In 2016, when Jeff Sessions was a top adviser to the Donald Trump presidential campaign, he “encouraged” a young adviser to seek out “thousands” of Hillary Clinton-related emails that supposedly contained “dirt” on the Democratic candidate — but had been stolen by Russian hackers and were in the possession of Russia’s government. At least, that’s what the former adviser, George Papadopoulos, is alleged to have told an acquaintance last Thursday during a late-night conversation at a Chicago nightclub, according to a report by the news site Think Progress.
Simona Mangiante, who was married to Papadopoulos last month in a civil ceremony at Chicago’s city hall, later sent a text message to the acquaintance who reported the conversation, Jason Wilson, to say that his account of what Papadopoulos said was “a misunderstanding.” She has since denied Wilson’s account of the exchange, via her Twitter account.
Nonetheless, the information allegedly revealed in the reported conversation by Papadopoulos could prove explosive in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 election, because Papadopoulos has been and remains a cooperating witness in the investigation since last summer.
According to court documents filed last October by Mueller, Papadopoulos became friends with an academic named Joseph Mifsud in early 2016, in London, shortly after Papadopoulos became a foreign policy adviser to Trump. Mifsud claimed high-level links to the Russian government and told Papadopoulos about the cache of Clinton “dirt” emails that were in the possession of Russia.
Wilson met Papadopoulos and Mangiante at a Chicago nightclub on March 29, according to the report. During a conversation over several drinks, Wilson asked Papadopoulos if there would be any new information coming out of Mueller’s Russia investigation. Papadopoulos reportedly replied that the investigation was “just getting started.”
Papadopoulos went on to tell Wilson that Sessions “encouraged” his contact with Mifsud and that he should try to find out more about the hacked emails, according to the Think Progress report that is disputed by Mangiante.
As a cooperating witness, Papadopoulos would not be allowed to discuss the Russia case publicly, and Mangiante has now labeled Wilson’s account of the conversation “fake news,” saying that Wilson was “clearly looking for attention” and that Papadopoulos “never answered” his questions about the Russia investigation. A photo of Wilson, Mangiante, and Papadopoulos may be viewed at this link.
Papadopoulos recently posted a photo of himself with his new wife to his own Twitter account.
— George Papadopoulos (@GeorgePapa19) March 8, 2018
Mueller is known to be investigating what Trump himself knew about Democratic emails stolen by Russian intelligence cyber-hackers. A report by NBC News in February said that witnesses interviewed by Mueller and his team report that investigators have asked about what Trump knew about the hacked emails, and when he knew it. The emails became appearing online on the site Wikileaks, as well as on other sites, in July of 2016.
Whether those emails were the same as the “thousands” of emails held by Russia, as revealed to Papadopoulos by Mifsud, remains unclear. Also unclear is whether Papadopoulos told other members of Trump’s 2016 campaign about the “dirt” emails.
If Wilson’s account is true, however, it would indicate that Papadopoulos did, in fact, inform the highest levels of the Trump campaign that the emails existed — a potentially blockbuster revelation because it would confirm that advisers in Trump’s inner circle knew at least two months ahead of time that Russia had hacked Clinton-related emails, and not only did nothing about it but later exploited those hacked emails for their own political gain.
Mifsud has since disappeared from public view, his whereabouts unknown.