The full transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee released Monday night sheds some new light on his contacts with Russian officials and how he relayed those conversations to the Trump campaign.
Though much of what Page discussed had previously been leaked to the press or discussed by other Trump campaign advisers, the 243-page transcript yielded some key new information.
For the first time, Page acknowledged that he had a “private conversation” with Russia’s deputy foreign minister during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. He also told lawmakers that he communicated with members of the Trump campaign about what he would say in a speech he delivered during that visit, contradicting previous statements about making the trip in his capacity as a private citizen.
The transcript of Page’s testimony, which was made public by his request, also lays bare the frustration felt by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who tried to keep the questioning on track.
Some highlights from Page’s meandering, nearly eight-hour-long interview are below.
The Trump campaign has quibbled about the extent of its involvement in softening the language on Ukraine in the GOP platform during the Republican National Convention, but Page confirmed that staffers were directly involved.
“As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work,” Page wrote in a July 14, 2016 email to fellow Trump aide J.D. Gordon and several others.
Page said the email reflected his “personal opinion” and denied personally having any involvement in the change, which removed language promising that the U.S. would provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian military intervention. The revised text instead offered “appropriate assistance.”
Though Gordon and others on the campaign have strenuously denied involvement, Texas delegate Diana Denman previously told TPM that he halted the national security committee’s discussion of her original amendment to “clear it with New York.” Denman said this was the only amendment set before the committee that she recalled Trump staffers intervening to table.
Like George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian connections, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge about Russian politics.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Page to account for an email he sent after his July 2016 trip to deliver a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School promising campaign staffers “some incredible insights and outreach” he received from “a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”
It turns out those “insights” were gleaned from watching TV.
Page told Schiff that all he meant to convey in that email was that he would pass on “general things that I learned from listening to speeches” and “watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow.”
Schiff replied, “This is not what you conveyed to the campaign.”
Page also notified campaign staffers that he would “speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank,” one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, during that visit. He told the committee that the Sberbank CEO “didn’t actually show up at all.”
In another similarity to Papadopoulos, Page thought it would be a good idea for Trump to travel to Russia in the middle of the campaign, despite scrutiny of the GOP candidate’s friendly rhetoric towards Russia.
In a May 16, 2016 email to Gordon and fellow campaign adviser Walid Phares, Page suggested that Trump could “raise the temperature a little bit” by traveling to Russia in his stead, and that he would be “more than happy to yield this honor to him.”
Page told the committee he did not know that Papadopoulos was separately pushing a Trump trip to Russia, and that he was “envisioning” a visit akin to Barack Obama’s well-received 2008 trip to Germany as a Democratic presidential candidate.
Throughout the interview, Page repeatedly provided more information than lawmakers requested or insisted that he’d had no contact with a certain individual only to double-back and say he may have actually met them in passing. These rhetorical tics seemed to grate on his questioners.
Schiff, in particular, repeatedly told Page that he was “not asking” for the answers he provided. He chided the former Trump aide for responding to questions about his Russia contacts with answers about Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Page’s own writings on lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was similarly withering in an exchange in which he asked Page to define the words collusion, coordination and conspiracy. When Page replied that all seem to refer to “things you shouldn’t be doing,” Gowdy cracked that “you can coordinate lunch,” and continued to push the point until Page provided straight answers.
CNN reported that lawmakers described Page’s testimony as occasionally confusing and contradictory.
Towards the end of his marathon testimony, Page revealed that the Trump campaign and transition tried to sever ties with him early this year as the FBI investigation was ramping up.
Page divulged that he received letters in January from the campaign’s law firm, Jones Day, instructing him not to “give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.”
Page said he had never misstated his relationship to the campaign, and only spoke to the media “to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.”
Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.
Page told lawmakers he understood Trump staffers’ concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”