George Papadopoulos was relatively unknown when Trump unexpectedly named him as a foreign policy adviser in March 2016. Papadopoulos had worked as a research associate at the Hudson Institute and as an adviser to Ben Carson; at the time, his LinkedIn page still listed his Model UN experience. Despite his inexperience, he soon became central to the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and was the first person to plead guilty as a result of Robert Mueller’s investigation.
In March 2016, Papadopoulos emailed Trump campaign officials with the subject line reading “Meeting with Russian Leadership — Including Putin.” He offered to set up “a meeting between [Trump campaign officials] and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump.” This was not an empty offer; at the time, he was meeting and talking with with Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor who was reportedly “proud of his alleged high-level Moscow contacts.” Mifsud initially was disinterested in Papadopoulos, but soon changed his mind when he learned of Papadopoulos’ role in the Trump campaign. At the end of March, Papadopoulos announced that “he had the contacts to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin” during a foreign policy team meeting with Trump in attendance.
Mifsud soon put Papadopoulos in contact with a “Female Russian National,” a Russian woman falsely claiming to be Putin’s niece and claiming to have connections to Russian government officials. Papadopoulos emailed Trump campaign official Sam Clovis about this meeting, and he reportedly told Papadopoulos, “Great work.” Papadopoulos continued corresponding with the Female Russian National about foreign policy trips to Russia, and she told him “we are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump. In April, she emailed Papadopoulos that she “would be very pleased to support [his] initiatives between [their] two countries” and that, “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.” Papadopoulos then emailed a “senior policy advisor” on the campaign, saying, “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready.”
Mifsud also connected Papadopoulos over email with “a contact who claimed connections to the Russian foreign ministry.” Papadopoulos had numerous conversations with this individual about the “potential” for a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian government officials. On April 26, 2016, the Professor told Papadopoulos that he met with high-level Russian officials, who told him the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.” It was later revealed that in May 2016, Papadopoulos bragged to a top Australian diplomat that Russia had politically damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Australian officials later informed American officials about Papadopoulos’ claim, and this intelligence was reportedly one of the factors that led to the initial FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election.
The FBI interviewed Papadopoulos for the first time on January 27, 2017. During the interview, made false statements about his Russian contacts. He was interviewed again in February 2017. On October 30, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty “lying to federal officials about his contacts with Russian nationals.”
The Trump administration has since sought to distance itself from Papadopoulos, downplaying his significance by calling him a “coffee boy,” although his communications with multiple high-ranking campaign officials seem to suggest otherwise. Papadopoulos’s superiors on the campaign have also claimed that they rejected Papadopoulos’s suggestions regarding setting up a meeting with Russian operatives or a trip to Russia; according to The Washington Post, however, internal emails suggest that others on the campaign encouraged Papadopoulos to continue pursuing his foreign outreach. Papadopoulos has signed a plea agreement indicating his cooperation with Mueller.