For wife of sentenced former Trump adviser, a doctored passport photo stokes new questions

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PHOTO: File photo of Former Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos arriving with his wife Simona Mangiante at the U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing, Sept. 7, 2018 in Washington.

Last week, in an effort to beat back accusations that she has lied about her identity, Simona Mangiante provided ABC News with a photograph of her Italian passport.

But rather than quiet widespread speculation that the wife of the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was perhaps not who she presented herself to be, that passport photo has now raised more questions than it has answered.

Mangiante acknowledged on Monday that she altered the date of birth on the photograph to disguise her age. She now says she is 37, not 34, years old.

“I did happen to lie about my age,” Mangiante said in a statement to ABC News. “I don’t owe anyone an explanation about it.”

Papadopoulos is preparing to serve a two-week jail term for lying to the FBI about his attempts to arrange a meeting between campaign and Russian officials. His wife, who for months served as his public spokesman and defender, has faced persistent questions about her own background from social-media sleuths, media personalities and even her in-laws.

File-Alex Wong/Getty Images
File photo of Former Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos arriving with his wife Simona Mangiante at the U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing, Sept. 7, 2018 in Washington.

Last week, she attempted to mount a counterattack on those who have suggested she has lied about her past, sharing names of people she identified as former co-workers from the legal community and sharing a photo of the identifying information in her passport.

On Monday, Mangiante acknowledged altering the passport photo after she faced pressure online from an independent journalist who has raised persistent questions about her identity. The journalist, Scott Stedman, reported on Twitter that he had obtained a copy of Mangiante’s marriage certificate, where the date of birth listed differed from the one on the passport photo provided to ABC News. Her date of birth also differed on an Italian legal database, as ABC News noted in its reporting last week.

Mangiante said she altered the date in order to appear younger — which she considered an age-old desire of women everywhere, but especially in Hollywood, where she has moved to pursue an acting career. She argued that the discrepancy is proof of nothing more malicious than a bit of vanity, but felt it was important now to come clean.

“I admitted being born in 1981,” she said. “That the picture of my passport was photoshopped to provoke journalist but that I was the one to set the record straight.”

Stedman was not the first to harbor doubts about Mangiante’s personal history. When federal investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office charged her then-fiancé in October 2017, they also pulled her aside to ask her whether she spoke Russian or had ever traveled to Moscow. In the months that followed, especially when she became more vocal in public, she was asked repeatedly if she was concealing any ties to foreign intelligence outfits.

PHOTO: File photo of former Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos arriving with his wife Simona Mangiante at the U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing, Sept. 7, 2018 in Washington. File-Alex Wong/Getty Images
File photo of former Trump Campaign aide George Papadopoulos arriving with his wife Simona Mangiante at the U.S. District Court for his sentencing hearing, Sept. 7, 2018 in Washington.

The questions came in part because she and Papadopoulos had independent ties to a Maltese academic named Joseph Mifsud. Prosecutors have alleged that an unnamed professor — later identified by sources as Mifsud — was acting as an agent for the Russian government in April 2016 when he told Mangiante’s future husband George, then a volunteer foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Mifsud denied those allegations, but he has since gone underground and has not been seen or heard from in public.

During a September appearance on ABC News’ This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Papadopoulos said even his parents “thought that she might have been some sort of Russian spy. Of course I never believed anything like that. I don’t think every beautiful blonde person necessarily has to be a Russian agent. You know, there are many blonde Italians as well.”

The following day on The View, host Joy Behar posed the question to Mangiante directly after she described the Mueller team’s efforts to determine if she was a spy.

“Are you?” Behar asked.

“No,” was her reply. “And I would like to make a point – if I am a spy I would be an Italian one. Why a Russian one? That’s something I don’t get it yet.”

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