NEWS

Trump’s pre-election trip to Greece that never happened

MARIANNA KAKAOUNAKI

A photo posted on George Papadopoulos’s personal account on Twitter.

TAGS: Focus, Politics, Diplomacy

Nothing in George Papadopoulos’s posts on social media indicated what he had been up to in the past few months. There was no hint of his arrest in mid-July at Dulles Airport in Washington DC or how he collaborated with the FBI in its investigation into the Trump campaign’s pre-election contacts with Russia. He commented on current events – “Interesting meeting between [US President Donald] Trump and [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras today,” “Looking for a good publisher. Any ideas?” – and uploaded photos of his “hometown,” Thessaloniki (the Greek-American former Trump aide was born and raised in Chicago but often visits the northern Greek port, where his family still has a house).

Nevertheless, the countdown to his fall from grace had already started several months earlier. Indeed, seven days before Trump was sworn in as US president, Papadopoulos had come forward to testify in the FBI’s investigation into claims that Russia had interfered in the US elections. In his initial testimony, he played down his contacts in Moscow and claimed they dated to before he was appointed to Trump’s team. This was far from the truth, however.

The ensuing investigation revealed that Papadopoulos had met on several occasions with a professor who claimed to have contacts in the Kremlin, a woman claiming to be related to Russian President Vladimir Putin and a Moscow official. The academic had allegedly told him that Moscow had “thousands of emails” of “dirt” against the Democratic candidate. Papadopoulos kept Trump’s team briefed on his contacts and was trying to arrange a meeting between the US presidential hopeful and Putin. He even put in a request to travel to Russia himself, though the trip never happened.

Papadopoulos traveled to a lot of other places in his new role as a close foreign policy adviser and Trump’s “excellent guy.” The Greek American, of course, had only met Trump for the first time just a few hours prior to that comment.

Before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016, Papadopoulos had worked for three months in the team of another Republican candidate, Ben Carson, who recommended him to Trump. Trump agreed and invited Papadopoulos to a campaign speech in Washington and then to a meeting with another 12 advisers. When asked by journalists later that same afternoon who was advising him on foreign policy, Trump pointed to Papadopoulos: “He’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy.”

It is not clear today just how close Papadopoulos was to Trump and his campaign. “Few people knew the young, low-level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar,” the US president tweeted last week. There is, in fact, only one public appearance recorded in the US where Papadopoulos appeared as Trump’s adviser, at a campaign rally in the neighborhood of Astoria in New York, which has a large Greek population. He gave an entirely different impression on his foreign travels, however.

Papadopoulos’s first trip as an adviser to Trump was to Israel, where he is said to have told delegates at a working lunch that the US presidential candidate was looking for serious cooperation with Russia. He also visited Cyprus and Greece twice.

In late May of 2016 he met with Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, as well as former prime minister Costas Karamanlis, now a New Democracy MP. In December, he met with the chief of the conservative opposition, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. He had told them he was trying to arrange for Trump to visit Greece and that he had a “blank check” to choose whatever role he wanted in the administration after the elections. Some (like Mitsotakis and his staff) were skeptical of his claims; others (like Kammenos) were excited.

Papadopoulos was not assigned any role after Trump was elected, however, and he was under investigation by the FBI. Case reports note that he changed his phone numbers and deleted his Facebook profile in what was probably an attempt to erase his conversations with his Russian contacts. A few months later, he admitted to lying to the FBI in the first inquiry and agreed to cooperate with the authorities.

Now Papadopoulos will stand trial and may serve as many as seven months in prison on this charge alone.


Also read: The ambitious George Papadopoulos

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