The Second Coming of George Papadopoulos
Patient zero in the Mueller investigation is back with a well-timed book.
For George Papadopoulos, the timing couldn’t be better.
When the foreign-policy advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign let an Australian diplomat in on a little secret, that the Russians had dirt on rival candidate Hillary Clinton, it set in motion a chain of events culminating in the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Moscow.
Now, Papadopoulos is back in Washington this week in the wake of the Mueller report’s conclusion that there was no collusion after all, promoting his new book and the idea that the special counsel investigation was all an elaborate setup. It is a meme that fits in well with U.S. President Trump’s own counterattack on the probe as a conspiracy by people who “have done some very, very evil things,” as he said Monday.
Papadopoulos told Reuters on Tuesday that he is considering withdrawing his guilty plea and that his lawyers have applied to Trump for a pardon.
On Fox and Friends on Tuesday morning, Papadopoulos described the special counsel investigation as a “hoax.” And as he embarks on his book tour to promote Deep State Target: How I Got Caught in the Crosshairs of the Plot to Bring Down President Trump, Papadopoulos is being trailed by film crew who are working on a documentary series called Papa.
“I feel almost like a potential political rebirth in the making,” he told Foreign Policy.
“Rebirth” might be a bit strong, since Papadopoulos never had much of a political birth to begin with.
His cameo in the early days of the Trump campaign was symptomatic of the Trump team writ large. With ambition that outstripped his experience, Papadopoulos was an easy mark for Russian-linked operatives as he sought to arrange a meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In March 2016, the Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Papadopoulos reportedly then relayed this information to the Australian diplomat Alexander Downer over drinks in an upscale London wine bar in April 2016. When hacked emails from Clinton and fellow Democrats began appearing a few months later, Downer notified Washington, which prompted the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos does not deny having advanced knowledge from Mifsud that the Russians had hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, but he says he never relayed this information to Downer.
He was unable to answer how Downer could have otherwise known that he knew about the email hack.
“U.S. and foreign intelligence was—I don’t like using the word weaponized—but it was certainly manipulated to target our campaign operatives such as myself,” he said.
After serving a 12-day prison for having pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI, Papadopoulos and his wife, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, moved to Los Angeles for her to pursue a career as an actress. The pair is back in Washington this week as part of Papadopoulos’s tour to promote his new book.
In the book, the former advisor claims to have been caught up in an elaborate scheme by shadowy operatives in the U.S. government and law enforcement to bring down Trump. Versions of this theory have become popular in some conservative circles.
“At best it’s prosecutorial overreach; at worst, it’s the deep state declaring war on Donald Trump—and with that, a war on truth, justice, and the American way,” he writes.
His book takes this one step further and says that he was singled out for his ideas on U.S. policy in the Mediterranean that he developed while working at the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
Papadopoulos started at the institute in 2011 as an unpaid intern and then over the next few years provided some contractual paid research assistance to one of the institute’s senior fellows, according to a source with direct knowledge of his time at the institute.
“My reputation as a political heretic made me a person of interest to intelligence services around the world,” Papadopoulos writes in his book.
In the book, Papadopoulos says that he realizes he “misspoke” to the FBI but says that he was pressured into admitting to lying to the FBI as part of his plea deal.
A spokesperson for the special counsel’s office declined to comment on Papadopoulos’s case beyond the court record.
Despite being dismissed by a Trump campaign aide as a “coffee boy,” and as a “low-level volunteer” and a “liar” by the president himself, Papadopoulos is undeterred.
Asked whether he was looking for a role in the Trump administration, he said, “Once the story comes out, if it’s positive for me and there’s an interest from the political establishment to bring me back into the fold, then that’s going to happen.”
Ahead of his 12-day stint in a federal prison in Wisconsin, the Papadopouloses were approached by the Los Angeles-based company FGW Productions about being the subjects of a documentary series about their lives. They are being compensated for aspects of the production.
“What got me excited in them was that they’re this young couple caught up in this international scandal,” said executive producer Stephanie Frederic.
The initial plan was to film the couple ahead of his prison stay and as they moved to Los Angeles. Papadopoulos claims in his book that he received a standing ovation from the guards and his fellow detainees upon entering the prison.
But Frederic said that the pair’s life and their relationship were so compelling that they ended up putting cameras in their house.
“I’ve never seen people that are this open. Part of me said, ‘Well, do they just want to be famous? Are they just excited about having the cameras around?’” she said. “We had one incident where the police were called and two people were in handcuffs.”
