Much is being made of Donald Trump, back when he was a Republican presidential candidate under pressure to show that he had a foreign policy team, referring to George Papadopoulos as “an oil and energy consultant, excellent guy,” according to a recording produced by The Washington Post.
What has not been reported much from that recording — which was made during an interview Trump had with the Post’s editorial board — was what Trump said just before he uttered the guy’s name:
“Do you have that list, so I’ll be a little more accurate with it?” Trump asks an aide, responding to a question about his foreign policy advisers.
We don’t know how much Trump actually knew about who was on the list, but he begins reading notes from a piece of paper. One suspects, from his delivery, that if Jason Voorhees had been listed, Trump would have read his name and said: “Hockey player. Excellent guy.”
That recording was taken on March 21, 2016. On March 31, Trump’s campaign released a picture of the candidate meeting with his foreign policy team, and Papadopoulos is shown at the table. At this event, according to The New York Times, Papadopoulos “pitched the idea of a personal meeting between Mr. Trump and (Russian President) Mr. Putin,” but then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, “as the campaign’s top national security official, spoke vehemently against the idea, asking others not to discuss it again. Mr. Trump did not challenge him.”
The list of advisers produced for the Washington Post editorial board and, later, the photo-op meeting, were likely nothing more than ham-handed marketing tactics designed to quell concerns over whether Trump was getting sound (or any) foreign policy advice.
Clearly, Trump wasn’t getting much useful advice from people like Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another clownish hanger-on under the microscope in the Russian collusion investigation who lacks the common sense God gave the goose. Page appeared on television in a bizarre attempt to insert himself into this unfolding story Monday night after the Papadopoulos news landed, casually stating he “might” have discussed Russia with Papadopoulos via email.
Veterans of presidential campaigns recognize the type: serial exaggerators, name-droppers, big talkers, desperate to be important. As the Washington Post found, Papadopoulos had an “already-slim résumé” that “was either exaggerated or false.” As for Page, Politico found he “was known by neither Russia experts nor energy experts nor Russian energy experts.”
These types are attracted to presidential campaigns like moths to bug zappers. The difference here is that the Trump apparatus (at that point in the campaign) lacked the judgment and experience to filter out the suck-ups.
As Trump advisor Barry Bennett told the Washington Post, when, as a Ben Carson’s campaign manager, he hired Papadopoulos for Ben Carson’s campaign: “I wasn’t looking for something stellar.” Bennett met Papadopoulos through an “unsolicited message via LinkedIn” before they both wound up working for Trump.
None of this is to say that Papadopoulos isn’t a problem. Clearly, he had some contact with senior Trump officials and was dumb enough to lie to the FBI while meeting with agents sans legal counsel. And clearly the Russians saw Papadopoulos as a target for cultivation, further proof they were probing the Trump campaign for soft spots.
This cocktail of stupid wasn’t mixed, however, because Papadopoulos was being groomed as the next Henry Kissinger. It exists because the Trump operation failed a critical and basic rule of presidential campaigns: at least Google the people who show up at your front door asking for jobs.