How Did Page Get Picked?

One of the abiding mysteries of the Trump saga is just who those five initial foreign policy advisers were, the ones he announced at an editorial meeting with The Washington Post on March 21st, 2016. It was an odd group: five guys, half with sordid pasts and others no one had ever heard of. One of them actually had Model UN work listed as one of his job qualifications! They weren’t sending their best!

This was at the point when Trump had no foreign policy advisers and he’d recently said he got his ideas on the topic from watching generals on the cable networks. Because of all this, it’s always been plausible that the whole question of how these guys were picked is radically over-determined: maybe the list was just five guys someone grabbed off their rolodex in a panic in time for the Post editorial board meeting. Who knows?

The one thing that makes the list of some abiding interest was that this was the first announcement of Carter Page’s association with the campaign. The new story about Page and Russian spies needs a little unpacking. Page didn’t pass government documents to these spies. He wasn’t in government. The rest of the story appears to show that the Russians didn’t think Page knew they were spies, even though they were trying to recruit him. They also thought he was a rube. But given all the rest we’ve learned in recent months, the fact that Russian intelligence had tried to recruit the guy who two years later became Trump’s chief advisor on Russia and Europe seems like a hell of a coincidence. It also makes it worth considering again just where this list came from. My interest was also peaked by new news that former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince also looks to be in the Trumpian mix.

One of the five advisors was Joseph E. Schmitz, the son of a notorious GOP Congressman who was an anti-Semite and member of the John Birch Society. The younger Schmitz served in the Bush administration but eventually got bounced in part because of charges of anti-Semitism against him. It turns out that after Schmitz got bounced from the Pentagon, he went to work as an executive at Blackwater. In other words, he got hired by Erik Prince.

Then there’s this.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Mike Flynn’s lobbying for Turkey was tied to new gas fields being developed off the coast of Israel …

Inovo hired Mr. Flynn on behalf of an Israeli company seeking to export natural gas to Turkey, the filing said, and Mr. Alptekin wanted information on the U.S.-Turkey political climate to advise the gas company about its Turkish investments.

That reminded me of this, from a write-up in the Post from last March …

Almost all [of George Papadopoulos’ ] work appears to have revolved around the role of Greece, Cyprus and an Israeli natural gas discovery in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, said when asked about Papadopoulos: “He does ring a very faint bell but he’s not written anything very significant on East Mediterranean natural gas and pipelines that I can remember.”

Papadopoulos had written a number of articles on the subject in the English language Israeli press, apparently of little significance to Mr. Stern. But again, he’s the guy who listed Model UN on his resume. There’s a major difference here: Does Israel pivot to Turkey or Greece and Cyprus and Egypt in selling its offshore natural gas? But it’s still a notable connection and Turkey’s relationship to Israel and Russia was changing markedly over the course of 2016.

These points of course prove nothing. They are simply suggestive connections that may help figure out just why these four men were chosen. It does make me want to know a bit more about Prince’s role in the campaign early on. In any case, with the new Page information, it’s about time we find out more about just who put together this list of five people. It’s a very odd list. It always was. Even more so now.

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