By Monday’s close, Trump-Russia watchers had two names to add to their ‘persons of interest’ list.
Two new names have emerged in the web of connections between Trump campaign officials and Russia, thanks to a plea deal forged between federal prosecutors and former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. An affidavit connected with the deal was unsealed on Monday morning, a surprise that followed Trump’s former campaign director Paul Manafort turning himself into the FBI.
The 12-page Justice Department affidavit said that Papadopoulos had met someone described as a professor, working in London and of Mediterranean citizenship, who promised on behalf of the Russian government to deliver thousands of stolen emails related to Hillary Clinton. It also said a second individual connected to the Russian government had repeatedly talked with Papadopoulos about setting up meetings with the Trump campaign. The affadavit does not name either individual but, within hours, news organizations claimed to have outed both figures. Who are they?
According to the Washington Post, the professor in question is Joseph Mifsud from Malta, the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. The affidavit said this person met with Papadopoulos shortly after he joined the campaign in March 2016. A month later, the professor made his offer about the stolen emails. The timing coincides roughly with the successful hack of the DNC by FANCY BEAR, a hacker group with connections to the FSB, the Russian state police. (A second group of hackers connected to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency, had penetrated the DNC networks the previous autumn.)
The affidavit says that the professor helped set up a meeting between Papadopoulos and a Russian official. According to the Post, the Russian official was Ivan Timofeev, the program director at the Russian International Affairs Council, or RIAC, a think tank that is related to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
According to the affidavit, Papadopoulous and the official had multiple conversations over Skype and email in late April 2016 about the possibility of setting up meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
One longtime associate of Timofeev described him to Defense One as “well connected in government circles” and the type who “could make some meetings happen.” But the associate expressed strong skepticism that Timofeev would be personally involved in any sort of intelligence or source-development operation. “People like him don't engage in antics,” he said.
The associate drew a sharp distinction between Timofeev and what the associate described as “let’s-make-a-deal amateurs” without grounding in the “actual international relations or the consequences of the things they're engaged in.”
Mifsud has yet responded to requests for comment.
Through an intermediary, Timofeev referred us to this Aug. 8 article at Gazeta.ru, a popular Russian news site. In it, Timofeev acknowledges communicating with Papadopoulous in order to organize a meeting, says the communication was perfectly aboveboard, and that it was the American who wanted it.
“We took his ideas adequately," Timofeev is quoted as saying. "We never closed the doors before him. But at the same time, I suggested that he translate our conversation into a more formal channel — to prepare an official letter or letters outlining their ideas and proposals. In general, a reasonable formalization always allows you to cut off serious proposals from frivolous ones." Papadopoulous, he says, never came through.