Ex-Trump Campaign Adviser Carter Page’s Accounts Of Russia Ties Keep Shifting

Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser of U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, speaks at a news conference at RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow, Russia, Monday, Dec. 12, 2016. Page said he was in Moscow on a visit to meet with businessmen and politicians. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Pavel Golovkin/AP
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Carter Page, a onetime foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, is eager to clear his name.

After coming under scrutiny by the FBI and the press for his ties to Kremlin-linked officials, Page has conducted interview after interview in an attempt to downplay his interactions with the Russian government and business communities. But Page, who dodges his interviewers’ questions with a slight smile, repeatedly bumbles through his recountings of which Russians he met with and what they discussed. The conversations tend to open new lines of inquiry rather than close them.

The Trump team has long tried to distance itself from Page, casting him as a peripheral figure who never met with the President in person or assisted with crafting speeches or policy. Surely to White House officials’ irritation, the investment banker, who advised the campaign on Russia and energy policy, was back in the news this week. Reports revealed that the FBI last summer obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to surveil Page out of suspicion he was acting as a foreign agent on Russia’s behalf.

Page told TPM on Thursday that he was “jammed” and unable to conduct a phone interview, but that the FBI was “unjustified” in monitoring his communications.

“It shows how low the Clinton/Obama regime went to destroy our democracy and suppress dissidents who did not fully support their failed foreign policy,” he said in an emailed statement.

Page didn’t respond to follow-up questions about whether he’s retained a lawyer or been advised to stop speaking to the press. His interviews have surely provided plenty of fodder for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees’ investigations into the Trump team’s connections to Russia. Page has said he would “eagerly welcome the chance” to speak with the committees to clear his name, and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the House panel’s ranking member, has promised to take him up on on that offer.

The Moscow trip

In what he said was his capacity as a private citizen, Page gave a commencement address in July 2016 at Moscow’s New Economic School that slammed the United States’ “hypocritical” policy toward Russia and called for the U.S. to lift the sanctions put in place after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.

Page never hid his position on sanctions against Russia. Three months earlier—when, after dodging questions about who was advising him on foreign policy, Trump released a list of five names including “Carter Page, Ph.D.”—the consultant told Bloomberg News that he had investments in the Russian energy giant Gazprom and that the U.S. sanctions hurt his business.

But in September, Yahoo News reported that U.S. intelligence officials were looking into whether Page met with Kremlin-aligned Russian figures on the jaunt to Moscow, including Igor Sechin, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and CEO of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

Page stepped down days later, calling the allegations “complete garbage” while acknowledging they had become a “distraction” for the campaign.

His story on who he met with in Moscow and what they discussed has shifted ever since. At the time of his resignation, Page denied meeting Sechin or any other sanctioned Russian official, although he acknowledged he had a brief exchange of pleasantries with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Page even wrote a letter to FBI Director James Comey denying any meetings with officials under U.S. sanctions in Russia that year and urging him to terminate any investigation into his Moscow trip.

Allegations that Page met with Sechin were repeated in an unsubstantiated dossier, compiled by former British intelligence operative Chris Steele and published by Buzzfeed News in January 2017, that alleged the Kremlin had compromising information on Trump.

Page was more circumspect about whether he’d spoken to Sechin in a March 2017 interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes.

“I may have been at a meeting in a conference or something so I want to be careful,” he said.

Page also changed his tune multiple times this week as to whether he’d discussed sanctions during that visit to Moscow. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that the topic “never” came up, but by the following morning, he said he simply couldn’t recall.

“Someone may have brought it up,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for. We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript.”

Meeting with the Russian ambassador

Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States who’s had a run-in with many a Trump campaign staffer, also had an encounter with Page.

The July 2016 meeting was never disclosed until USA Today reported in March that Page and J.D. Gordon, a national security adviser to Trump’s campaign, met with Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

Page initially refused to comment on their conversation, citing “confidentiality rules” from his service in the U.S. Navy. In a subsequent conversation with MSNBC’s Hayes, Page was almost comically evasive about his interaction with Kislyak.

“I’m not going to deny that I talked to him. I will say that I never met him anywhere outside of Cleveland,” he said.

[He also divulged to Hayes that he was on conference calls and writing memos for the Trump campaign until his Sept. 2016 resignation.]

Encounter with a Russian spy

A new window into Page’s potential links to the Kremlin opened in April, when BuzzFeed reported that he’d met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in 2013—three years before his association with the campaign.

Page confirmed to BuzzFeed that he gave information to Victor Podobnyy, an undercover Russian intelligence officer working out of Moscow’s United Nations office in New York City. A U.S. court filing obtained by the news site contained a transcript of Podobnyy and a colleague, Igor Sporyshev, discussing the recruitment of an individual identified as “Male-1” as a source.

Page told BuzzFeed he was “Male-1,” who Podobnyy described as an “idiot” in the transcript.

In a subsequent interview with ABC News, Page said he “didn’t want to be a spy” and was “not a spy.” He told ABC he only shared “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents” with Podobnyy.

Page apparently never disclosed his encounter with Podobnyy to the Trump campaign. He invoked Navy confidentiality rules yet again in an exchange with CNN’s KFILE:

“There’s an old saying we had when I served in the Navy: we do not discuss the presence or absence of nuclear weapons aboard specific ships, submarines, or aircraft,” Page wrote to CNN.
“Basically, similar principles also apply for any federal investigations that I may or may not have provided support to during my life — both whatever may have happened a few years ago and anything that might be ongoing more recently,” Page added. “It’s unfortunate that some people may take steps to betray these principles, but certainly no one on the Trump campaign ever asked me to do so.”

Cooperation with federal investigators

In his September 2016 letter asking Comey for a “prompt end” to the FBI’s inquiry into his Moscow trip, Page said he had “not been contacted by any member of your team in recent months.” He seems to have stuck to that line until February.

Asked by PBS “Newshour” Judy Woodruff  if he was “cooperating with any federal investigators” looking into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election or had been asked by the FBI to “answer questions,” Page said no.

“I have never been asked by anyone in the FBI or any of the other agencies over the last year,” he said.

CNN’s Tapper noted Wednesday that Page stopped using that line in March.

“I have no comment,” Page said when asked if he’d been “interviewed by them or questioned by them in any way.”

“Is it fair to assume from that that you have now talked to the FBI and you are just declining to comment because now the facts have changed?” Tapper pressed.

“Well, I have been very forthcoming that I want to get as much information out there as possible, and that has stood from the very beginning,” Page replied.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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