First Guilty Plea In Russia Probe: Who Is George Papadopoulos?
Before George Papadopoulos became the first legal casualty of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia and the 2016 election, he was a 30-year-old energy lawyer best known in DC for getting name-dropped by Donald Trump and for reportedly embellishing his resume.
The Justice Department announced Monday that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier this month to lying to FBI agents about a series of meetings he took and planned while he was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
The White House immediately sought to distance itself from Papadopoulos Monday, with press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying his role within the campaign was "extremely limited." And that it was a "volunteer position."
A former Trump campaign official said much of the same to Axios's Jonathan Swan, shortly after the news broke.
"To be honest... I thought they were talking about George Gigicos (advance man on campaign) ... not because he could've possibly been involved with Russia but because he's the only guy with a Greek name that anyone knew on the campaign," the official said.
That description of Papadopoulos, as a campaign nobody, doesn't jibe with the picture painted by the court documents unsealed on Monday or with Trump's own words.
In a Spring 2016 interview with the Washington Post editorial board, then-candidate Trump was asked about who was advising him on foreign policy. He began listing names, and listed Papadopoulos second, referring to him as an "energy and oil consultant, excellent guy."
The documents show Papadopoulos in touch with multiple "high-ranking" campaign officials once he was brought on board, and that he met with a professor with Russian ties who had promised to provide "dirt" on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, as well as another "Russian national" woman.
Papadopoulos also appears in an Instagram photo from March 2016, posted by Trump, with the caption "Meeting with my national security team in #WashingtonDC."
While Papadopoulos's interactions on behalf of the campaign on their face don't seem to have broken any laws, it was the fact that he allegedly lied about them to the FBI that got him into trouble. The charging documents say Papadopoulos mischaracterized the content and the timing of his interactions with both people mentioned.
It's not the first time his honesty has come into question.
The Washington Post reported in April 2016 that it appeared Papadopoulos had fluffed up his resume. Here's the Post's Karen DeYoung:
"George Papadopoulous, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University, has described himself in several lengthy published résumés as an oil and gas consultant and expert in eastern Mediterranean energy policy.
But his claim to have served for several years as a fellow at the Washington-based Hudson Institute was refuted by David Tell, Hudson senior fellow and director of public affairs, who said the institute's 'records indicate that Mr. Papadopoulos started here as an unpaid intern in 2011 and subsequently provided some contractual research assistance to one of our senior fellows.'
Papadopoulos also lists attendance as 'U.S. Representative at the 2012 Geneva International Model United Nations.' Two people who were part of the delegation that year, including Antony Papadopoulos (no relation), current secretary general of the Geneva program, said they had no recollection of him being there.
He also cites the delivery of a keynote address at the 2008 annual American Hellenic Institute Foundation Conference. The conference agenda that year noted Papadopoulos's participation on a youth panel with other students; it lists 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis as the keynote speaker."
When asked by the Post about the discrepancies, Papadopoulos replied:
"Is it true that the 'establishment GOP foreign policy advisers,' many of whom I've met, are confused why the presidential front runner chose a group of experts with regional, on the ground experience, with track records of getting deals done with governments, instead of relying on their failed policies they likely devised at Starbucks on Pennsylvania Ave? If so, I am very shocked."
DePaul University professor Richard Farkas taught Papadopoulos less than a decade ago. He teaches classes in Russian politics and Russian foreign policy, and as NPR member station WBEZ's Dave McKinney reports, Papadopoulos graduated from DePaul in 2009.
"I don't recall him being an outstanding student," said Farkas, who also described Papadopoulos as "zealous and a bit simple."
Farkas added that he was skeptical Papadopoulos had any real high-level contacts in the Russian government.
"There's no likelihood he could access it effectively. I think he probably was just embellishing," said Farkas, who has taught at DePaul for more than 40 years. "I've been teaching about this part of the world and know people in Moscow. I don't think I could access people at that level, not at least without really working it."
More recently, Papadopoulos worked as the director of the Center for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security at the London Center of International Law Practice. NPR found a cache'd version of the institution's website that listed Papadopoulos on a staff list as recently as April 14, 2016. He seemed to be wiped from the list by May of that year.
An inquiry to the institute about Papadopoulos's employment status and history was not immediately returned Monday.
Over the past two years, Papadopoulos has also voiced his opinions on foreign policy in media reports, written by himself and others.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post in April 2016, Papadopoulos said Trump viewed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a "responsible actor and potential partner." He added that Trump could "ally" with Putin on combating radical and violent Islam in the Middle East.
Prior to joining the Trump camp, Papadopoulos also advised Republican Ben Carson's campaign. He was laid off shortly after the Iowa caucuses, reports CBS, after working for Carson for about seven weeks.