Thursday, December 14, 2017
Perspective

Was George Papadopoulos just a ‘volunteer’? PolitiFact reviews the evidence

President Donald Trump and prominent allies have repeatedly referred to former campaign aide George Papadopoulos as a mere "volunteer" after news broke that he had pled guilty to lying to the FBI in its Russia investigation.

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated the word "volunteer" no fewer than 10 times as reporters asked about Papadopoulos ó namely, his efforts to put Russian entities in touch with the campaign uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Papadopoulosí role with the campaignís foreign policy team "was extremely limited, it was a volunteer position," she said, adding he was a "member of a volunteer advisory council."

Trump picked up that theme when he tweeted the following morning that "few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George."

Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo went so far as to dismiss Papadopoulos in an interview with CNNís Chris Cuomo as simply a "coffee boy."

Though Papadopoulos didnít earn a salary, it doesnít mean that he was an unimportant player in the Trump foreign policy universe. We decided to look deeper into Papadopoulosí standing.

Several foreign policy experts, most of them with experience on past presidential campaigns in both parties, told us that unpaid advisers are often quite influential ó though we donít know for sure how Trump regarded Papadopoulos beyond his own remarks, photographic evidence, and information from Muellerís office.

In past campaigns, unpaid advisors have had direct access to the candidate and to other senior staff members, and they have often been part of small groups charged with crafting major policy announcements, speeches, and debate points. (The White House did not respond to an inquiry.)

Was Papadopoulos
a key figure?

The strongest defense of the idea that Papadopoulos was a low-level player in the campaign came from Peter Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who worked for the National Security Council staff under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Papadopoulos lacked the government, campaign and business experience typical of most senior advisers on a presidential campaign, Feaver said.

Papadopoulos was in his 20s and didnít have a lengthy resume for a presidential campaign adviser when he joined the campaign in early March 2016. After his hiring was announced, skeptics noted that on his LinkedIn page, he had listed among his awards and honors that he was "U.S. Representative at the 2012 Geneva International Model United Nations."

"He had essentially no stature in the foreign policy community. He had no personal connections to the campaign and joined it very late," Feaver said. "Someone with his profile who had worked with the candidate from the beginning might have risen to a position of influence, but someone joining late as he did would be more likely relegated to a junior role."

Papadopoulos did literally have a seat at the table, however, at a foreign policy staff meeting with Trump, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and others, a photo of which Trump shared on Twitter.

The fact that other advisers in attendance carried more conventional credentials would have put Papadopoulos above the lowest rank of campaign officials, Feaver said. So would his ability, detailed in Muellerís documents, to get senior campaign staffers to read and reply to his emails, he added.

"So he was a bit higher than Ďcoffee boy,í " Feaver said. "But certainly well below Ďsenior adviser.í "

"The White House spin is probably more accurate than not."

Was the Trump arrangement typical?

Other foreign policy experts said this argument glosses over a crucial detail: Trump, even within his own Republican Party, was unable to get the most experienced foreign-policy experts on his campaign, either during or after the crowded GOP primary.

The Washington Post editorial board meeting in which Trump named Papadopoulos as one of his five foreign policy advisers ó and said Papadopoulos is an "excellent guy" ó came on the heels of a months-long parlor game about which policy advisers Trump could get to join his team. In fact, some Republican foreign-policy specialists had already signed open letters warning against Trumpís candidacy, a trend that snowballed as the campaign progressed.

"I donít know if I could equate the Trump campaign with a Ďnormalí Republican presidential campaign," said Michael J. Green, a senior vice president with the Center for Strategic and International Studies who was involved in the Republican presidential campaigns of John McCain, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

In those campaigns, he said, "only the foreign policy coordinator ó usually one person during the primary and a small handful during the general election ó got paid. The most influential advisers often donít get paid at all. So, strictly speaking, they are Ďvolunteers,í but they can have enormous access to the candidate and the inner circle of advisers."

He cited one well-known example: the "Vulcans" who advised then-candidate George W. Bush. That was an informal group that included such well-known foreign-policy figures as Richard Armitage, Steven Hadley and Robert Zoellick.

"They were all Ďvolunteersí and worked pro bono," Green said.

Paychecks donít always align with influence

Other foreign-policy experts from both parties agreed that getting paid is not the defining factor of having influence in a campaign.

