The Russia Investigation: Carter Page

Russia Investigation complication by Lenny Ghoul.

At turns, Carter Page has been described as a potential Russian spy, a possible sympathetic informant/source for Russia, and an FBI informant cynically used by them as a scapegoat to justify their spying on the Trump campaign. There’s even a theory that Page may have been working as a double agent for the FBI against Russia.  To quote the classic TV show To Tell the Truth, “Will the real Carter Page please stand up?”

Carter William Page attended the United States Naval Academy, graduating in the top ten percent of his class in 1993.  He went on to serve for five years in military intelligence in the Western Sahara, then bounced around academia, consulting firms, and think tanks before becoming an investment banker with Merrill Lynch in 2000.

According to Politico, in 1998 Page worked briefly for the Eurasia Group:

Page’s apparent Russian sympathies were evident from much earlier. In 1998 Page spent three months working for the Eurasia Group, a strategy consulting firm. Its founder, Ian Bremmer, later described Page as his “most wackadoodle alumnus.” Page’s vehemently pro-Kremlin views meant that “he wasn’t a good fit,” Bremmer said.

The one constant in Carter Page’s long, strange story is his pro-Kremlin, anti-Western viewpoint of world economics and politics.

Page moved to Moscow in 2004 to work as a vice president for Merrill Lynch.   According to various individuals who worked with him while he was with the firm, Page never distinguished himself to any great degree.  In fact, some people have a fairly uncharitable recollection of him.

Page cited in a late March 2016 Bloomberg interview that advising Gazprom on its largest deals was his main area of expertise to serve as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, but according to the Washington Post, that might have been an exaggerated claim:

In a two-hour interview with Bloomberg News in late March, he [Page] said he advised Gazprom on its largest deals, including buying a stake in an oil and natural gas field near Russia’s Sakhalin Island and the merging of two classes of Gazprom stock, one of which was restricted to foreigners and the other to Russians.

Page has offered that experience as one of his main areas of expertise, but his boss at Merrill Lynch at the time says that Page’s claims are exaggerated.

Sergey Aleksashenko, former deputy chairman of the Russian central bank and former chairman of Merrill Lynch Russia, says that Page did not play a key role at that time. “He was a vice president, and the job of vice president is not to organize deals but to execute,” Aleksashenko said.

Also from the Bloomberg interview, Aleksashenko laughed about Page being named a Trump adviser:

Aleksashenko said when he heard that Trump named Page as an adviser, “I was laughing because he was never ready to discuss foreign policy.”

After leaving Merrill Lynch in 2008, Page founded his own investment fund, Global Energy Capital with partner James Richard and a former mid-level Gazprom executive, Sergei Yatsenko.  As of 2017, Page is listed as the firm’s only employee.  It appears that Global Energy Capital has yet to realize a project, despite Page’s best efforts.  In fact, when Julia Ioffe penned her September 23, 2016 article for Politico she could find no expatriate Americans who worked in Moscow while Page was there for Merrill Lynch, or later when he ran GEC, who were familiar with him at all.  Most asked, “Carter who?”

It was during Page’s years running his investment fund that he was approached by Russian spies for possible recruitment.  In January 2013, Page met Victor Podobnyy, who portrayed himself as being a junior attaché at the Russian consulate in New York.  Podobnyy saw Page as someone who could easily be exploited, according to transcripts of recordings made of Podobnyy and his two Russian confederates.

Ironically, the only Russian who could be convicted for spying in this case — Evgeny Buryakov — reached a plea deal in March, 2016.  (The other two — Podobnyy and Igor Sporyshev — had diplomatic immunity and returned to Russia.)

By March of 2016, once Trump was winning early primaries, the candidate was pressed for foreign policy experts working for his campaign.  Trump obliged the Washington Post by offering five names, among them, Carter Page, PhD.  But many were asking who’s Carter Page, and how did he become one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers?

From Vox, Page reached out to the campaign:

Page reached out to New York’s Republican Party chair, Ed Cox, in late December 2015, asking to be put in touch with Trump’s team. Cox put Page in contact with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who sent him over to [Sam] Clovis, who is said to have put him on Trump’s list of advisers.

According to the plea deal Papadopoulos signed, Clovis told him “that a principal foreign policy focus of the [Trump] campaign was an improved US relationship with Russia.”  Certainly, Page’s pro-Kremlin, anti-Russian sanctions positions were a perfect fit with Trump.

Emails between various campaign officials show Page repeatedly tried to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.  When it became clear that wouldn’t happen, Page offered to meet the Russians himself.  His efforts culminated in a July 2016 trip to Moscow, just before the RNC convention.

During the RNC convention, Page — along with Jeff Sessions and J.D. Gordon — met with the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak.  Also while at the convention, Page met with Réka Szemerkényi, the Hungarian ambassador to the United States at the time, and traveled to Budapest the following month to meet with pro-Putin Hungarian government officials there.

By August, the FBI seemed very interested in Page’s trip to Moscow, placing him and three other campaign officials (Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) under scrutiny for their troubling ties to Russia.

At the same time, Trump spokesmen were distancing the candidate from Page, saying he was an unofficial foreign policy adviser.  Page left the campaign sometime in September.  By October, the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to place him under surveillance.

Page testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November 2017, confirming some of the Steele Dossier’s claims which had heretofore been unsubstantiated.  For instance, Page admitted he met with Russian government officials during his July trip to Moscow.

Page re-emerged as an important player in the Trump-Russia investigation when Devin Nunes‘ infamous memo was made public.  At that point, Nunes and many Trump defenders made out that Page was an innocent American citizen whose 4th Amendment rights were grossly violated by the FBI when they sought a FISA warrant to spy on the Trump campaign.  However, Page was no longer with the campaign by the time the FBI obtained their warrant.

So is Page a spy?  A dupe?  A goof with delusions of being James Bond?  He seems to be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps Robert S. Mueller holds the key to unlocking the answer.

 

Connected To

Donald Trump

Sergei Kislyak

Gazprom

RNC Convention

Steele Dossier

 

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