A barrage of reports over the weekend divulged what was framed as a major new development in the Russia investigation: former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page admitted that he met with a senior Kremlin official during a July 2016 trip to Moscow.
But we already knew this detail. In an interview with the Washington Post over a year ago, Page acknowledged that he met and shook hands with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during a graduation event at the New Economic School, where both men were invited to give speeches.
It is Page’s subsequent downplaying of that encounter that made it seem like a new revelation when reports emerged that Page divulged the encounter in his lengthy closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee late last week. By repeatedly insisting he met mostly with “scholars” and had no formal meetings with Russian government officials on his Moscow jaunt, Page turned his run-in with Dvorkovich into red meat for hawk-eyed reporters looking for any discrepancy in how Trump campaign staffers describe their contacts with Russia.
In text messages to TPM on Monday, Page reiterated that he “covered this irrelevant point” in that September 2016 interview with the Post and that the renewed focus on the meeting was a “complete waste of time.” He added that he had “moved on to more important things.”
A review of that original story shows that his description of the run-in has stayed consistent. He volunteered to Post columnist Josh Rogin that he met and shook hands with Dvorkovich at the event in an “exchange of pleasantries.” On Friday, he told the New York Times that he said “a very brief hello to a couple of people,” including a “senior person” who he later told CNN was Dvorkovich.
What seems to have gotten Page in trouble is his overly strict definition of what constitutes a “meeting.” In his many conversations with the press over the past year, Page adamantly denied that he ever met with Russian government officials over the course of the 2016 campaign.
Asked by PBS in February if he’d had “any meetings with Russian officials in or outside of Russia” in 2016, Page replied, “no meetings, no meetings. I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation—the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.”
As the Times noted, in multiple conversations with the newspaper about his Moscow trip he either denied meeting with any Russian government figures or avoided the question by saying he met with “mostly scholars.”
These blanket denials came back to bite him before, when he was forced to admit in March that he had also exchanged a quick hello with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. The situation played out again this weekend because Page has insisted these encounters with high-level Kremlin figures were not long or involved enough to qualify as “meetings.”