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CNN Special Reports
The Mysterious Case Of George Papadopoulos; George Papadopoulos Ignited the Russia Conspiracy Investigation. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired September 08, 2018 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:01] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The following is a CNN Special Report.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: A CNN exclusive. Candidate Trump's foreign policy adviser.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: George Papadopoulos, excellent guy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Who ignited the Russia conspiracy investigation.
GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, CANDIDATE TRUMP'S FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: And he says, you know, I have information that the Russians have thousands of Clinton's e-mails.
TAPPER: Sits down with CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
It seemed to you like it was perhaps the Russians trying to hire you to be a source for them possibly?
PAPADOPOULOS: My impression -- this is my impression.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: A story of intrigue.
PAPADOPOULOS: There was a lot of trade craft, spy craft going on around my life.
TAPPER: Of mysterious meetings.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Ten thousand dollars in an envelope?
PAPADOPOULOS: In $100 bills, in a stock of $100 bills in a dodgy room in Tel Aviv.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: New revelations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
You told the Greek foreign minister and the next day he met with Vladimir Putin?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And his new wife.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SIMONA MANGIANTE-PAPADOPOULOS: Interesting that so many thinking that we were two spies falling in love.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Tonight, a CNN special report, The Mysterious Case of George Papadopoulos.
George Papadopoulos came to Washington as a promising young politico and even landed a seat at the table with then-candidate Donald Trump. But the Trump campaign's foreign policy adviser now finds himself a convicted felon, sentenced to serve two weeks in a federal prison for lying to the FBI.
Did you lie to the FBI?
PAPADOPOULOS: I did lie to the FBI.
TAPPER: Why did you lie to the FBI?
PAPADOPOULOS: Some would say -- and I probably was confused by my entire situation, I was looking to get a job with the White House or at least the administration. At the time, perhaps, I wanted to distance myself from this investigation that pinned me in between the DOJ and the sitting president.
TAPPER: How did someone like George Papadopoulos, young and inexperienced though with a well-stamped passport, end up at the center of one of the most consequential investigations in American history? As we discovered, wherever George Papadopoulos goes, international intrigue follows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, what's your reaction to George Papadopoulos' guilty plea? Your reaction to the guilty plea, Mr. President?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So President Trump in a tweet after you were arrested, he said, quote, few people knew the young low-level volunteer named George who has already proven to be a liar. Is that a fair assessment of your role in the campaign, low-level volunteer?
PAPADOPOULOS: It's all relative. I'm not -- I was certainly not a campaign chairman. I was certainly not Steve Bannon or Michael Flynn. But I also wasn't serving coffee. And I also don't think the campaign would have invited me to speak at the RNC the way they did if they viewed me as a coffee boy.
TAPPER: You spoke at the convention?
TAPPER: Well, not exactly. Papadopoulos spoke at an event in Cleveland that occurred during the Republican National Convention, albeit it was alongside heavyweights like Senator Bob Corker. Still, resume-padding is part of the Papadopoulos ammo (ph), especially after Trump announced him as a foreign policy adviser.
TRUMP: George Papadopoulos, he's an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy.
TAPPER: Critics immediately seized on the fact that Papadopoulos had listed his time on a model U.N. as international experience. Papadopoulos worked briefly on the short-lived Ben Carson For President campaign, where he says he helped prepare the candidates for debates.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN CARSON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... and join hands with me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: And prior to that, he had traveled to Cyprus and Israel as a researcher at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in D.C.
PAPADOPOULOS: And I jumped right into working with very high-level officials who had just left the Bush administration, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby, so these really were my mentors.
TAPPER: But it's the job George Papadopoulos had before he joined the Trump campaign that seems to prove pivotal.
This is the London Center of International Law Practice and behind its unassuming brick facade lies one of the central mysteries of George Papadopoulos' story. What is the London Center? According to its web site, they provide training to individuals quote, seeking to expand their knowledge of emergent and controversial issues in international law.
