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Mueller was investigating Trump adviser as unregistered agent of Israel, his wife says

Trump officials have tried to cast George Papadopoulos as a low-level figure on the campaign, but documents show extensive contact with top campaign officials. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: -/The Washington Post)
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Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III last summer threatened to charge George Papadopoulos, a former campaign adviser to President Trump, with acting as an unregistered agent of Israel, Papadopoulos’s wife said Tuesday.

Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, an Italian lawyer who married Papadopoulos in March, said the special prosecutor’s office claimed to have evidence that Papadopoulos had worked on behalf of Israel without registering as a foreign agent while he was serving as an energy consultant before he joined the Trump campaign.

Papadopoulos denied the allegation, she said, but pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his interactions with two Russians and a London professor who had told him in 2016 that the Russians held Clinton-related emails. He has been cooperating with Mueller’s probe.

Simona Papadopoulos, who said her husband was not involved in Russia’s efforts to interfere in the White House race, said he agreed to plead guilty as a way to acknowledge missteps with the FBI and to avoid a protracted legal battle.

“I know he doesn’t have anything to do with Russia,” she said in an interview. “We know he was under scrutiny because of his ties to Israel, not his ties to Russia. So what’s this about?”

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

In a joint statement, Papadopoulos’s lawyers Thomas Breen and Robert Stanley said: “The most accurate account of Mr. Papadopoulos’ plea agreement and plea of guilty is contained in the publicly filed court records and the transcript of Mr. Papadopoulos’ guilty plea.”

Simona Papadopoulos’s assertion that Mueller threatened her husband with another charge, first reported by the Daily Caller, came as she conducted a series of media interviews this week in which she argued that her husband never conspired with Russia to assist Trump’s campaign.

Her tone represents a shift since January, when she told The Washington Post that Papadopoulos would be remembered like John Dean, the former White House counsel who pleaded guilty to his role in the Watergate coverup and then became a key witness against other aides to President Richard M. Nixon.

“There’s a lot to come,” she said then. “He was the first one to break a hole on all of this.”

But on Tuesday, Simona Papadopoulos said her earlier comments were misinterpreted. She said she and her husband have reassessed his role after learning that his contacts with London professor Joseph Mifsud led the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia. And Papadopoulos was also upset to learn that a Cambridge professor who hired him to write an energy paper in the fall of 2016 was a source for the FBI, she said.

“George took responsibility for lying to the FBI and cooperated with the government. Cooperating doesn’t mean following an agenda,” she said. “Cooperating doesn’t mean against the president. . . . It means cooperating with the truth.”

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Now, she said she believes her husband deserves a pardon from Trump, who has asserted recently that he has the power even to pardon himself.

Papadopoulos is “a victim, honestly,” she said. “He made a mistake. He pleaded guilty for that mistake. It would make sense for the president to pardon him.”

Papadopoulos lived in London and worked as a researcher for the Hudson Institute, a think tank, and then as an independent energy consultant, before he was named as a volunteer foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign in March 2016.

At the Hudson Institute, where he served as an intern and then a contract researcher from 2011 to 2014, he assisted on publications related to Israel, Cyprus and Greece.

A person familiar with the Hudson Institute said no one from the think tank has ever been contacted by the special counsel’s office regarding Papadopoulos’s work there, including on Israel-related issues.

In October 2015, Papadopoulos wrote a column for the Israeli publication Haaretz entitled “Natural Gas Isn’t Just about Israel.” He also attended a series of energy conferences in Israel, including one held in April 2016, just days after he was named to Trump’s campaign, according to Israeli media accounts.

During those years, he became acquainted with Eli Groner, who has served since 2015 as a top aide to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. An Israeli Embassy official in Washington told The Post in April 2017 that the two had met while Groner served as the embassy’s economic attache between 2011 and 2015. The two stayed in touch over the years and discussed energy issues, the official said.

The embassy did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.