Donald Trump—and all the little Trump surrogates—spent Tuesday trying to diminish the role of George Papadopoulos in the campaign. He was described as a “low level adviser” a “coffee boy” and repeatedly as “a volunteer” as Team Trump desperately tried to leave the impression that Papadopoulos wandered into their Sheboygan office on the chance of free pizza.
The truth is bad for Trump in two ways. First, Papadopoulos was tied firmly into the Trump campaign. The “low level” adviser was regularly exchanging notes with the co-chair of the campaign, as well as with chairman Paul Manafort. Papadopoulos not only sat down at a table with Trump for a meeting of his “security council,” he also met with Jefferson Sessions, who was leading the team of foreign advisers. Papadopoulos even acted as a representative of the campaign, meeting with the British Foreign Office and the Greek foreign minister.
But the worst thing may be that Papadopoulos was even worse than he looked on paper. The guy that Trump was peddling to the press as “An energy and oil consultant. Excellent guy.” was in truth a 29-year-old whose most notable credential was an appearance at the Model UN. And, as it turns out, even that was a fake.
Although he claimed to be “U.S. Representative at the 2012 Geneva International Model United Nations,” officials at that organization said they had no record of him.
What’s now obvious is that Trump’s vetting of his own campaign staff wasn’t tough enough to keep out someone whose every credential appears to be a lie. How he got there at all isn’t clear. Papadopoulos had been a part of Ben Carson’s campaign, but they apparently did not recommend him to Trump’s team.
In fact, the only thing that seems notable about Papadopoulos, was that he brought additional connections to Russia—connections that the campaign encouraged.
The campaign didn’t seem to care that Papadopoulos had lied on his resume.
Though Papadopoulos’s exaggerated résumé issues quickly became public, he remained a part of the Trump advisory panel and soon began urging campaign aides to let him set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.
They didn’t care that he blundered into a controversy in England by insulting Prime Minister David Cameron. And they certainly didn’t care that Papadopoulos told everyone who would listen that Trump wanted closer ties to Russia.
He also began appearing in the foreign press. While visiting Israel the next month, he told a group of researchers that Trump saw Putin as “a responsible actor and potential partner,” according to a column in the Jerusalem Post.
As Papadopoulos’s statement of offense indicates, he also spent a great deal of time making an outreach to Russia and passing his progress along to the campaign. While some of the kickback from the Trump team now is that they never took advantage of Papadopoulos’s proposed meetings, the more notable point is this: They never told him to stop.
Instead, the “low level advisor” was told “great job.” Through a large part of his communications with the campaign it seems clear that he was encouraged to continue making these contacts, continue arranging potential meetings. At one point, Paul Manafort responds to make it clear that Donald Trump won’t be traveling to Moscow in person … but not because the campaign doesn’t want to have a meeting. Instead, Manafort proposes that the person making a visit to Russia should be
“Someone low-level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
Papadopoulos himself is also aware that the connection they’re trying to make might be something they want to keep secret. He offers: “I am willing to make this trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.” After this statement, the co-chair of the campaign encourages Papadopoulos to make the trip.
The truth about Papadopoulos is worse for Trump in two ways:
- The guy he was putting forward as an “expert” was as much of a blustering exaggerator as Trump himself; He lacked even the meager experience he claimed.
- The claims that Papadopoulos had little role in the campaign are clearly untrue, as he was meeting both with the top level staff within the campaign, and with foreign officials around the world as Trump’s representative.
Papadopoulos responded to his first meeting with the FBI by doing what he had done so often in the past—lying and exaggerating. But the nature of those lies wasn’t to protect himself. It was to protect the Trump campaign. Unfortunately for Team Trump, the inexperienced Papadopoulos was no better at lying for them than he was for himself.