When we asked the director of the center, Peter Dovey, to explain the center's business model, he hung up on us. Papadopoulos says mostly, the London Center asked him to attend conferences such as this one in Rome, which is where he met the man who would change the course of his life, a meeting that launch the Mueller investigation. A meeting with Joseph Mifsud, an academic from Malta, who taught at Link Campus in Rome, and was affiliated with the London Center. [20:35:12] PAPADOPOULOS: So we met at the university and he took a
liking to me right away. He was certainly introduced to me as somebody that could help me organize a meeting with the Russians or with other leaders as well. I mean, this is a mid-50s individual, who on his resume states he's a former high level diplomat in Europe at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Malta, he was associated with numerous think-tanks in Europe. He has connections at the state department, so of course I thought this was an individual who could you know possibly help me as a young adviser to campaign, to open up certain doors, and then, of course, help may accolades.
TAPPER: He was interested in you once he found out that you were going to work for the Trump campaign.
TAPPER: That's what it was?
TAPPER: How -- did he bring up Russia or did you?
PAPADOPOULOS: My understanding is he brought up Russia. He said that, you know, it looks like your candidate is interested in working at some level with the Russian government, at the geopolitical level, of course, because that was my understanding. And Candidate Trump was very vocal about his intention to work with Russia from the beginning.
PAPADOPOULOS: Papadopoulos, eager to impress the Trump campaign with his international connections, began touting his relationship with Mifsud, according to documents filed by the special counsel. And as Trump's campaign picked up steam, Papadopoulos and the professor began to talk regularly.
PAPADOPOULOS: So he called me and he said let's grab lunch of breakfast, I can't remember, at the end, it was his hotel in London. And then, he basically drops a bomb on me.
TAPPER: What does he say?
PAPADOPOULOS: He says you know I have information that the Russians have thousands of Clinton's e-mails.
TAPPER: What was your reaction?
PAPADOPOULOS: And my reaction at the time and to this day was that he was simply repeating gossip and rumors, but because he was unable to really connect me with anyone of substance in Russia, he might have been trying to describe himself as some sort of Kremlin insider or this individual with high level connections. So it struck me, but I wasn't shocked because I never heard something that wasn't already rumored to be -- that Clinton's State Department server might have been hacked. I never heard the word DNC, I never heard the name Podesta, I never heard anything of that nature, so it wasn't really anything that I felt was that shocking.
TAPPER: It wasn't momentous? It wasn't a big moment?
PAPADOPOULOS: It was -- it struck me as somebody who was validating rumors. I felt he was more trying to just send -- plant this seed to let me know that he's a serious person, he has a lot of connections, and he might have been doing his own -- he might have had his own reason to tell me this. I have no idea at this point why he told me that information.
TAPPER: And he -- and he said he'd heard this from people in Moscow?
PAPADOPOULOS: He told me I'm returning from Russia and this is what I'm hearing. I never heard by who, what, when. Everything was very ambiguous, vague.
TAPPER: But it was cast as damaging to Hillary Clinton, right? It was dirt. It was -- they have her e-mails, they have dirt on her?
PAPADOPOULOS: Well, the foreign adversary has the former Secretary of State's private e-mails, of course that's dirt and it's very -- it could be destructive to our country.
TAPPER: Did you tell anyone? I mean, it seems like it could be a big deal, I would want to tell a friend, I would want to tell colleague, you know, I might report back to the Trump campaign. Did you tell anyone?
PAPADOPOULOS: All I can say about this question, because I've been asked a million times is if I told anyone it would have been discovered by now.
TAPPER: I know. But, you didn't really -- with respect, you didn't really answer the question. I mean, like you're saying it would have been discovered but...
PAPADOPOULOS: At this time, I don't remember.
TAPPER: You don't remember?
PAPADOPOULOS: I don't remember, no.
TAPPER: This is one of the most important questions that we have yet to have resolved in the Mueller investigation. Is there proof that Papadopoulos did, in fact, share this bombshell with any of his colleagues on the Trump campaign?
The Senate Judiciary Committee sent this letter asking the Trump campaign to turn over any communications between Papadopoulos and two policy advisers, Rick Dearborn and John Mashburn, even going so far as asking for the document search to include multiple spellings of Papadopoulos' name. Dearborn and Mashburn did not respond to request for comment.
Earlier this year, the New York Times reported that John Mashburn who is currently at the Department of Energy, but was a campaign official at the time, he said in the Judiciary Committee of the Senate that he had a recollection of you sending an e-mail alluding to these e-mails, the Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
[20:10:05] PAPADOPOULOS: So I met John once in my life at the RNC convention along with Rick Dearborn. So, of course, if there was an e- mail, as John is alluding to, especially with various members of the campaign copied on this, it doesn't matter if I deleted it, if that's what he's trying to say. They would have had a receipt of my e-mail. And I don't think that proof has been provided.
