Former Trump adviser calls Russian agent charges a joke.
Hill panels work on witness lists for probe hearings
The former Trump foreign policy adviser in the eye of a partisan storm over his role in the 2016 presidential campaign said Wednesday that allegations he acted as a Russian agent “were a joke,” while Capitol Hill investigators privately say they’re continuing to wrestle with the witness list for upcoming congressional inquiries into alleged Kremlin meddling in the 2016 elections.
Citing unnamed law enforcement and other U.S. officials, The Washington Post reported the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last summer gave the FBI and Justice Department clearance to track Carter Page because a judge saw probable cause he might be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
On Wednesday Mr. Page lashed back, expanding on earlier denials that he had proper ties to Russia. “This is just such a joke that it is beyond words,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
The scandal includes Russia meddling in the 2016 race, suspected ties between Trump campaign aides and Russian intelligence agents and the handling of sensitive intelligence data by Obama administration officials looking into the charges. The FBI has confirmed it has a still-active investigation underway into possible ties between Moscow and the Trump campaign.
The Washington Post report detailed a court filing involving a case against three men charged in connection with a Cold War-style Russian spying ring that involved Mr. Page. The 45-year-old oil industry consultant, who has worked in Moscow, was not charged in that case. When Mr. Tapper asked whether he knew he was dealing with spies, Mr. Page said he never had any indication. “Of course I wasn’t acting as an agent for a foreign government,” he said.
Mr. Page also declined to say who brought him aboard the Trump campaign. “It wasn’t Paul Manafort,” Mr. Page told CNN, referring to the former Trump campaign manager who has also been the subject of intense scrutiny over his own Russia connections.
By coincidence, a spokesman for Mr. Manafort on Wednesday revealed that he has decided to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for lobbying work he did on behalf of political interests in Ukraine, led at the time by a pro-Russian political party, The Associated Press reported.
In an earlier statement, Mr. Page insisted he was “happy” the so-called FISA court order authorizing a U.S. intelligence probe had been made public because it revealed evidence the Obama administration wanted to “suppress dissidents who did not fully support their failed foreign policy.”
“It will be interesting to see what comes out when the unjustified basis for those FISA requests are more fully disclosed over time,” Mr. Page said.
Mr. Page also repeated a desire to clear his name by testifying before Congress.
Last week, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam B. Schiff told MSNBC the panel will hear from Mr. Page “at the appropriate time.”
On Wednesday, Capitol Hill sources told The Washington Times that while House and Senate members are in recess, intelligence committee staffers are busy churning through thousands of investigation-related raw intelligence documents. They’re also scrutinizing a testimony list.
Last month Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr said his staff had begun to schedule the first of at least 20 interviews. The North Carolina Republican has declined to provide any specific names.
Several Trump aides associated with the congressional probes have publicly volunteered to testify. In addition to Mr. Page, they include Mr. Manafort, Trump campaign and political adviser Roger Stone and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and aide.
Last month former Trump National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s request for immunity in exchange for his testimony was turned down. At the time, Mr. Schiff said it was difficult to determine what Mr. Flynn knew and whether his words would shed any light on the deeper investigation.
On Wednesday, a source close to the congressional committees said that while members of Congress had expressed interest in hearing from Christopher Steele, the onetime British spy who compiled an explosive and unverified dossier on Mr. Trump, many factors, including his background with British intelligence, made that unlikely.
Former President Trump adviser Carter Page called allegations that he acted as a Russian agent “a joke,” calling the whole matter “beyond words.”