Nice Try on Carter Page, Guys

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There’s something a bit funny going on today. The White House is simultaneously claiming that news of the Carter Page FISA warrant vindicates their claims about Obama administration surveillance while also insisting Page had virtually nothing to do with the campaign. This is a complicated story because the Trump campaign – especially at that stage – was so chaotic and disorganized that the line between central and peripheral could be hard to detect and change from one day to the next. But the White House can’t get away with saying that Page was an “informal” advisor one with “no official title.”

He was as official as it got.

This is another moment when it is important to recur to the timeline. Well into 2016, Trump had no official or unofficial foreign policy advisors. Indeed, he got in trouble for saying that he got his foreign policy knowledge from watching generals talk on cable. When he had to come up with a group of official, named advisors, he did so in concert with now Attorney General Jeff Sessions and he came up with a list of five people. He announced the five at an on the record and high profile meeting with The Washington Post editorial board. There were five of them: Walid Phares, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Joe Schmitz, and ret. Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.

Page’s official stated advisory purview? Europe and Russia.

It was quite formal and quite official. Now, the White House’s current line is basically: Come on, the whole campaign was a mess. We barely even knew who he was. In part, this is true. It was a motley bunch, as I’ve discussed here. Some of these guys went on to big things with Trump. Walid Phares has continued to be a close administration advisor on trashing Muslims and Gen Kellogg was Trump’s interim National Security Advisor. He’s still at the NSC. Page was official as it got. The fact the campaign was so chaotic and the now-administration either won’t say or doesn’t remember how certain people got on the list is another issue entirely.

In the Spring of 2016 there were numerous write-ups of Carter Page and his roll in the Trump campaign, which the campaign either didn’t object to or cooperated with. Here’s one great nugget from a March 30th profile of Page from Bloomberg News

When Donald Trump named him last week as one of his foreign-policy advisers, Page says his e-mail inbox filled up with positive notes from Russian contacts. “So many people who I know and have worked with have been so adversely affected by the sanctions policy,” Page said in a two-hour interview last week. “There’s a lot of excitement in terms of the possibilities for creating a better situation.”

It is quite true that Page never seems to have been a Trump insider. They claim at least that he never met with Trump – a claim I have little problem believing. Indeed, Page’s best defense against being a spy is his own enduring and profound gooberishness. Even the Russian spies the FBI recorded discussing efforts to recruit him in 2013 thought he was a doofus. But again, he was named not on some random secondary advisory panel. He was one of five named Trump foreign policy advisors and remained with that status for months. Our headline the day he was announced: “Donald Trump Finally Releases Partial List Of His Foreign Policy Advisers.”

Having followed this evolving story for a year, I do not think for a moment that Page was running the show, directing Trump’s actions or even speaking to him regularly or maybe at all. I think there are much bigger fish who are getting much less attention. Why Page was apparently the only one monitored with a FISA warrant is a good question. It’s possible he was the only one clumsy and sloppy enough to get the FBI’s early attention or provide enough material to get a warrant. It may also tell us how sluggish the FBI’s investigation was or that the penetration of the campaign didn’t run that deep. Regardless, Page was a high profile, named, titled advisor for the campaign. For months.

Reporters should not get snowed into forgetting that.

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