TAPPER: So you think he just misremembers.
PAPADOPOULOS: I think he just misremembered, yeah.
TAPPER: There are going to be people out there who think there is no way George Papadopoulos didn't tell anyone on the campaign. Did you tell anyone on the campaign?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, I did not.
TAPPER: You didn't tell Corey Lewandowski?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, I absolutely did not share this with anyone on the campaign.
TAPPER: Not Sam Clovis?
TAPPER: Walid Phares? None of them?
PAPADOPOULOS: I might have, but I have no recollection of doing so. I can't guarantee. All I can say is my memory is telling me that I never shared it with anyone on the campaign.
TAPPER: That meeting, as you know, is the reason that operation crossfire Hurricane, the FBI investigation into possible conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign, why that operation, the FBI operation, was launched because of your meeting with Mifsud and Mifsud making that offer.
PAPADOPOULOS: Actually, it wasn't an offer. That's another misunderstanding. It was a statement, it was a proclamation.
TAPPER: He wasn't seeing -- he wasn't trying to see if you guys wanted...
TAPPER: You and the Trump campaign wanted them? PAPADOPOULOS: No, no, no.
TAPPER: He was just saying I heard this?
PAPADOPOULOS: Yeah. And that's why it was an interesting -- like you said, it was a momentous statement, but I never heard here's her e- mails, here is where you can get them.
TAPPER: So you think it's possible in what's known in spy craft as the dangle? The idea that oh, here's this thing, he wanted you to say oh, we could really use those?
PAPADOPOULOS: Jake, according to public documents today, it seems there was many -- there was a lot of trade crafts, spy craft going on around my life during that time, so I certainly wouldn't disabuse the notion that he might have been dangling something to see if I would bite or the campaign would bite.
TAPPER: But you didn't?
PAPADOPOULOS: In what sense?
TAPPER: You didn't bite.
PAPADOPOULOS: Oh, exactly.
TAPPER: You didn't say we want those e-mails?
TAPPER: In any way?
TAPPER: You didn't convey it.
PAPADOPOULOS: No. As far as I remember from this meeting two years ago, absolutely not.
TAPPER: We of course wanted to hear Professor Mifsud's memory of this conversation. He has all, but vanished, however, since his name appeared in the FBI documents. Neighbors at this address of his in the U.K. say he hasn't been seen there recently. But we did speak with Mifsud's lawyer, a man named Stefan Rowe, who has offices all around the world, a Russian fashion designer wife named Olga, and a primary residence in Monaco. Rowe says Mifsud is not a Russian agent, but actually worked for western intelligence, sent on a mission to introduce Papadopoulos to Russians. Rowe refused to provide any proof or answer our questions about who would have directed this mission or why. The FBI had no comment.
Why didn't you tell them about Mifsud right away?
They say you didn't. The FBI says that they had to prompt you to get you to talk about Mifsud. PAPADOPOULOS: They asked me if any Russian government official ever
discussed hacking or e-mails and I stated no. And then, after that I said now wait a minute, there was this guy, a Maltese professor who told me about hacked e-mails. So I think it's maybe the words were a bit parsed, but I certainly did disclose the name of the individual who told me about this potential crime.
TAPPER: Now, we have, you know, indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officials, indictments of Russian businessmen, who deal with the internet, allegations that the Russians clearly were interfering in the election to help Donald Trump. With the knowledge you have now, looking back at what Mifsud told you, what's your reaction?
PAPADOPOULOS: Actually, I was -- I'm very disappointed that we don't know more about Mifsud today than we did before. So I guess I was little disappointed after a year that we still don't know who this person is. We don't know what his role was, if any, in hacking or disseminating or obtaining this very interesting, potentially dangerous information. So I was expecting much more from my -- about him. Maybe it's classified.
[20:14:55] TAPPER: Next, how cocktails with an ambassador ended up launching an FBI investigation. He said that you, quote, mentioned the Russians, might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton. Is it possible you said that?
PAPADOPOULOS: Anything is possible, Jake.
