If Devin Nunes didn't have enough problems already, he's now made an enemy of George Papadopoulos' fiancée too. A week ago, the White House released a memo written by the California congressman and breathlessly hyped by his House colleagues as "absolutely shocking," "worse than Watergate," so bad "people will go to jail." But if Republicans were expecting Nunes' memo to drop with the equivalent of a sonic boom, what they got instead was the raspy wheeze of a slowly deflating whoopee cushion.
It was poorly written, heavy on innuendo, and light on details. The bigger issue, though, was the fact that, instead of reinforcing a theory favored by conservative media that the FBI's investigation of the Trump campaign was triggered by an opposition research report paid for by the Clinton campaign, the memo confirmed reports it actually began when Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos drunkenly confided to an Australian diplomat that Russia was eager to help the Trump campaign by supplying it with hacked emails. So here was Nunes, live on Monday's Fox & Friends, desperately trying to salvage the narrative. "If Papadopoulos was such a major figure, why didn't you get a warrant on him?" Nunes asked, to a trio of vacant stares. "As far as we can tell, Papadopoulos never even knew who Trump was – never even met with the president."
Simona Mangiante was having none of it. A former aide to politicians in her native Italy, she first emerged on the national scene in December when she publicly pushed back against White House claims that Papadopoulos was a lowly "coffee boy" – Trump himself tweeted a photo of Papadopoulos participating in a national security meeting with the then candidate in March 2016. On Monday, Mangiante charged that Nunes' assertion was equally misleading – dispatching a series of pointed tweets highlighting the prominent role Papadopoulos held with the Trump campaign. The tweets noted that her fiancée helped write Trump's first major foreign policy speech, brokered a meeting with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and represented the Trump campaign at a large energy conference in Israel. She retweeted her old interviews too – the ones where she emphasized Papadopoulos never took an initiative without the blessing of the campaign" and was "constantly in touch with higher level officials of the campaign."
Indicted in October, he is now fully cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Speaking to Rolling Stone by phone, Mangiante confirmed that her tweet spree was prompted by Nunes' Fox & Friends appearance. "I retweeted the same things that I already said because these are basically the same lies." she says.
Mangiante wasn't offended by Nunes' remarks, just bemused. "I'm surprised by this strategy of denial of the evidence. You know? It's not personally offensive, but I think it's not really smart to deny the evidence," she says.
Mangiante and Papadopoulos met on LinkedIn – their common connection? One Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton that it was willing to share with the Trump campaign. "Thousands of emails," Papadopoulos reportedly later said. Mangiante, who knew Mifsud through her work in European parliament, calls the mutual friendship coincidence. Today, she and Papadopoulos live in Chicago. While he awaits sentencing stateside, she shuttles back and forth between acting and modeling jobs in the UK and Capri, and, on occasion (like today) defending Papadopoulos in the media.
In that role, Mangiante derides Nunes' memo as "generic." "It seems very light to me – it doesn't seem enough. It seemed too vague. I would be more satisfied to read which acts led to opening the investigation because of George," Mangiante says.
If it were more specific, she suggests, it might reveal potentially important, as-yet-undisclosed information: "The [Nunes] memo makes reference to facts that would be the origin of the investigation concerning George, but it doesn't specify which acts. Maybe we think it's the meeting with George and the Australian ambassador in London, but we don't know that. It's not specified in the context of the memo. And if it was such a big thing, such an opening, it would warrant more details about the facts."
It also includes, she adds, obvious errors. For instance, Nunes writes there is no evidence of "any cooperation or conspiracy" between Carter Page and Papadopoulos, an assertion Mangiante disputes. "I know they basically know each other — he met him only once. So, to me, this memo is very interesting because it opens [itself up] to other questions. And I think we should dig into other aspects of the investigation."
What aspects exactly, she wouldn't say. But Mangiante, like the rest of us, seems eager for the full story to come out. She's just impatient for a different reason: she and Papadopoulos have a wedding to plan. "Ideally, we would like to get married in Italy this summer," she says. "If possible." It's a plan that's contingent on his sentencing.