Papadopoulos largely remains a mystery man
Chicago — George Papadopoulos posted a cryptic update on his Facebook page shortly before 11 p.m. on Oct. 29.
“Big day tomorrow,” wrote the 30-year-old who’d served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.
Just 12 hours later, the bombshell dropped. Special counsel Robert Mueller announced that Papadopoulos had secretly pleaded guilty earlier to lying to the FBI about his efforts to connect the Trump camp with Russian officials who promised “dirt” on rival candidate Hillary Clinton.
Not only was the little-known Papadopoulos the first conviction to emerge from Mueller’s sweeping investigation but he’d also been secretly cooperating with investigators since his arrest in July, according to the stunning guilty plea unsealed in federal court in Washington.
But more than a week after Papadopoulos became the unlikely face of the probe into Russian meddling in last year’s election, he largely remains a mystery man. Virtually no one who knows Papadopoulos has stepped forward despite reporters from across the country trying to figure out his background and role in the Trump campaign.
It’s still unclear to what extent Papadopoulos was involved with the Trump campaign or how close he was to top advisers. While the president has dismissed Papadopoulos as a young, low-level volunteer whom he barely remembers, Trump had praised him at the time he was hired as “an excellent guy.” And a now-infamous photo of a March 2016 meeting of campaign staff showed a stern-faced Papadopoulos sitting at a conference table just a few seats away from Trump.
In his political interactions, interviews with foreign reporters and in his online resume, Papadopoulos clearly played himself up as a confidant, referring to himself as a Trump “adviser” and even claiming to be a member of the president-elect’s foreign policy team before the inauguration in January.
Several people who had contact with Papadopoulos in the months surrounding the election told the Chicago Tribune he came across as brash and confident — if not conceited — and intent on parlaying his newfound political cachet in both social and professional settings.
A woman who dated Papadopoulos at the time described him as smart and ambitious, and said she was surprised he didn’t seem put out over her negative view of Trump.
The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, recently posted text conversations on Twitter she’d had with Papadopoulos in which he appeared to take her razzing good-naturedly. In one chat, after Papadopoulos asked what movie she wanted to see, she fired back that his taste “remains questionable” because of his affiliation with the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos responded with an emoticon sticking a tongue out in jest.
Another woman who was part of the same social circle described Papadopoulos as vain to a fault. Over drinks at a fancy Chicago nightspot last year, Papadopoulos incessantly Googled news articles about himself, even passing his phone around to others at the table to prove he was a big shot in Trump’s campaign, said the woman, who also did not want her name used.
The puffery continued after Trump’s stunning victory. In an interview with reporters in Greece in December, a sunglasses-wearing Papadopoulos made himself out to be an important consultant to the president-elect.
“As his adviser, I am here to show that Mr. Trump and his new administration view Greece as a friend, and this will not change,” said Papadopoulos, who was not a member of the president’s transition team.
Around the same time, Papadopoulos was spotted at a Republican fundraiser in New York, according to Russell Taub, who ran an unsuccessful bid for Congress in Rhode Island as a Republican in 2016 and spoke to Papadopoulos at the event. Taub said Papadopoulos said he’d “helped Trump with foreign policy” and talked about international affairs and Trump’s election win.
“I just took what George told me with a grain of salt,” Taub said. “He sounded like a straight shooter when he talked to me, and I thought he was. … But now after all of this, I guess I have to wonder.”
Papadopoulos, meanwhile, has dropped off the radar since the charges were announced on Oct. 30. In his LinkedIn profile, Papadopoulos lists himself as a “former adviser” to the Trump campaign and current “independent oil, gas, and policy consultant.”
No one has answered the door in repeated visits to the sprawling, 3,000-square-foot house Papadopoulos shares with his mother in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. Approached by a Tribune reporter at his office in west suburban Addison, Papadopoulos’ father, a doctor of internal medicine, closed the door after saying, “I’m not talking.”
His lawyers have also declined to comment.
But Papadopoulos has left clues on social media that he is in Chicago. On Halloween, the day after his case was made public, he tweeted a photo of a half-eaten plate of white fish and glass of red wine with the caption, “Enjoying a nice meal at #Santorini restaurant,” apparently a reference to the popular eatery in Greektown.
The tweet was deleted minutes later after reporters started calling the restaurant to confirm if he was there.
George Demetrios Papadopoulos was born in August 1987 at Swedish Covenant Hospital on the Far North Side, just a few blocks from his current home, Cook County records show. His mother, Kate, was born in Greece and listed her hometown on her son’s birth certificate as Worcester, Mass. His father, Antonios Papadopoulos, originally from northern Greece, graduated from medical school in Belgium and is an executive vice president of the United Hellenic Voters of America, according to an online biography on the group’s website.
Papadopoulos lived for years in a large house on the corner of a tree-lined street in Lincolnwood, just across the border from Chicago. Neighbors in the quiet neighborhood south of Pratt Avenue — a mix of ranches, expansive two-story homes and a few pillar-adorned mansions — either said they interacted with Papadopoulos only from afar or had moved in after his family returned to the city
Records show Papadopoulos attended Niles West High School in nearby Skokie, where his only activity listed in his senior yearbook was with the school’s Hellenic Club. The Tribune contacted former students from his 2005 graduating class, including several who were in the Hellenic Club with him, but none agreed to talk.
After graduating from high school, Papadopoulos attended DePaul University and majored in political science. Richard Farkas, a longtime political science professor at DePaul, said he had Papadopoulos in at least one, possibly two classes. Farkas, who specializes in Russian and Eastern European politics, said all the classes he taught at DePaul during Papadopoulos’ tenure would’ve centered on Russia.
“I don’t remember him having an interest in Russian politics,” Farkas said. “He did not perform to the point of making himself known in my classes.”
If Papadopoulos was active politically on DePaul’s campus during his time there, there is no record of it. DePaul College Republicans say he wasn’t in their group, or other similar groups.
“If he attended any number of the public events on campus held by conservative student organizations, he did so without official invitation or recognition,” John Minster, current chairman of the DePaul College Republicans, said in an email.
Papadopoulos graduated from DePaul in 2009 and went on to earn a masters of science degree in security studies at University College London, the school confirmed to the Tribune. According to his online resume, Papadopoulos wrote his thesis in November 2010 on the “deleterious effects of low governance and state capacity levels in the Middle East.”
After graduate school, Papadopoulos worked overseas for a few years as a conservative think tank researcher. He became involved in national politics in late 2015 when he began working for Ben Carson’s failed presidential bid while still living in London, records show. The New York Times reported that Papadopoulos had pitched himself to Carson’s camp as a foreign policy expert who could raise campaign donations from the Greek-American community.
By March 2016, Papadopoulos had moved back to Chicago. As Carson’s campaign fizzled, Papadopoulos joined Trump’s team as a foreign policy adviser, according to court records. At the time, Trump told the Washington Post editorial board in an interview that Papadopoulos was “an excellent guy,” although some of his credentials were immediately questioned in political circles as exaggerated.
On March 31, 2016, Papadopoulos attended a meeting with candidate Trump and members of his campaign team, including Sen. Jeff Sessions, who is now attorney general. At the meeting, Papadopoulos offered to act as a go-between between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to his guilty plea.
Trump, meanwhile, told reporters last week that he didn’t “remember much about that meeting.”
“It was a very unimportant meeting,” Trump said. “It took place a long time ago. Don’t remember much about it.”