Targeting Carter Page, Part 1: Who Is Carter Page?

(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

I can poll any number of people involved in energy in Russia about Carter Page and they’ll say, “Carter who?  You mean Jimmy Carter?— unnamed Western investor in Russian energy

Just who is Carter Page and why was the FBI so interested in him?  He is a graduate of the US Naval Academy.  He obtained a degree from Georgetown University in National Security Studies.  He later earned an MBA from New York University.  He then went to work for Merrill-Lynch in London, then their office in Moscow, before being transferred back to New York to work in the company’s energy and power department.  He claims to have worked with the Russian oil giant Gazprom, but most people described him as unimportant and largely unknown.  He left the company in 2008 to form Global Energy Capital, an investment fund, with offices in New York.  By all accounts, the business was not all that successful and shared an office with a business that booked bands for weddings.

In 2012, he received a PhD from a school affiliated with the University of London.  His dissertation focused on the energy sector and countries transitioning from communism to capitalism, especially in Asia.  It was twice rejected.  He later blamed the rejection of his paper as being based on anti-Russian bias.  He taught a course in politics at New York University.

Before joining Merrill Lynch, he worked for the Eurasia Group for three months.  Recollections of his time there in 1998 said he was staunchly pro-Russian.  Others recall that later he was an advocate of Putin’s policies and highly critical of the US press and their depictions of Putin.  In 2013, he claimed to be an adviser to the Kremlin, but later in 2018 said he overstated his role.

In 2013, Page met with a Russian diplomat- a junior attache to the Russian mission at the UN in New York- Victor Podobnyy- while attending a meeting of the Asia Society.  Unknown to Page at the time, Podobnyy was under surveillance by the FBI suspected of being a Russian spy for the SVR.  Eventually, the spy ring was busted and there were two others involved, Igor Sporyshev being one.  He was a member of the Russian trade representative’s office in the US.  Both Podobnyy and Sporyshev had diplomatic credentials.  The third member of the ring- Evegny Buryakov- did not have diplomatic cover, but was suspected of being an SVR asset in the United States trying to recruit American assets. 

 One of the key goals of Russian intelligence is to attempt to identify future CIA officers and recruits.  To achieve this, they are aware that the CIA recruits on college campuses and their agents often pose as students to do the job.  It is known from later court filings that they targeted an unnamed New York City university.  They were likely aware that Page taught there and they likely knew of his pro-Russian leanings.  

In recorded messages, the FBI uncovered conversations between Podobnyy and Sporyshev speaking of their efforts to recruit Page.  Specifically, Podobnyy said, according to a later court filing:

[Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. … He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could rise up.  I also promised him a lot … This is intelligence [sic] method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself.  

Page confirmed he was “Male-1.”

Page maintained communication with Podobnyy from January to June 2013 through email and at least one other meeting.  He is also alleged to have passed Podobnyy documents at one point.  Page never denied this accusation, but explained that the documents in question were not of a sensitive nature, were already publicly available, and some consisted of his lecture notes.  In June 2013, the FBI interviewed Page who, according to their reports, was dismissive of the allegations against Podobnyy.  

Eventually, the Justice Department busted the spy ring to great fanfare with attorney general Eric Holder announcing the arrests through a press release.  Because Podobnyy and Sporyshev had diplomatic immunity, they left and returned to Russia.  The third member of the ring, Buryakov, was not so lucky since he was a representative of a Russian bank in New York with no diplomatic immunity.  He was charged with violating the Foreign Agent Registration Act, or FARA.

Buryakov’s case went to trial where he was convicted of violating FARA and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison.  Upon his release, he was deported to Russia.  Carter Page testified as a government witness in the trial which helped secure the conviction.  Buryakov was found guilty in early 2015- well before Trump announced his candidacy for President.

The most intriguing aspect of the Carter Page chapter in this saga is how he came to be associated with the Trump campaign.  He is pictured in a photograph- basically for publicity- with Trump along with other people when Trump introduced his foreign policy advisers in March 2016.  Typically, the person to hire Page would have been the campaign’s policy coordinator, Sam Clovis.  Page himself has been cagey about how he was introduced to the campaign only to say, although Clovis eventually brought him on, he did not reach out to Clovis and intimated that someone reached out to him.  That someone was believed to be Corey Lewandowski.  Lewandowski denies knowing, meeting with, or suggesting Page join the campaign, although that would seem odd for a campaign manager, especially when assembling a foreign policy team, but for one fact.

When that foreign policy adviser team was assembled and announced by Trump in March 2016, it was still the primary season.  At the time, the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team of advisers was virtually non-existent.  It appears that a team of virtual unknowns was hastily assembled and Page, despite whoever his original contact in the campaign was, wormed his way into the campaign in the interest of haste.  Other than that photo-op announcement with Trump present, there is no proof that Trump ever met Page afterwards or dealt with him in any manner.  The reason one can conclude that the decision was hasty was the fact that 13 months previous, Page had testified in a trial involving Russian espionage where the spy ring attempted to recruit him.  Obviously, no one in the Trump campaign fully vetted Carter Page.

Next: Carter Page and the alleged Russian connection