TAPPER: By March, 2016, Trump was leading his primary rivals by a wide margin, but struggling to gain the support of the Republican establishment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The establishment, they don't know what they're doing. They have no clue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Eager to show what support he did have, Trump released this photo of his foreign policy team meeting at Trump Tower.
When did you first meet Donald Trump?
PAPADOPOULOS: March 31st at the national security meeting.
TAPPER: There's a photo of you at the table. Candidate Trump is there, Senator Jeff Sessions is there. What was discussed at that meeting in terms of Russia, in terms of meeting with Putin?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember, it was I who brought up anything regarding Russia. I was under the impression that an individual I had met in Rome, the so-called professor was able to provide high-level connections in Russia that would result in some sort of a summit or meeting, mostly for a photo-op. So I sat down, you know, I looked at the candidate -- I looked at Candidate Trump directly in his eyes and said I can do this for you, if it's in your interest, and if it's in the campaign's interest. And the collective energy in room, of course, there were some dissenters, but the collective energy in the room seemed to be interested?
[20:20:15] TAPPER: In the collective energy, was Donald Trump interested?
PAPADOPOULOS: The candidate, you know, he gave me a sort of a nod. He wasn't committed either way, but it was -- I took it as he was thinking.
TAPPER: Senator Jeff Sessions was there, too.
TAPPER: At the table, what was his response?
PAPADOPOULOS: My recollection was that the senator was actually enthusiastic about a meeting between the candidate and President Putin.
TAPPER: So you say that then-senator, now Attorney General Sessions was enthusiastic about the idea of candidate Trump meeting Putin, but he has said the exact opposite. In fact, first he said he didn't know of any surrogate on the campaign trail having any contact with Russians. Then after you pleaded guilty, he testified before Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I do now recall that the March, 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. After reading his account and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So he's saying that he wanted -- that he remembers, or at least he's claiming he remembers, telling you don't do it. That doesn't square with what you remember?
PAPADOPOULOS: What I remember is that the senator at the time was enthusiastic.
TAPPER: How did he convey that enthusiasm?
PAPADOPOULOS: As far as I remember from -- this is a meeting that occurred two years ago, of course, this is a good idea.
TAPPER: Saying that he said this is a good idea? He says -- he testified before Congress saying that he, quote, pushed back when you raised the possibility of a meeting with Russia. That's not true, you're saying?
PAPADOPOULOS: I don't remember that.
TAPPER: You don't remember him pushing back?
TAPPER: You remember him saying this is a good idea?
PAPADOPOULOS: I remembering being enthusiastic about a potential meeting between the candidate and President Putin after I raised the question.
TAPPER: Attorney General Sessions' personal lawyer sent us a statement saying attorney general quote, has publicly testified under oath about his recollections and he stands by his testimony.
When that photo was taken, no one at the table could have predicted, of course, the storm that was coming, a storm called Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI investigation that now threatens to take down the Trump presidency. which began because of a conversation inside this London wine bar between Papadopoulos and the Australian ambassador to the U.K. at the time, Alexander Downer.
PAPADOPOULOS: So for the Australian high commissioner to reach out to me out of the blue considering I had no background whatsoever in the U.S.-Australian relationship, I found it odd, I have to say. Initially, I thought it was very odd.
TAPPER: So Downer has only given one interview describing your meeting. I'm going to read for you his version of events. He said that you, quote, mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election which may be damaging. So his memory is, at least according to this interview, that you said that the Russians had material that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. Is it possible you said that?
PAPADOPOULOS: Anything is possible, Jake. I have absolutely no recollection of ever mentioning that to this individual. He might have heard something. He might have misremembered himself. I certainly have no memory whatsoever of talking to this person about that.
TAPPER: Downer did not respond to CNN's request for comment, but while Papadopoulos disputes that he told the ambassador that night at the wine bar about the Hillary Clinton e-mails, for the first time, Papadopoulos tells CNN that he did tell another top foreign government official that Russia claimed to have Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
PAPADOPOULOS: I went to Greece after the campaign authorized me to go meet with Greek officials for the sole purpose of actually understanding you know what the U.S.-Greece relationship was. When I was in Greece, I met with the Greek defense minister and the Greek foreign minister and the prime minister.
