The Russian national introduced to a senior Trump campaign foreign policy advisor as President Vladimir Putin’s niece, “Olga Vinogradova,” was really a 30-something wine company manager named Olga Polonskaya, as first reported by The New York Times on Friday.
George Papadopoulos, the Trump advisor, met her understanding that she would use her supposed family connections to introduce him to her contacts in the Russian government, according to court documents made public last month showing that he had been arrested in July and pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI. White House officials have since sought to downplay Papadopoulos’s importance to the campaign.
But his conversations with the young Russian woman provide yet another glimpse of the many contacts between members of the Trump campaign and people they believed to be representatives of the Russian government.
Polonskaya was also one of a dozen Russian women who were friends on Facebook with Joseph Mifsud, the Malta native who was named in news reports earlier this month as the unnamed diplomacy professor that Papadopoulos met in Italy last March, according to court documents filed in conjunction with the latter’s guilty plea. Mifsud, who did not respond to requests for comment Friday, told The Daily Beast last month that he was not the professor in question.
Polonskaya ramped up her privacy protocols on social networks in the early morning hours Eastern Time on Friday, replacing her profile photo on Facebook with one of her cat and making her account private so that photos and posts that had been visible earlier this week are no longer available to non-friends. She did not respond to multiple requests for comment throughout the day.
The 32-year-old lives in St. Petersburg, according to her previously visible social media posts, and graduated from St. Petersburg Polytechnic University. Some of her social media accounts suggest that she works for a Russian wine import company.
Olga Vinogradova, the name reported by Politico on Thursday, was her maiden name. Friday evening, The New York Times reported that her name is now Polonskaya, and that Mifsud is the professor who introduced her to Papadopoulos.
Polonskaya’s brother, Sergei Vinogradov, told the Times that she has never worked for the Russian government, and was introduced to Papadopoulos while discussing an internship with Mifsud. She didn’t speak English well enough to fully follow the conversation between Papadopoulos and Mifsud, he added.
“It’s totally ridiculous,” he said. “She’s not interested in politics. She can barely tell the difference between Lenin and Stalin.”
Federal prosecutors, though, allege that Papadopoulos, the Trump advisor, hoped that Putin’s “niece” would introduce him to the Russian ambassador in London. Papadopoulos was likewise interested in the professor “because, among other reasons, the professor claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials, which defendant Papadopoulos thought could increase his importance as a policy advisor to the campaign.”
After he first met the “niece,” Papadopoulos emailed the Trump campaign to report that he had talked with her about arranging “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump,” according to the complaint.
“Great Work,” a campaign supervisor replied. (The Washington Post identified the man as national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis, though he wasn’t named in court documents.)
Mifsud last week suggested he was playing a different sort of matchmaker, telling an Italian newspaper “she was just a student, a very good-looking one” and that Papadopoulos’ “interest in her (was) very different from an academic one… That girl, she has nothing to do with the Kremlin or with Secret Service.”
But the criminal information sheet filed along with Papadopoulos’ guilty plea tells a different story. “I have already alerted my personal links to our conversation and your request [for a foreign policy trip to Russia],” Polonskaya allegedly wrote to Papadopoulos.
“As mentioned we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. The Russian federation would love to welcome him once his candidature would be officially announced.”
Nico Hines and Anna Nemtsova contributed reporting.