"Absolutely not," said Eliot A. Cohen, a professor at Johns Hopkins Universityís School of Advanced International Studies who worked in the departments of State and Defense under presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. "None of the key foreign policy advisers to Mitt Romney were paid."

Sarah Sewall, a School of Advanced International Studies professor who worked in the departments of State and Defense in the Clinton and Obama administrations, agreed. "Paid or unpaid is immaterial to ó and independent of ó level of influence in a campaign," she said.

Matt Bennett, a senior vice president at the centrist group Third Way whose campaign experience goes back to the 1988 Michael Dukakis campaign, said the lack of a salary has "zero" impact on influence.

"Often the most influential people are the friends of the candidate and unpaid advisers on the outside," Bennett said.

"Iíve been a very low-level staffer and a high-level staffer, and believe me, Ďcoffee boysí donít send emails to the campaignís senior team, and they are never name-checked by the candidate when describing his foreign policy advisers."

Contact Louis Jacobson at [email protected] Follow @loujacobson.

Comments

President Trump isnít watching too much TV; itís just the wrong kind.

By JAMES PONIEWOZIKBecause President Donald Trump has said he is a reader ó big-league reader, reads documents, the best documents ó I hope that he is reading this, and not, say, watching a Fox & Friends recording on the gigantic flat-screen TV that ...
Updated: 8 hours ago
PolitiFact: What you need to know about net neutrality

PolitiFact: What you need to know about net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commissionís vote to scrap Obama-era internet restrictions creates the potential for broadband providers like Frontier and Spectrum to divide their networks into fast lanes and slow lanes, throttle rivalsí video-streaming s...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Perspective: Sexual harassment training doesnít work, but some things do.

Many people are familiar with typical corporate training to prevent sexual harassment: clicking through a PowerPoint, checking a box that you read the employee handbook or attending a mandatory seminar at which someone lectures about harassment while...
Updated: 8 hours ago

12Thatís how many cans of Diet Coke President Donald Trump drinks each day, according to the New York Times.3 timesThatís how much likelier farmed salmon are to be partially deaf than their wild relatives. Scientists at the University of Melbourne de...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Perspective: The year Santa Claus didnít come

Perspective: The year Santa Claus didnít come

The doctor studied the glob of puss oozing from the patchwork of scabs along my one-year-old sonís left index finger."Itís definitely infected. And you have no idea when or how it happened?"He didnít say it, but hereís what I heard next in my head: "...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Perspective: An economist explains how to sort facts from fictions

Perspective: An economist explains how to sort facts from fictions

In public debates about economic policy, it can be hard to separate real insights from political posturing. But a few simple rules of thumb can help.Start with information you can count on. Crucial economic statistics ó like the unemployment rate, in...
Updated: 8 hours ago
News media offers consistently warped portrayals of black families, study finds

News media offers consistently warped portrayals of black families, study finds

If all you knew about black families was what national news outlets reported, you are likely to think African Americans are overwhelmingly poor, reliant on welfare, absentee fathers and criminals, despite what government data show, according to the r...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Perspective: Is the GOP tax plan an unprecedented windfall for the wealthy? We look at 50 years of data to find out.

Perspective: Is the GOP tax plan an unprecedented windfall for the wealthy? We look at 50 years of data to find out.

The Democrats say President Donald Trumpís tax cuts are a massive giveaway to the rich, the most unequal overhaul of the U.S. tax system in modern history. Republicans argue they are a huge middle class tax cut ó "a great, big, beautiful Christmas pr...
Published: 12/05/17
Updated: 12/07/17

Perspective: Guilt can be good for your kid

Guilt can be a complicated element in the parent-child equation; we feel guilty, they feel guilty, we may make them feel guilty and then feel guilty about that. But certain kinds of guilt are a healthy part of child development.Tina Malti, a professo...
Published: 12/04/17
Updated: 12/07/17
Perspective: Why trying new things is so hard to do

Perspective: Why trying new things is so hard to do

By SENDHIL MULLAINATHANI drink a lot of Diet Coke: 2 liters a day, almost six cansí worth. Iím not proud of the habit, but I really like the taste of Diet Coke.As a frugal economist, Iím well aware that switching to a generic brand would save me mone...
Published: 12/03/17
Updated: 12/07/17