TAPPER: And what did you talk to them about? PAPADOPOULOS: During a meeting I had there with one of the ministers,
he explained to me that where you are sitting right now, tomorrow Putin will be sitting there. And in a nervous reaction I had, I blurted out, I heard this information.
TAPPER: So you told the Greek foreign minister a few weeks after Joseph Mifsud told you that the Russians had damaging information on Hillary Clinton had e-mails. You told the Greek foreign minister. And the next day, he met with Vladimir Putin?
TAPPER: Do you know if he told Putin anything about what you had told him?
PAPADOPOULOS: I have no idea.
[20:25:13] TAPPER: The Greek government confirmed to CNN that the meeting took place, but declined to say what was discussed. Exactly one week after that meeting, Donald Trump, Jr., received an e-mail promising the Russians had, quote, documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.
There will be people who say you told the Greek foreign minister, but you didn't tell your supervisor on the campaign? That's hard to believe.
PAPADOPOULOS: I completely understand that point of view. One is gossiping with diplomats because that's what diplomats do. I'm not a diplomat, but certainly, when you've been around Washington long enough, you understand that people spread rumors, they gossip, it's not uncommon. But actually to sit around and to try and conspire with a campaign and tell them that this is what I heard, I have no memory of that, no.
TAPPER: Next, another strange encounter.
PAPADOPOULOS: He presented some sort of shady business proposal to me for $30,000 a month, some sort of PR consultant for an energy firm in Russia.
TAPPER: And later, the mysterious Mrs. Papadopoulos.
MANGIANTE-PAPADOPOULOS: George was a star, vacation everywhere, bottle of champagne everywhere, beautiful yachts.
TAPPER: In July, 2016, just as the Democratic National Convention was about to begin, WikiLeaks published thousands of e-mails that had been stolen from the server of the Democratic National Committee.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. They probably have them. I would like to have it release. TAPPER: While the FBI was investigating who stole the e-mails, George
Papadopoulos was still trying to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin and that is when another mysterious character walked into his life. Sergei Millian had been a figure in the New York real estate scene, even appearing in this episode of Bravo's "Million dollar listing."
GEORGE PAPADOPOULUS, PRESIDENT TRUMP CAMPAIGN AIDE: He reached out to me out of the blue on LinkedIn where he stated in, you know, quite confident terms that he was working for Trump real estate project, where he was promoting real estate endeavors of Trump.
TAPPER: This is when?
PAPADOPOULUS: This is July, 2016.
TAPPER: that same month, Sergei Millian gave this interview to ABC news claiming to have worked with the Trump organization to sell real estate in Russia, a claim that Trump attorney, Michael Cohen at the time denied.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Trump team, they realized that we have a lot of connection with Russian investors and they note that it will bring a lot of investors from Russia.
TAPPER: Media reports around that time identified Millian as a source of information in the Steele dossier, though CNN has not confirmed his involvement nor many of the details in the dossier.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He likes Russia because he likes beautiful Russian ladies. And he likes talking to them, of course. And he likes to be able to make a lot of money with Russians.
PAPADOPOULUS: He presented some sort of shady business proposal to me which I rejected flat out about work for me for $30,000 a month as some sort of P.R. consultant for an energy firm in Russia which I never understood who it was, where the money was coming from and why me, except the qualifier was that I had to work for Trump at the same time.
I just rejected it flat out and I started to be very suspicious.
TAPPER: It seemed to you like it was perhaps the Russians trying to hire you to be a source for them. Possibly?
PAPADOPOULUS: My impression -- and this is my impression, I have no evidence to back up anything except how I felt at the time and why I rejected it -- was that this individual was proposing this at the behest of someone else. I don't know who.
TAPPER: But that wasn't the last unusual offer Papadopoulos would get from a stranger.
PAPADOPOULUS: So in September of 2016 --
TAPPER: You're still working on the campaign? PAPADOPOULUS: Yes, I receive an unsolicited e-mail from Stefan Halper
who I thought was a Cambridge professor inviting me --
TAPPER: Had you heard of him before?
PAPADOPOULUS: No, never.
