News of the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Monday was not surprising. The plea deal with Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, however, was a bit more surprising. It is also a cautionary tale for aspiring foreign policy wonks.
Who is Papadopoulos? According to Sean Hannity, he’s just a no-name 29-year old:
I suppose that’s one way to describe what Papadapoulos did. Of course, another way is to look at the details contained within the plea deal with the special counsel. Papadopoulos copped to:
- Meeting repeatedly with individuals thought to be connected with the Russian government.
- Suggesting to both his Russian interlocutors and the Trump campaign that he could broker a meeting between Trump and Putin.
- Learning that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
- Lying to the FBI about myriad aspects of what he had done.
Most analysts have been focusing on how the Papadopoulos plea deal is a sign of future prosecutions to come, and therefore poses real trouble for the Trump White House. It is worth at least a few moments, however, to consider what George Papadopoulos means for aspiring foreign policy wonks.
These details from my Post colleagues
If Trump or his team had undertaken even a cursory vetting of Papadopoulos, they would have found that much of his already-slim résumé was either exaggerated or false.
While he claimed to have served for several years as a fellow at the Hudson Institute, officials there said he had been an unpaid intern and a researcher under contract to several fellows who were writing a book.
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.
Papadopoulos said he had delivered the “keynote address” at a leading American-Greek organization in 2008 — while a student at DePaul University. But records from the gathering indicate he merely participated in a youth panel with other participants. The keynote was delivered by 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
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.
And then there’s this from the New York Times’ Matthew Rosenberg, Sharon LaFraniere, and Matt Apuzzo:
Mr. Papadopoulos continued to pursue the notion of some sort of meeting for several months, updating Trump campaign officials on his efforts, the court records showed.
He emailed one high-ranking campaign official saying that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had asked if the campaign would send a representative to Russia, and he offered to go. In August 2016, Mr. Clovis wrote Mr. Papadopoulos encouraging him and another adviser to make the trip, “if it is feasible.” It never took place….
Former campaign officials say Mr. Papadopoulos peppered them with unwanted emails. After he criticized the British leadership on television, he wrote asking if he would be fired.
The moral of this story is simple: Shortcuts to success rarely work out in the long run, and, for the love of God, know your limitations.
What got Papadopoulos in trouble was overpromising about himself and then overpromising about what he could do in an effort to get ahead. Before working for Trump, he promised Ben Carson’s campaign that he would move to Northern Virginia and then did not (It is unsurprising that his boss on the Carson campaign told the Post that he “would not have recommended his former employee if he had been asked because he found him unimpressive”). He promised the Trump campaign a meeting with Putin. He promised his Russian interlocutors access to Donald Trump. He had no shortage of ambition, ego and an eagerness to please.
As Politico noted last week, these qualities left him vulnerable to manipulation by Russian intelligence:
Generally, an intelligence officer looks for a person’s vulnerabilities and explores ways to exploit them. It usually comes down to four things, which — in true government style — the CIA has encompassed in an acronym, MICE: Money, Ideology, Coercion, Ego. Want to get someone to betray his country? Figure out which of these four motivators drives the person and exploit the hell out of it.
Ego and ambition do not distinguish Papadopoulos from other 20-somethings with postgraduate degrees. The eagerness to please was a standout quality. Being dumb enough to lie to the FBI is another.
In these descriptions, Papadopoulos sounds an awful lot like Carter Page, a man so stupid that he thought it would be a good idea to go on television Monday night despite being under criminal investigation.
Of course, Papadopoulos failed to make much of an impression on anyone. I believe the Trump staffers when they tell Politico’s Josh Dawsey, “Trump had no idea who Papadopoulos was and simply praised him because he needed people surrounding him that sounded intelligent.” This does not cast Trump in a good light, but Papadopoulos manages to come off even worse: a marginal figure on a foreign policy team that attracted only marginal folks to begin with.
Every few years a young, ambitious person tries to make it in the foreign policy community and experiences a catastrophic success. They rise to prominence too quickly and then fall like Icarus after flying too close to power. A few years ago it was Paula Broadwell. More recently it was Elizabeth O’Bagy. Now it is George Papadopoulos’ turn.
Ambition and ego are necessary qualities for any aspiring policy wonk, but they need to be kept in check lest they bleed over into the cutting of corners. Exaggeration and bravado can on occasion lead to short-term successes. But a sense of perspective and some well-developed ethical guidelines are just as useful. They can be the difference between a sustainable career and a plea deal with the FBI.
Lest you doubt this, think about George Papadopoulos’ job prospects now.