The cameras have followed them into the doors of the Senate Intelligence Committee before Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos’s testimony earlier this month. She was called to testify about her former employer Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese academic who told Papadopoulos that the Russians had Clinton’s emails.
Frederic is currently shopping around a docuseries with 13 hourlong episodes but says it might not end there. “I definitely see many seasons,” she said.
“I didn’t expect them to be that transparent and to live out loud the way they do,” Frederic said.
Part of the Papadopoulos family drama has spilled out onto Twitter, where Mangiante Papadopoulos exchanges barbs with George’s mother, Kiki Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos’s wife, who is originally from Italy, told FP that members of Papadopoulos’ family had reported her to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which she says was on false grounds, and said that her lawyer had issued a cease and desist letter to a member of her husband’s family.
Having met on LinkedIn due to a shared work connection, George and Simona were married in March 2018, in between Papadopoulos’s guilty plea and sentencing. The only guests at their wedding were ABC News’ then-chief investigative reporter Brian Ross and ABC executive producer Rhonda Schwartz.
Trained as a lawyer, Mangiante Papadopoulos is now pursuing a career in fashion and acting in Los Angeles but said her and her husband’s association with Trump had made her efforts more difficult. She is also working on a book about her experience of the Russia investigation.
FP spoke to Mangiante Papadopoulos as she was waiting to have a dress fitting ahead of an event for LA Fashion Week.
“When god gives you lemons, you make lemonade,” she said.
The Papadopouloses are not the only ones trying to make it in the world of entertainment after being spun out of the Trump orbit. Former assistant to the president Omarosa Manigault Newman, who first came to public attention on Trump’s reality show The Apprentice, returned to the word of reality TV as a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother last year. Another Trump White House alum, Anthony Scaramucci, who served for 10 days as White House communications director before being fired over an expletive-laden phone call with the New Yorker, also appeared on the show this January.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer reportedly turned down an offer from Dancing With the Stars before joining the syndicated entertainment news show Extra. In a recent segment, the special correspondent gets the scoop from current White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about her first date with her husband.
It’s not unusual for political aides to become media personas in their own right. There is a well-trodden path from politics to punditry, re-enforced by the rise of commentary on cable news in the 1990s. But what’s different about the Trump administration, however, is the growing trend of onetime aides moving into the world of entertainment.
“What is different is the entertainment side of it. That speaks to Trump and the people he surrounds himself with,” said Nicole Hemmer, an assistant professor in presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
There is a longstanding relationship between the entertainment industry and politicians that goes back to the 1920s, but until recently it’s one that has largely been unidirectional, as politicos have sought Hollywood’s advice to win over large audiences while bypassing party structures and a critical press.
As new means of communication have developed, so too has the relationship between politics and the entertainment industry. President John F. Kennedy took advantage of the increasing availability of televisions in the 1960s to craft his own celebrity status and appeal directly to the masses, said Kathryn Brownell, an assistant professor at Purdue University and the author of Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life. This evolution continued under President Barack Obama, who came to be known as the first social media president.
With Trump’s background in reality TV, the clash of politics and entertainment has been more keenly felt.
“You have to think about what values are transcending both worlds,” Brownell said.
While Hollywood has traditionally depended on finding unifying themes so as to create mass-market appeal, reality TV is all about conflict, she said.
“It’s about cult followings and individual brands, and it’s about dividing rather than uniting,” Brownell added.
“This kind of revolving door between entertainment and politics causes people to take politics less seriously,” said Hemmer of the University of Virginia.
Another couple seeking to make lemonade after leaving the Trump presidency early in the season is Anthony Scaramucci and his wife, Deidre Ball Scaramucci.
The pair appeared on the relationship talk show Dr. Phil earlier this month to talk about how Scaramucci’s time in the White House pushed the couple to the brink, culminating in his wife filing for divorce while she was nine months pregnant.
Having called their divorce off, the Scaramuccis’ relationship woes form the basis of their new podcast, Mooch and the Mrs., which launched in September 2018.
A voiceover at the opening of the podcast asks, “What leads them back to each other? Communication, conversation, and a realistic outlook on the world that we live in.”
In an interview with FP, Ball Scaramucci said she is fascinated with the very public rift between White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway and her husband, George Conway, a fierce Trump critic.
Ball Scaramucci said they’d invited the Conways to appear on their podcast.
“They said, ‘Well, obviously we can’t do it right now, but we would love to do that with you,’” she said.
“If it ever happens, we will live stream that.”