PAPADOPOULUS: I googled him. I just saw that, you know, a senior person from Cambridge, he work with the U.S. government and presidents thought it might be something to entertain. So he reached out to me and said I want you to write a paper for me on your expertise which is gas discoveries in Israel and Turkey and Cyprus and I said of course, I have no issue with that. It was a nice honorarium of $3,000, a free flight to London, a five-star hotel for two or three days of work. I joined him about a week later over drinks at the Sofitel in London where all of a sudden he pulls out his phone, everyone has phones when they meet with me and he places in the front of him and he begins to tell me, so George, of course hacking is in the interest of your campaign. Of course the Russians are helping you. These open-ended questions and of course you're probably involved in it, too. That is correct, right, George?
I told him I have no idea what you're talking about, because of course I had nothing to do with Russian interference or hacking whatsoever. So then he began to sweat, his demeanor changed, he became quite aggressive in his questioning which led me to believe that --
TAPPER: Aggressive how?
PAPADOPOULUS: When I wasn't giving him what he wanted his voice would change. His voice -- his tone would basically try and detail to me that he thought I was lying and that I'm being a bad person for lying to him.
TAPPER: About hacking and about the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians to do the hacking?
PAPADOPOULUS: Exactly. Exactly.
TAPPER: Papadopoulos' suspicions were confirmed after the "Washington Post" revealed that Halper was indeed working as a confidential source for the FBI as it investigated Russia's interference in the campaign. In addition to Papadopoulos, Halper met with Trump campaign aide Sam Clovis and Carter Page.
[20:35:13] I mean, by the time we're in September, 2016, with you have been approached by so many individuals with odd agendas, but it look like a lot of different countries and intelligence agencies and individuals were trying to get you to give them information or get you to become an agent for them.
PAPADOPOULUS: Of course I had suspicions at the time or else I'd probably be looking at far worse charges than I am today.
TAPPER: But you didn't go to the FBI during this -- any of this time. In retrospect, do you think you should have?
PAPADOPOULUS: In retrospect, yes, but that is why I'm also very happy that I presented my information during my interview to them in January.
TAPPER: While Papadopoulos was cooperating with the FBI, he also launched a whirlwind international romance. Coming up --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say love at first sight.
PAPADOPOULUS: I've never experienced anything like it that fast.
TAPPER: And yet another mystery. You're in a dodgy hotel room in Tel Aviv. This weird guy gives you $10,000. What does he tell you it's for?
PAPADOPOULUS: I never understood and that is why I was terrified.
[20:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President-Elect of the United States, Donald John Trump.
TAPPER: As 2017 began, President-Elect Donald Trump was headed for the White House and George Papadopoulos thought he would be, too.
PAPADOPOULUS: I was at the inauguration. I attended some parties there with Reince Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci. I had been in touch during the transition with Michael Flynn and Steve Bannon and Kathy McFarland that, you know, if you're in touch with these people during the transition you'll probably get a job somewhere in the administration so, once I left the inauguration festivities I went back to Chicago where I was, you know, looking to organize my life and apply formally and then move to Washington in the hope of gaining a job with the administration, but it didn't happen that way.
TAPPER: You're in the middle of applying for a job with the administration and the FBI came calling.
PAPADOPOULUS: Yes. I'm in the shower, I get out, I'm shaving and my phone is next to me and I receive a call from a strange number, I pick it up, this is the FBI, we're outside your house.
TAPPER: Just as his political future was crumbling his personal life was heating up.
SIMONA MANGIANTE, WIFE OF GEORGE PAPADOPOULUS: I would say love at sight.
TAPPER: Meet Simona Mangiante, George Papadopoulos's now wife. She also worked for the mysterious London center, although they say, they met via LinkedIn in the fall of 2016 and had their first date in New York in spring, 2017.
PAPADOPOULUS: We kept in contact for the next couple months and then I invited her to Greece with me. MANGIANTE: That was the second date.
TAPPER: Despite being under scrutiny by the FBI and jobless after being revamp by the Trump administration, Papadopoulos took Mangiante on a whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean, night clubbing in Athens, yachting in Mykonos, partying with friends in Capri.
MANGIANTE: George was a star in Mykonos. I mean, we had the head of population of the island was taking out everywhere, were meeting with the mayor of Mykonos, everybody was seeking out the party, invitation everywhere. Bottles of champagne everywhere. Beautiful yachts, billionaire Greek friends.
TAPPER: How were you paying for all this?
PAPADOPOULUS: I had savings. Yes, it's -- I guess it could be expensive to go to Europe, but it's not overwhelmingly expensive and you know, fortunately having family helps sometimes always contributes.
