Carter Page takes centre stage in wake of memo release
Court documents reveal long history between foreign policy adviser and Russia
There was much head-scratching when president Donald Trump announced his foreign policy team during an interview with The Washington Post in the middle of the 2016 campaign.
He reeled off a string of names with little in the way of explanation. The likes of George Papadopolous and Carter Page — introduced with no further details other than that he held a PhD — were largely unknown among the Washington think tanks and foreign policy cognoscenti.
Yet Mr Page, who emerged as the central figure in the Republican memo released on Friday, was not unknown to everyone. He was already of interest to the FBI, who had been monitoring a Russian spy in the US as he went about trying to the recruit energy consultant.
Documents presented at federal court in New York in 2015 revealed how Russia’s foreign intelligence service agent, Victor Podobnyy, discussed his impression of male-1 — later revealed as Mr Page — with another agent.
“He wants to meet when he gets back,” said Mr Podobnyy in a conversation recorded by US security officials. “I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language.”
On Friday the White House allowed the publication of a memo compiled by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee alleging abuses of surveillance powers during the 2016 campaign.
The memo focuses on an October 2016 court application for electronic surveillance of Mr Page, who was known to have travelled to Russia during the campaign, where he met a senior Russian official and gave a speech that was friendly to Moscow.
However, defenders of Mr Trump allege in the memo that the FBI application was based on a dossier collated by Christopher Steele, a former British spy who collected evidence of links between the Trump campaign and Russia. The newly declassified memo claims Mr Steele was funded by Democrats, was motivated by his animosity to Mr Trump and was “passionate about him not being president”.
Yet court documents and the testimony of Mr Page to congress last year show that he was known to US counter-intelligence in 2013, and that his connections to Russia go back further.
In 1998 he joined the Eurasia consulting group but left after three months. Even then, his pro-Putin stance made waves, with the head of the group later saying he was “not a good fit”.
“Carter Page going down as the most wackadoodle @EurasiaGroup alum in history,” wrote Ian Bremmer on Twitter in April 2017.
He developed his ties in Russia while living in Moscow from 2004 to 2007 when he opened an office for Merrill Lynch.
After that he founded Global Energy Capital, which has been described as a one-man investment and consulting firm. Last year the New York Times visited the office in a co-working space in Manhattan, where other tenants included the National Shingles Foundation and a wedding-band company.
He described some of his interactions with Russian officials when he appeared before the House Intelligence Committee, giving evidence for six hours in a rambling fashion and without a lawyer.
He said he met Mr Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian consulate in New York, at an Asia Society event in March 2013 in Manhattan, and saw him again over a cup of coffee or a Coke.
Asked why he met him a second time, he said he wanted to practise his Russian.
“Before all this happened, I used to be a person that liked to interact with people from different cultures,” he said in front of the committee's growing incredulity.
But Mr Podobnyy was not what he seemed. American Counterintelligence officers believed he was using his cover at the consulate to work for the Russian foreign intelligence service in recruiting assets.
Three months later, Mr Page was interviewed by the FBI about those meetings, according to a complaint filed in the New York federal court.
The document also alleged that he had supplied documents to the Russians. In his testimony before congress Mr Page later said they were merely the sorts of mailings he would send students on a course he taught at New York University.
“You know, these are things that are readily available to the, again, average man or woman on the street who are interested,” he said.
His time with the Trump campaign ended in September 2016 when reports surfaced that he paid a visit to Moscow in July, where he was suspected of meeting sanctioned Kremlin officials. When Mr Steele’s dossier was made public last year, it claimed that Mr Page had deep ties to the Russian government.
Since then Mr Trump and his aides have insisted his role in the campaign was minimal.
But his central role in the Republican memo propels him back to centre stage, making him an unlikely ally of Mr Trump’s supporters and their search for evidence to bolster their case that the president is the subject of a witch hunt.
For his part, Mr Page said he welcomed the memo’s release.
He said: “I look forward to updating my pending legal action in opposition to Department of Justice this weekend in preparation for Monday’s next small step on the long, potholed road toward helping to restore law and order in our great country.”
Updated: February 3, 2018 08:51 PM