Add this to the: “Yes, we know” file.
U.S. officials are talking about where they are in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and the information they have is pretty much the way discerning minds have already determined.
According to a report from CNN, the FBI gathered information last summer that suggests Russia had planned to infiltrate Trump’s campaign through his advisers. In particular, Carter Page came under scrutiny.
The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.
These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
This is very important for those who reflexively defend Trump, and by association, anyone involved in his campaign or administration.
Page may not have known he was being used by Russian operatives.
Page disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying he helped the US intelligence community. “My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past.”
But the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say.
And it is absolutely conceivable that Page did nothing wrong, and whatever influence he had on Trump or the campaign was minimal.
That being said, it appears that Russia did, in fact, try to work their way into the inside of Trump’s campaign, with an eye on a bigger prize.
In 2013, Page had meetings with a Russian man who turned out to be a spy, according to federal prosecutors. Page denied knowing that the man, Victor Podobnyy, was secretly a Russian operative living in New York.
As CNN first reported, Carter Page’s speech critical of US policy against Russia in July 2016 at a prominent Moscow university drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns he had been compromised by Russian intelligence, according to US officials. They also feared that Russian operatives maintained contact with him both in the United States and Russia, US officials say.
And again, Carter’s level of involvement in Trump’s campaign is up for debate. Trump allowed Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, to gather names for a list of national security advisers to present to the media. Page was chosen because he had a Ph.D next to his name, so it looked impressive, I suppose.
The campaign downplayed Page’s involvement. Page, however, indicated that it was a little more.
But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign.
“For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.”
The FBI had Page on their radar for at least four years, according to court documents and US officials.
The FBI’s 2013 investigation into a Russian spy ring out of New York reveals the interest they had in Page even then, as one was taped discussing his attempts to recruit Page.
When Page went to Moscow in 2016 to speak at the graduation ceremony for the New Economic School, it put him back on their radar.
His standing up in Moscow and talking like an un-American tool didn’t help.
But Page’s lecture sounded different than what would be expected from most Americans. He parroted Kremlin talking points by chastising the West for prolonging “Cold War tendencies.”
“Ironically, Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change,” he said, adding that US foreign policy toward Russia was “condescending” and “hostile.”
Page stressed to the audience that he was there as a private citizen and not a Trump surrogate. But a spokesman for the school told CNN that Page’s ties to Trump helped secure the invitation.
This is the smoke that leads officials to suspect there is actually fire.
Page is on the Democrats’ witness list for the House Intelligence Committee hearings. Where the hearings eventually lead is going to depend on the ability of those lawmakers on the panel to put their partisan pettiness aside and to honestly seek answers that benefit and protect the American people – not their particular party.