TAPPER: And Papadopoulos seems to have a knack for attracting characters offering him cash under questionable circumstances. Take the case of Charles Tawil.
PAPADOPOULUS: I met Charles during a meeting in Chicago, actually, during the APAC convention that is hosted annually.
TAPPER: Was he Israeli?
PAPADOPOULUS: Israeli American.
TAPPER: Israeli American?
PAPADOPOULUS: Yes. I was entertaining going into the private sector after I was hopefully done with the FBI and I thought, you know, if he is somebody who has some contacts in the Middle East like he supposedly does, maybe there's synergy. Don't hear from him until I go to Mykonos with Simona. He just wanted to come visit me in Mykonos.
TAPPER: He called you? He e-mailed you?
PAPADOPOULUS: You remember?
MANGIANTE: I think it was e-mailing you.
TAPPER: She E-mailed you and said --
PAPADOPOULUS: I need to see you in Mykonos.
PAPADOPOULUS: I said OK, I'm with my girlfriend, what do you want to come to Mykonos for? I want to talk business.
TAPPER: OK. PAPADOPOULUS: I'm sitting and I am listening to this individual talk
about everything and nothing at the same time. Never understood what I was doing. Never understood anything. Afterwards George, it's very important for you and Simona to come to Tel Aviv, we have business to talk about, and you need to be there. And I said OK, Simona, do you want to come on a quick one day trip to Tel Aviv?
MANGIANTE: And I remember I said this sound very suspicious. Why doesn't he send you a business proposal? Why he flew to Mykonos to discuss business, but now he needs you to go to Tel Aviv only three days later.
TAPPER: Yes, that is strange.
MANGIANTE: It doesn't make sense.
TAPPER: So you go to Tel Aviv and what happens?
PAPADOPOULUS: I still don't understand what's going on. I need you for something, here's there are 10,000 cash.
TAPPER: $10,000 in what? An envelope?
PALKOT: In a $100 bills. In a stack of $100 bills in a room, in a dodgy room in Tel Aviv which I felt was completely under surveillance.
TAPPER: You're in a dodgy hotel room in Tel Aviv. This weird guy gives you $10,000. What does he tell you it's for?
PAPADOPOULUS: I never understood.
[20:45:00] TAPPER: But you did take it that moment?
PAPADOPOULUS: Yes. That moment when you don't understand what's happening, things are so fluid you actually feel fearful and you just want to actually escape. Instead of rejecting and you don't know what the consequence might be.
TAPPER: So the sentencing recommendation by Bob Mueller says that you understood Charles Tawil to be an agent of a foreign government. Did you at the time think he was a spy?
PAPADOPOULUS: I thought he could possibly be.
TAPPER: Who did you think he was a spy? Israel?
PAPADOPOULUS: I don't know.
TAPPER: But Charles Tawil tells CNN that George asked for the money in cash as a loan before heading to Greece with Simona. Tawil says it was intended as an advance for work they were going to do on an oil and gas project in Cyprus and Tawil denies being an Israeli agent. After parting ways with Tawil, Papadopoulos decided it was time to head home where his vacation came to a screeching halt.
PAPADOPOULUS: I'm about to put my passport in Kiosk to get my, you know, permit to reentry into the United States and I -- they show their badge, this is the FBI. And then all of a sudden you're under arrest.
TAPPER: They said you're under arrest for what?
PAPADOPOULUS: This is what happens when you don't tell us about your Russia contacts and now we want you to cooperate. I go in front of the court and they say you're looking at 25 years in prison.
TAPPER: And did they tell you why you were facing 25 years in prison?
PAPADOPOULUS: It was obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI. I spent one night in jail, then I went to Chicago and I just let my lawyers understand that I want to cooperate and help my country.
TAPPER: Next, are the lovebirds actually secret agents?
PAPADOPOULUS: We'll never know.
MANGIANTE: We'll never know, right?
PAPADOPOULUS: I'll never know about her, she'll never know about me.
[20:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
TAPPER: While Papadopoulos stayed silence until now, his wife Simona has been speaking out on her husband's behalf even testifying before congress.
And you're from Italy?
TAPPER: You're from Italy?
