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While campaigning for president, Donald Trump pointed to George Papadopoulos as one of his foreign policy experts, calling him, quote, "an excellent guy." Now that Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his interactions with Russians, Trump calls him low level and a proven liar. NPR's David Schaper explores the former adviser's Chicago roots and his work on another presidential campaign.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Before this week, few Americans knew the name George Papadopoulos, but 17-year-old Taylor Mauj (ph). She cuts the lawn at the North Side Chicago home Papadopoulos shares with his family. To hear now that the guy across the street is at the center of a Trump campaign controversy is...
TAYLOR MAUJ: Interesting. It's kind of weird.
SCHAPER: Weird not just for the neighbors but for one of Papadopoulos' former college professors.
RICHARD FARKAS: I was surprised that he was a player.
SCHAPER: Richard Farkas taught Papadopoulos Russian politics and foreign policy at DePaul University.
FARKAS: I don't recall him being an outstanding student in that class.
SCHAPER: In fact, Farkas told member station WBEZ that he found Papadopoulos to be, quote, "overzealous" and a bit simple.
FARKAS: I don't know what George told them about his exposure to such people and such levels of authority, but my guess is it was a bit exaggerated.
SCHAPER: After graduating from DePaul in 2009 with a degree in political science, according to his LinkedIn profile, Papadopoulos earned a degree from University College London. And he worked as an intern and a research assistant at the conservative Hudson Institute. In late 2015, he was hired by Barry Bennett, who managed Ben Carson's campaign.
BARRY BENNETT: You know, he's a 28-year-old kid, young kid, who didn't really have a lot of experience other than his short tenure with Hudson.
SCHAPER: Papadopoulos was let go just six weeks later as the Carson campaign began to collapse. Barry Bennett says he wasn't impressed with his work and was shocked three months later when Trump, in a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board, mentioned Papadopoulos as a member of his foreign policy team.
BENNETT: Had they asked me about George, I would've said he's a nice young man but not qualified.
SCHAPER: On March 31 of 2016, there was Papadopoulos again, now sitting at a table with candidate Trump, then-Senator Jeff Sessions and other heavy hitters in a photo Trump called his national security team. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders says that was the only time Trump met with Papadopoulos. As the administration now seeks to distance itself from Papadopoulos, Trump took to Twitter to call him a low-level volunteer, and Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo belittled Papadopoulos on CNN.
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MICHAEL CAPUTO: Here was the coffee boy. I mean, you might've called him a foreign policy analyst, but in fact, you know, if he was going to wear a wire, all we'd know now is whether he prefers a carmel macchiato over a regular American coffee.
SCHAPER: But such dismissals of his role are contradicted by court documents, which indicate that George Papadopoulos developed contacts with Russians who promised high-level access to their government and dirt on Hillary Clinton and that he emailed senior Trump campaign officials about those efforts. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
(SOUNDBITE OF J DILLA'S "DETROIT MADNESS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.