Targeting Carter Page, Part 2: The Alleged Russian Connections

(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, file)

In part 1, I outlined who Carter Page is and his link to the Trump campaign in 2016 and his role in breaking an alleged spy ring.

Why would the Trump campaign hire Carter Page?  If we assume that the Russian government had been “recruiting” Trump for at least five years, as the Steele dossier contends, would it make sense to name Page to the campaign given his obvious pro-Russian views and his involvement with a spy ring investigation?  He would stick out like a sore thumb if there was this Trump-Russia collusion going on.  

The alternative theory is that someone within the Trump campaign deliberately hired Page for that very reason- his contacts in Russia, and providing a perfect cover for the illicit collusion operation since he often traveled to Russia to give lectures.  That might also help explain Page’s eventual departure from the campaign when some outlets began suggesting after the DNC hacks that it was a Russian operation designed to hurt Clinton and help Trump.  In this scenario, Page left the campaign because the heat was rising.  We do know that sometime in early July and even after the start of Crossfire Hurricane the FBI sought, and was refused, a warrant by the FISA court only for the government to prevail in October 2016 after Page was mentioned in the Steele dossier by name.

Some of that theory is diminished given Carter Page’s role as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.  We do not know who hired him, or why he was hired.  Equally important, we do not know what his contributions were to the campaign.  After Page was named in the dossier, the campaign described him as a lower-level junior adviser whom no one can recall ever contributing anything of substance.  Further, there was nothing in his background, other than his educational credentials, to suggest he was a foreign policy wonk with any gravitas.  

He had traveled to Moscow with Merrill Lynch and then with his own company and in Russia is often referred to as a “noted economist.”  But nothing in his history or on his resume seems to suggest anything like that.  In fact, it is the opposite which appears more likely- self-aggrandizement and puffery of his resume. 

What most likely piqued the interests of the FBI in June-July 2016 regarding Carter Page was their familiarity with him during the Butyarov trial.  Further, despite his cooperation with the DOJ and FBI during that episode, assuming alarm bells were ringing at the FBI, he was allowed and apparently never surveilled in several trips to Russia after that trial, or even while serving as a low-level adviser during the campaign.  The only time anything of a nefarious nature in any of these trips comes to light is in an uncorroborated and unsubstantiated Steele memo when it is alleged that Page secretly met with Russian oil oligarch Igor Sechin.   

It also makes no sense that Russia would use Page as a conduit for anything, especially collusion.  In the Podobnyy case, Page was a cooperating witness for the FBI.  The Butyarov trial was obviously watched by Russians and, in fact, actually increased tensions between the United States and Russia.  Does it make sense that Russia would then use him?  Not only was he a cooperating witness for the FBI, but Russia also knew this, and they knew that his testimony helped secure a conviction against Buryatov, and the recall of two other Russian officials.  

What is even more interesting is the recorded conversations of the Russian spy ring.  It was reported that the FBI had installed a bugging device in a binder supplied to the ring by someone posing to be a New York-based energy policy adviser in 2013.  Some have speculated it was Carter Page himself who did this which would make him more than a cooperating witness and an active participant in the FBI investigation.  Others suggested it was an associate in Page’s investment firm, but the pool of possibilities would be small since Page’s staff was very small.  To this day, whoever introduced the bugged binder is unknown.

This brings us to another possibility that skirts the bounds of conspiracy theory.  Some have suggested that Carter Page, given his background being either an active participant in the Pobodnyy case, or a cooperating witness coupled with his mysterious entry into the Trump campaign could have been planted there by the FBI.  Before dismissing the idea, consider the timeline.  On September 25, 2016 as rumors were circulating about Page, he sent a letter to James Comey telling him he was an FBI informant.  He claims in that letter that he had worked with both the FBI and the CIA for about a decade.  He helped secure a conviction of Buryakov in March 2016.  