TAPPER: But your accent is hard to place. It doesn't sound Italian.
MANGIANTE: I speak five languages. And I've been working as a diplomat in European Union for a few years. I study international law, I study abroad also in the United States. So my background is international enough to contaminate my accent.
TAPPER: She attracted the attention of the FBI, she says.
MANGIANTE: So, on the day George was in Washington to plead guilty on 5 October, 2017, an FBI agent knocked on his mother's house door where I was living at the time to deliver me a subpoena, a formal subpoena by Mueller to testify in front of grand jury in Washington, D.C. The FBI agent told me if you want, you can talk with the FBI agents in Chicago and if we are happy with your interview, we will eventually drop off the subpoena. I took the chance.
TAPPER: So you talked to them, the FBI agents in Chicago?
TAPPER: What did they want to know?
MANGIANTE: That is the interesting question. Part of the interview was about George and part of the interview was about me. They were trying to profile me in light of my background. I was under the perception I could be foreign agent from Europe. They asked me if I was communicating overseas. They were interested to know what I was doing in Mykonos, if I was discussing business in Mykonos with George or with anybody else.
Then they asked me, if George invited me to Mykonos, he was paying for my tickets, how could he afford all these expenses, how could I afford myself my expense and even my lifestyle and even from George. So, I gave a number of answer and I was under the impression they were putting forward the fantasy of me and George being two agents working together and having fun occasionally together. That is really the impression and the conclusion the interview led to.
TAPPER: You were an agent from where?
MANGIANTE: Well, they asked me if I speak Russian, and I was full Italian, if I had only one passport or more passports, if I was familiar with Russian people in London.
TAPPER: Have you ever been to Russia?
MANGIANTE: Yes, I did.
TAPPER: You have been to Russia?
TAPPER: But you're not Russian?
MANGIANTE: No, I'm Italian. I'm not even 100 percent Italian.
TAPPER: Where did they think he was from? Where do you think he was an agent for?
MANGIANTE: I never understood. I never understood, but maybe in light of other things happened, I suspect they thought he could be an Israeli agent.
TAPPER: Secret agents in love in a wild theory perhaps, but the Papadopoulos sometimes seem to play up the notion that they're the stars of a real-life spy thriller.
PAPADOPOULUS: Mr. and Mrs. Smith?
MANGIANTE: Maybe. Nobody believe it sometimes, and probably it's more interesting and funny thinking that we were two spies falling in love, maybe, we don't know.
PAPADOPOULUS: We'll never know.
MANGIANTE: We'll never know, right?
PAPADOPOULUS: I'll never about her, she'll never know about me.
TAPPER: Perhaps not surprising, then, that Simona Papadopoulos is now pursuing a career as an actress in Hollywood.
And you've been going on TV including on my show to try to talk directly to President Trump and ask him for a pardon. Do you think that is a possibility?
MANGIANTE: If Trump is coherent with his theories, then definitely should be a possibility. And actually, something that I really expect him to do after all George has been through. He is been loyal to Trump, he is been loyal to his country.
PAPADOPOULUS: I think the President is going to make whatever decision he is going to make on his own, and I don't feel -- it's not appropriate for me to discuss this directly or indirectly to him at this time. My wife has her opinions, of course, but for me I don't think it's appropriate at this time.
[20:55:05] TAPPER: And what are you going to do? What do you think?
PAPADOPOULUS: I don't want to give up my goals of staying in politics. I'm still relatively a young person. I'm 31 years old. I achieved working at politics at a high level at a very relatively young age. And once I'm done supporting my wife's project in California, I certainly would love to entertain -- jumping back into politics.
TAPPER: Running for office?
PAPADOPOULUS: Yes. I think I have something to give back to this country. I think this country has given me so much and has given me such grand, you know, opportunities. I'm the son of an immigrant father and my mother was also born in Greece, so this country has given me so much. Yes, I made many mistakes and I am going to pay for those mistakes, but I certainly wouldn't want those mistakes to forever prevent me from running for office, seeking -- helping the public good, and that is what I'm planning on doing eventually.
TAPPER: Of course, before the George Papadopoulos for Congress campaign can begin, he'll have to serve 14 days in prison. While the rest of us wait to see where the Russia conspiracy investigation goes next.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Good evening from Washington. Anderson is off. I'm Jim Sciutto.