One of the Russians who was in touch with Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos throughout 2016 told CNN he was willing to open doors for the campaign, and broker meetings with Russian officials, only to see the “unprofessional” young aide disappear from his radar.
The comments from Russian foreign policy analyst Ivan Timofeev, shed new light on how Papadopoulos repeatedly tried but failed to arrange a Russia trip for himself or other aides working for President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“We did not close the door to the guy, but we did not take it seriously,” Timofeev told CNN earlier this year in his Moscow office. “He was very enthusiastic. He was very interested in Russia and improving relations, but he seemed to be so unprofessional and so unprepared for a serious conversation.”
Those efforts, futile as they may be, stayed relevant well beyond 2016.
Timofeev was stopped at a US airport last year and questioned by investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about his contact with Timofeev and others. He pleaded guilty in October to making false statements and is now cooperating with Mueller as he awaits sentencing later this year.
The story begins in spring 2016 when Papadopoulos was introduced to Timofeev by Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with Kremlin ties. Mifsud made the introduction over email one day before he appeared on a panel alongside Timofeev at a Moscow forum about global energy policy.
One week later, Mifsud met Papadopoulos in London and mentioned that the Russians had dirt on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” according to court filings.
It was perhaps with this in mind that Papadopoulos spent months talking to Timofeev. He is described in court filings as “Russian MFA Connection,” a reference to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which co-founded the Moscow-based think tank where Timofeev serves as program director. Timofeev told CNN he was the Russian man mentioned in the court filings.
“My request to the guy was that this might work – why not? – but please provide us a formal request… explaining your goal, your vision and your agenda of the meeting, or the visit,” Timofeev said. “Who would come? What should be the discussion? What topics should be discussed? We failed to get that. They never sent that. Never.”
According to court filings, Papadopoulos and Timofeev talked over email, Skype and Facebook between April and July 2016. Timofeev said that at one point, Papadopoulos sent a video of a Trump speech and said it “should be the basis for our talks.” Timofeev said he laughed this off.
The court filings said Papadopoulos eagerly shared details of these discussions with Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and national co-chair Sam Clovis. Manafort opposed Trump’s involvement but was open to sending a low-level staffer “so as not to send any signal.” Clovis told Papadopoulos he “would encourage you… to make the trip if it is feasible.”
But eventually, Timofeev told CNN, Papadopoulos said “the campaign is not going to come, I think they are not interested.” At that point, Papadopoulos pitched himself for the trip, Timofeev said.
But then, contact between Papadopoulos and Timofeev became sporadic, Timofeev said. The campaign aide would “disappear” and re-emerge weeks or months later with a renewed effort to keep the relationship going. In the end, Papadopoulos’ hopes to visit Russia never panned out.
“We were trying to be careful. These are sensitive issues to everyone, not just Americans but for Russians too,” Timofeev said about his requests that Papadopoulos submit a formal agenda.
A lawyer for Papadopoulos declined to comment. His wife, Simona Mangiante, told CNN, “All I can say is that George’s expertise was focused in the Middle East. He had no contacts in Russia whatsoever.”
Timofeev denies colluding with any Americans on the US presidential election. He views himself as a serious academic who got caught in a strange situation. The whole saga left him perplexed.
“This case convinced me of one thing,” Timofeev said. “Very often, we are suffering not from hidden plans. We are suffering from unprofessionalism and from dummies and foolish actions.”
The soft-spoken Russian academic said he doesn’t know why Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about their contacts. But he was quick to point out that Papadopoulos admitted lying and “nothing more.”
As for Mifsud, he vanished in November after acknowledging his contacts with Papadopoulos, and has not been seen in public ever since. A European lawyer with ties to Mifsud told CNN that Mifsud was interviewed by the FBI in February 2017 and denies telling Papadopoulos about any emails.
CNN’s Mary Ilyushina and Tim Lister in Moscow contributed to this report.