What On Earth Is Going On With George Papadopoulos?

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So much news emerged overnight that I’m not sure how much attention will get focused on this odd development in the George Papadopoulos case. Let me address it briefly. We knew little about George Papadopoulos until last October when his plea deal with the Special Counsel’s office revealed that he was a key point of contact with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. Later we learned that his inebriated discussion with an Australian diplomat was the trigger that launched the Russia probe in July of 2016. He made a deal, has been cooperating and recently the Special Counsel’s office filed court papers signaling he’s likely completed his cooperation and is ready for sentencing. All of this is what you’d expect for a cooperating witness. But last night, Papadopoulos’s wife was on Fox asking President Trump for a pardon and seemingly claiming that George had been set up.

Now, it goes without saying that these are two different people, George Papadopoulos and his wife Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos. In practice though it’s hard to believe she’d go public with something so dramatically different from what he’s saying and what would seem to be his legal interests. Remember, the Special Counsel’s office still has the hammer of sentencing hanging over him. By any normal logic, he’s in no position to antagonize them.

What got attention last night was Mangiante basically begging for a pardon for her husband. But what got my attention was a bit different. Far from the posture one normally expects from a cooperating witness, Mangiante was essentially claiming her husband had been set up by the FBI and indeed that more evidence of FBI “spying” on her husband and the campaign was still to emerge. In the past, Mangiante had gone so far as to claim her husband would emerge as the “John Dean” of the Russia scandal, basically implying that he was the inside player whose testimony would prove the undoing of the President. In this video, before she asks Trump for a pardon, she rather unconvincingly explains that she never meant “John Dean” in the sense that the President had done anything wrong.

In other parts of the interview, Mangiante could have been reading almost verbatim from recent articles in The Daily Caller or Breitbart.

I looked at Mangiante’s timeline on Twitter last night to try to get a sense of what was going on. Aside from an endless stream of selfies of the couple seemingly vacationing in different beach locales around the world and living their best lives, everything seemed to change about two weeks ago, around the time that Trump was pushing his “SpyGate” story.

Something very odd is going on here. Again, in theory maybe George’s wife has just gone rogue and he’s still busy cooperating and taking responsibility for his actions. But that seems very hard to figure. The claims of FBI ‘spying’ on the Trump campaign seem either to have given them hope that they have an angle for a pardon from the President or maybe genuinely convinced him he was actually set up in some way. Regardless, at least she seems to have swung hard and completely in the direction of the Fox/Deep State conspiracy theories that make her husband somehow the target of a Deep State effort to entrap the President.

On purely self-interested grounds, it’s pretty hard to figure why that would be happening. Papadopoulos is a cooperating witness in the probe. He’s pleaded guilty to a relatively minor charge (lying to federal investigators). Assuming he’s fulfilled the terms of his agreement, he can presumably expect a fairly lenient sentence. It’s very hard to imagine that sentence won’t get steeper if he’s now having people claim in public fora that he was set up.

What’s my explanation? I have none. The only way this makes sense is if Mangiante and her husband actually think they’re in the running for a pardon from the President or if she’s just gone rogue and is making these claims against his wishes. The further oddity is that Mangiante, who is an Italian national, herself used to work for George Mifsud, the Maltese academic who is apparently a Russian intelligence asset. Something very weird is up here. But it’s not at all clear, at least to me, what it is.

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