- Simona Mangiante-Papadopolous is seeking legal representation to withdraw her husband’s plea deal.
- The wife of George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser on President Donald Trump’s campaign, is trying to scrap her husband’s plea deal with the special counsel Robert Mueller.
- One former federal prosecutor said he sees the attempt as part of a larger effort by Trump’s allies to discredit Mueller and the Russia investigation.
- Mangiante’s comments could also have an effect on two significant parts of the probe: the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and ongoing negotiations between Mueller and Trump’s lawyers over a presidential interview.
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George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser on President Donald Trump’s campaign, struck a plea deal with the special counsel Robert Mueller’s office last October, when he admitted to one count of lying to the FBI.
Now, his wife, Simona Mangiante, is pulling out all the stops to scrap the plea deal just three weeks before her husband is scheduled to be sentenced.
In particular, Mangiante took to Twitter calling for a pro bono lawyer to represent her husband in the effort. Papadopoulos has largely remained silent, with the exception of a tweet Friday night saying he was looking forward to celebrating his birthday over the weekend with his “beautiful and supporting wife.”
“There are many evidences of the public domain that this smells more of entrapment and a set-up than any attempted collusion,” Mangiante told Fox News opinion commentator Tucker Carlson on Thursday. She doubled down on those claims on Twitter, asserting her husband had been denied due process and was wrongfully pressured to plead guilty to crimes he did not commit.
Papadopoulos’ plea deal says he misled the FBI last year when he told them he only spoke to the Russia-linked professor Joseph Mifsud before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, and not after.
In one widely reported meeting in April, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that Russia had dirt on then Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
The next day, Papadopoulos wrote in an email to campaign adviser Stephen Miller – who now serves as a senior policy adviser in the White House – that there were “interesting messages coming in from Moscow” but did not elaborate on what he had learned.
In May, Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer, Australia’s top diplomat to the UK, about Russia’s dirt on Clinton while they were drinking at a swanky bar in London.
In July, when the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks posted a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee emails online, Australian officials informed their American counterparts of Papadopoulos’ conversation with Downer, The New York Times reported. The FBI began scrutinizing the Trump campaign’s Russia ties that month.
Mangiante said in a statement to Business Insider that “knowing his case, he clearly didn’t commit any crime, since every crime is characterized by a ‘status of mind’ [sic] and a motive, it’s pretty clear George had no reason to lie about the date in which he met with professor Mifsud.”
“That today is clear to have played no role in the Russia collusion,” she said, adding that her husband “has no recollection of ever mentioning to Downer about the e-mails on Clinton.”
“Who is fabricating those lies and at which purpose is not up to me to define,” she said. “Definitely it smells entrapment more then [sic] collusion.”
The ripple effects of Mangiante’s comments
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Despite Mangiante’s efforts, legal experts say it’s unlikely Papadopoulos will be able to withdraw his guilty plea.
Roland Riopelle, a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, told Business Insider that while it is easier to withdraw a guilty plea before sentencing than after, it’s not clear whether Papadopoulos will make a motion to do so.
The risks are also high for Papadopoulos to make such a move, Riopelle said, because going to trial would likely result in a “much longer” sentence for the former Trump campaign adviser.
“I think this is mostly crazy talk from his wife,” Riopelle said.
He added that Mangiante’s comments about her husband, particularly within the conservative media sphere, could also bolster Trump’s and his allies’ claims that the special counsel is embarking on a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
“They’re just trying to muck with the Mueller probe, which is barreling ahead, any way that they can,” he said.
Mangiante’s claims that Papadopoulos was trapped by the FBI into making false statements and pleading guilty could also serve as another reason for the president’s legal team to refuse to have him sit down with Mueller for an interview.
The two sides have been going back and forth on the terms of a potential interview since last year, and Trump’s lawyers have continuously shot down Mueller’s requests, claiming that he will lure Trump into a perjury trap.
“The best thing [Trump] could possibly have to support himself in that is George Papadopoulos deciding it was unfair when he was interviewed, and withdrawing his guilty plea,” Riopelle said.
Mangiante’s comments come as a jury in Virginia weighs whether to find former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts.
Manafort was indicted and tried as part of Mueller’s probe, and prosecutors have sought to keep politics out of Manafort’s trial. Instead, they have argued that his case is like any other high-end fraud case and should be decided based on the facts alone.
Manafort’s lawyers, meanwhile, have repeatedly woven political subtext into the proceedings and implied the special counsel is on a fishing expedition against Manafort.
Riopelle suggested Mangiante’s comments – and their amplification by Trump-friendly outlets – could “somehow impress the Manafort jury and get them to come around to acquitting Manafort.”