interview this week.

“In the most simple way you can imagine, he woke up in the morning and asked me if I wanted to marry him,” Mangiante said. She said yes.

Life with a cooperator in a high-profile investigation 

Mangiante moved to Chicago recently to live full-time with Papadopoulos she said in the phone interview, which she did from a local Starbucks. Trained as a lawyer, she travels back to Europe regularly to work on a film.

Online, she had given a cryptic response about her decision to retread her previous interviews defending her fiancee’s importance in the Trump campaign. But in the interview she was more forthcoming, saying she was provoked by Nunes’s comments.

Nunes, who has been leading the charge to discredit the Mueller investigation, falsely asserted to Fox News that Papadopoulos “never even knew who Trump — never even had met with the president,” a claim contradicted by a photograph Trump himself posted in March 2016 that showed Papadopoulos around a table with the then-candidate, Jeff Sessions and other high-level campaign officials at a national security meeting.

Nunes misrepresents Papadopoulos’s role in the Russia investigation, earns praise from Trump

“To the same questions, I repeat the same answers,” Mangiante said. “For me, it’s something I can’t understand. It’s like a denial strategy in front of evidence.”

The couple have a studio apartment together and are awaiting Papadopoulos’s sentencing before they schedule their wedding, in Italy, Mangiante said. Mueller’s prosecutors are recommending between zero and six months of jail time for Papadopoulos, provided he continues to cooperate, well short of the five-year sentence he could face.

Mangiante said that Papadopoulos continues to cooperate but declined, as she has done in previous interviews, to give specifics about their interactions with the special counsel’s investigators. She previously told The Post that “there’s a lot to come.”

Meanwhile, Mifsud is at the center of Papadopoulos’s case in the Russia investigation, as outlined by the special counsel. Referred to in court documents as “the professor,” it is Mifsud and the statements federal authorities said he made to Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” which helped land Papadopoulos in hot water.

He is one of the purported Russia-linked contacts that Papadopoulos first told investigators had occurred before the campaign, when in fact they occurred during the campaign, according to court documents in the case.

Mifsud, who has not been charged in the investigation, has denied the claims Papadopoulos made to federal authorities as “nonsense.”

“I strongly deny any discussion of mine about secrets concerning Hillary Clinton,” he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica last year. “I am not a secret agent. I never got any money from the Russians.”

Mangiante didn’t hesitate when asked this week if she thought there was any irony to the fact that the connection with Mifsud had helped her find her future husband.

“Completely,” she said.  “I always said it’s a very weird Cupid. We should invite him to the wedding.”

Read more:

Hero or hired gun? How a British former spy became a flash point in the Russia investigation.

George Papadopoulos is the ‘John Dean’ of the Russia investigation, his fiancee says