WASHINGTON - Was George Papadopoulos, a former aide to U.S. President Donald Trump who lied to the FBI about his ties with Russia, being investigated last year for allegedly serving as an unregistered foreign agent of Israel? His wife, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, made that surprising and unproven claim on Tuesday during an interview aimed at laying the groundwork for Trump to pardon Papadopoulos.
According to his wife, Papadopoulos came "under scrutiny" for his ties to Israel before eventually being pressured by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into pleasing guilty of lying to the FBI about his ties with Russia. She stated that "“he doesn’t have anything to do with Russia. We know he was under scrutiny because of his ties to Israel, not his ties to Russia. So what’s this about?”
She added that the suspicions relating to Papadopoulos and Israel were eventually dropped as the investigation focused on his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election, during which he served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. She did not provide any concrete evidence that his ties to Israel were indeed a subject of Mueller's investigation.
Both the Israeli Embassy in Washington and the Special Counsel's office did not respond to the claims, according to a report in the Washington Post.
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Papadopoulos' only known ties to Israel include research work he did on potential energy ties between Israel, Greece and Cyprus between 2011-2015, including an article published in Haaretz on the subject. He also had conversations on the matter with Eli Groner, who at the time was the economic attache at the Israeli embassy in Washington, and later took on a senior position at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. It's not clear if anything concrete came out of those conversations.
Ms. Papadopoulos used her interviews on Tuesday, in which she brought up the unsubstantiated Israel connection, to call on Trump to pardon her husband, whom she called a "victim" of the Russia-focused Mueller investigation.
Papadopoulos' guilty plea in October 2017 was the result of the first ciminal charges alleging links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. According to court documents, Papadopoulos lied in January 2017 about communicating with top Russian officials in hopes of arranging a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The documents said an unidentified campaign official advised Papadopoulos around May 2016 that Trump himself “is not doing these trips” but that “it should be someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
The special counsel said Papadopoulos - a Chicago-based international energy lawyer - lied to FBI agents about when he learned from an unnamed foreign professor that Russia claimed to have “dirt” in the form of “thousands of emails” on Clinton. Prosecutors said Papadopoulos told agents he had been in contact with the professor before he joined Trump’s campaign. In fact, they said, Papadopoulos met with the professor after joining the campaign.
Reuters contributed to this report