That was the same month he attended a Trump rally in Arizona and a week later became part of the Trump team.  Page was cooperating with the FBI in the Buryakov case until May 2016.  Then in September 2016, he was let go by the campaign after serving six months in an unpaid position.  

The following month, the DOJ sought and obtained a FISA warrant on Page.  The person who signed that initial warrant was John Carlin, the head of the DOJ’s national security division.  John Carlin also happens to be the one who helped to get Page to cooperate in the Butyarov case.  Under this scenario, Page acted as a walking wiretap within the Trump campaign.  

It was only after he left the campaign that the DOJ sought the warrant on Page through the FISC.  In this way, the “wiretap” remained alive, although unknown to Page at the time.  By making it legal through the FISA process, was this the “insurance policy” Strozk and Lisa Page discussed in their text messages?  The plot thickened when, a day after obtaining the warrant, Carlin unexpectedly resigned from the DOJ.  It is conceivable that people within the DOJ, FBI, and IC were using Page as a conduit into the Trump campaign and then labeling him a Russian agent in order to spy on the campaign through the FISA warrant.  This was all likely done unknown to Page himself.  He was a useful dupe in the whole operation.  

There is also a competing idea that the reason someone in the Trump campaign tapped this relative unknown was because Page’s foreign policy outlook roughly mirrored that of Trump.  Page’s online postings were deferential to Russia and portrayed the US as stuck in a Cold War mindset.  Page was an outsider who was joining the campaign with real-life business experiences, just like Trump.  Trump’s campaign was not hiring the traditional policy wonks that populated the DC think tanks.

Like Trump, Page did not adhere to the belief that because someone was Russian or some business was Russian that it was necessarily bad.  He likely sold himself as a globetrotting businessman selling energy deals.  It is true that he forged some minimal relationships with officials in Gazprom in his visits, but by that time Putin was consolidating his grip on the Russian energy sector, Page was late to the table since by 2005, the Russian government was the majority stakeholder in Gazprom.  Page also said that he helped Gazprom negotiate large deals, that he helped set up meetings between Gazprom and US investors in New York and London, and that many Kremlin officials showed up at his going away party in 2007.  This is in contrast to other accounts of his time in Russia.  

Sergey Alekoshenko, a top official in Russia at the time and a staunch Putin critic, described Page as nothing but a junior banker with little understanding of Russia.  His goal after leaving Merrill Lynch was to establish a $1 billion investment fund that never materialized.  Page’s timing was terribly bad.  He formed his company just as the financial crisis was unfolding.  Afterwards, his company was purported to be in a deal with Gazprom to develop natural gas powered cars in Russia, but that deal was killed amidst US sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the Crimean annexation.

In April 2016, Page was invited to attend the New Economic School of Business in Moscow to deliver a lecture.  He also spoke at the school’s commencement ceremonies.  By the middle of May, he was pushing the idea that Trump visit Russia and meet with Putin and he later informed the campaign he would be attending another event in Moscow and he left for Europe on July 3, 2016.  

Before then, Page went off-script when addressing a private meeting which included the visiting prime minister of India when he heaped praise on Putin calling him a better and more effective leader than Barack Obama.  When he traveled to Moscow to again speak at the New Economic School in Moscow, he again heaped praise on Putin in a speech highly critical of US foreign policy directed at Russia.  

One of the people most critical of Page was David Kramer, the McCain adviser who was also responsible for Russian and Ukrainian relations during the Bush administration.  Three days after those comments in Moscow, Kramer emailed Robert Otto and others suggesting close relations between Page and Russia.  In an email from May 1, 2016, Otto contacted John Williams at the State Department’s Office of Analysis for Russia and Eurasia who reported directly to Victoria Nuland.  It was Nuland who had to approve a meeting between Steele and FBI agent Gaeta in London which allegedly tipped off the State Department about Trump-Russia ties which she alleges was turned over to the FBI.  In that email, Otto discusses some aspects of this collusion that would later turn up in the Steele dossier.  

Next: A classic case of FISA abuse