At least five Trump campaign officials were aware of Carter Page’s plans to travel to Moscow in July 2016 — a trip that continues to bring intense scrutiny to President Trump and made Page a sought-after witness in the various probes into Russia election meddling.
A transcript of testimony Page gave to the House Intel Committee last week that was released Monday night surfaces new details about what he told the campaign about the trip, and how he now is explaining what occurred while his was in Moscow.
In Page’s retelling, he informed the campaign of plans to travel to Moscow in an email to former campaign chair Corey Lewandowski; top Trump aide (and current White House Communications Director) Hope Hicks; and J.D. Gordon, who Page described as the “de facto” organizer of Trump’s group of foreign policy advisers. Page also mentioned the trip to campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, according to his testimony.
Lewandowski, Page said, approved of the trip, as long as he was going by himself and not affiliated with the campaign.
That contradicts what Lewandowski himself has claimed, having told USA Today last March that he granted “nobody” permission to travel to Russia.
The disclosure that might be most problematic for Trump as the Russia investigation moves along is Page’s admission that he had told then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a top campaign advisor, that he was headed to Moscow while the two were at a June 2016 dinner at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington.
Now the attorney general, Sessions has testified in front of the Senate that he was not “aware” of any Trump surrogates who had communications with the Russians.
Page, in his testimony, again stressed that the trip was understood to be separate from the campaign and said that he mentioned it to Sessions in the context of “discussing your travel schedule.”
“I said: I’m glad to have the opportunity to meet you. And I just — I’m going to be traveling, but I will — I m going to give a — you know, totally unrelated to the campaign, I’m going to give a brief — or give a speech in Moscow,” Page recalled.
At one point in the lead-up to the trip, however, Page pitched to campaign affiliates that Trump go in his place to Russia.
“The idea there was bearing in mind Barack Obama’s speech as a candidate in Germany 2008,” Page told House Intel of the May 2016 email he sent to Gordon and to fellow foreign policy adviser Walid Phares.
That Page’s recommendation for Trump to go to Russia came in addition to the efforts by George Papadopoulos, another foreign policy adviser, to secure a Trump-Russia meeting was merely a coincidence, Page told the committee.
“I had no coordination with him on that, no,” Page testified.
Page’s trip to Moscow, he testified, was “about just having a warm conversation with individuals” and it culminated with a speech he gave to the New Economic School, a university in Moscow.
Here too, Page kept the campaign clued in on his plans and sent an email to the campaign flagging the speech request asking if they had any “thoughts on how you’d prefer me to focus these remarks.”
That note to the campaign was just a “courtesy,” Page told lawmakers last week.
At one point during Page’s six hours of questioning, the top Democrat on the committee brought up an email Page sent to campaign officials promising to send a “readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”
Page explained that the insights he was referring to were the “general things” he observed from listening to speeches and watching Russian television.
“I hadn’t watched Russian TV for many years, but watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow there,” Page said.
According to Page, the flight to Moscow and his hotel accommodations were paid for by the university hosting his speech. Some of his meals were also taken care of, according to Page’s testimony, though some he paid for himself.
Page, in his testimony, denied meeting an official mentioned in the so-called Trump dossier as “Divyekin.” The dossier alleged that the official told Page that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
Page did explain to lawmakers an email he sent to the campaign officials describing a “private conversation” with Deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich, in which the Russian “expressed strong support” for Trump. The conversation, Page told lawmakers, was just “brief hello” that lasted about 5-10 seconds
Of the claim in his email to the campaign that he conducted outreach with Russian legislators, Page said he was referring to a “couple of legislators” he believed were sitting in the audience of his speech because their children were graduating from the university.
Page and his Russian exploits have become a major headache for Trump world. When reporters began asking around last year about his Moscow trip, campaign officials stressed he had no formal role in the campaign. The trip also piqued the attention of the FBI, which had Page on their radar since their 2013 discovery that a Russian spy was trying to recruit him.
Page, in his testimony, called himself “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign” and described the firestorm that arose out of the Russian-related allegations against him as “the darkest of the dark clouds over my head.”
That didn’t stop him from traveling to Russia again in December 2016.