If you’ll remember, the investigation into Russia’s attempt to hack the 2016 presidential election began when former Donald Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos had a few beers too many while at a London bar.
In May 2016, Papadopoulos was chatting with Australia’s high commissioner (ambassador) to the United Kingdom when he bragged that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. Two months later, when WikiLeaks began dribbling out leaked Democratic emails, Australian officials alerted their American counterparts, who began an investigation in July 2016. That investigation ultimately resulted in Papadopoulos pleading guilty last October and admitting that he had lied to the FBI.
On Monday, ThinkProgress reported that Papadopoulos may have kicked over another hornet’s nest after not being able to hold his beer. And this time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be the one who could get stung.
On Thursday night, Papadopoulos and his wife, Simona Manigante, were sitting in a Chicago nightclub when they struck up a conversation with computer engineer Justin Wilson. The conversation soon turned to the Russia investigation, and Wilson asked Papadopoulos if he’d be disappointed once the full story came out.
Papadopoulos’ response was breathtaking. According to Wilson, Papadopoulos claimed that it was “just getting started.” He then claimed that Sessions was well aware of his contacts with Joseph Misfud, a Maltan professor with close ties to the Kremlin.
When ThinkProgress sought clarification from Manigante, who just married Papadopoulos last month, Manigante claimed that her husband would have never discussed his interactions with Sessions, since his plea agreement bars him from discussing details about the case. But when pressed about whether Wilson was lying, or about the broader story about Sessions’ role, Manigante said, “no comment.”
Later, Manigante called ThinkProgress to say that while her husband did discuss the Russia probe with Wilson, he never shared any new details about the case. It’s not the first time she’s come to her husband’s defense. In December, she went on CNN to push back against White House claims that her then-fiancé had only a minor role.
Manigante told CNN’s Pamela Brown that Papadopoulos was far from being just “a coffee boy,” and thought the White House simply wanted to “disassociate” from the first campaign staffer to start singing to Mueller.
If Wilson is telling the truth, this adds yet another thread to the shifting narrative about what Sessions knew regarding Trump campaign contacts with Russia and when he knew it. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions claimed that he didn’t know of any contacts between campaign officials and Russians. He later allowed that he’d met with Russia’s ambassador to Washington–but did so in his capacity as a Senator, not as a member of the campaign.
In November, however, after Sessions jogged his memory, he told the House Judiciary Committee that he attended a campaign meeting at which Papadopoulos said he had connections with Russians and offered to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Sessions claimed that at that point, he told Papadopoulos that he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the campaign.
That “recollection,” however, has since been contradicted by at least three people who have already spoken with Robert Mueller. At the very least, that revelation should have led to serious questions about Sessions’ ability to be effective.
And now we may have one more instance where Sessions’ memory may have failed him. If Wilson is telling the truth, he may have just borne witness to another instance where a few little bottles could have big consequences.
(featured image courtesy the Office of President-Elect Trump, part of public domain)