If Page isn’t a spy, he’s cer­tainly acted like one

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - By Gene Lyons NEA Con­trib­u­tor

Let’s put it this way: If poor, abused Carter Page wasn’t a Rus­sian agent back when Don­ald Trump plucked him from ob­scu­rity to ad­vise his 2016 cam­paign, he’d def­i­nitely done all he could to look like one. Among the many bizarre as­pects of Rep. Devin Nunes’ in­com­pe­tent and dis­hon­est “Top Se­cret” memo pur­port­ing to dis­credit the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, push­ing this odd bird back into the spot­light ranks near the top.

Why did Trump pick Page in the first place? Page’s pub­licly praising Vladimir Putin as a stronger, more de­ci­sive leader than Pres­i­dent Obama surely had some­thing to do with it. Trump loves him some Putin. Im­pris­on­ing po­lit­i­cal ri­vals gives him a thrill. That Putin op­po­nents keep turn­ing up dead in am­bigu­ous cir­cum­stances only proves him a manly, de­ci­sive leader.

Then there was Page’s long­stand­ing op­po­si­tion to eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia in re­ac­tion to its armed in­cur­sions in Crimea and east­ern Ukraine. Get­ting those sanc­tions lifted was the big­gest tan­gi­ble re­sult the Krem­lin hoped to achieve from its cy­ber­at­tacks on the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

So re­li­ably did Carter Page par­rot the Putin line dur­ing three years liv­ing in Moscow that FBI agents first in­ter­viewed him in 2013, warn­ing that he ap­peared to be un­der re­cruit­ment as a Rus­sian spy. In­deed, Time re­cently found a let­ter Page wrote to a pub­lisher back then brag­ging that “Over the past half-year, I have had the priv­i­lege to serve as an in­for­mal ad­viser to the staff of the Krem­lin in prepa­ra­tion for their Pres­i­dency of the G-20 Sum­mit next month.” The priv­i­lege, mind you. In­deed, FBI sur­veil­lance cap­tured Rus­sian spies talk­ing about their at­tempts to re­cruit Page, de­spite char­ac­ter­iz­ing him as an “id­iot.”

“I also promised him a lot,” con­victed Rus­sian agent Vic­tor Podob­nyy said on an FBI in­ter­cept. “This is in­tel­li­gence method to cheat, how else to work with for­eign­ers? You prom­ise a fa­vor for a fa­vor. You get the doc­u­ments from him and tell him to go (bleep) him­self.”

Page ad­mit­ted pro­vid­ing the doc­u­ments.

A Krem­lin ad­viser, and then a Trump ad­viser. Makes sense to me, although I do won­der ex­actly who rec­om­mended him.

But an id­iot? Any­body who watches his March 2, 2017, in­ter­view with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, dur­ing which Page first de­nies, next ad­mits and then lamely tries to spin a meet­ing with Rus­sian am­bas­sador (and spy­mas­ter) Sergei Kislyak dur­ing the 2016 GOP con­ven­tion will find it hard to dis­agree.

Among other li­a­bil­i­ties, Carter Page is a ter­ri­ble liar. The man gig­gles. Later that month, Page nipped off to Moscow to speak at the pres­ti­gious New Eco­nomic School, where he ba­si­cally stuck to the Putin party line about poor, mis­un­der­stood Vladimir’s ex­cuses for mil­i­tary ad­ven­tur­ism. Asked by Chris Hayes how many Krem­lin big-shots and spies he’d en­coun­tered there, Page gig­gled.

He couldn’t be sure. They don’t wear ID badges, you know.

It was the Moscow jun­ket that seem­ingly led to Page be­ing asked to step down from the Trump cam­paign, fol­low­ing di­rectly upon em­bar­rass­ing news that cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort had re­ceived more than $12 mil­lion cash from a Krem­lin-linked Ukra­nian po­lit­i­cal party.

So no won­der Trump press spokesman Sean Spicer got sent out to deny that the pres­i­dent even knew the guy. Which may even be true. Hence too, how­ever, the sheer ab­sur­dity of Devin Nunes’ pro­nounce­ment on “Fox and Friends” that the FBI used tainted ev­i­dence “to get a war­rant on an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen to spy on an­other cam­paign.”

Earth to Nunes: Page re­signed from the cam­paign two months be­fore the FBI re­opened its probe of his links to Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence. Hence the agency’s Oc­to­ber 2016 FISA court ap­pli­ca­tion to place him un­der sur­veil­lance. To win ap­proval, in­ves­ti­ga­tors needed to pro­vide prob­a­ble cause that he was “know­ingly en­gag­ing in clan­des­tine in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing ac­tiv­i­ties for or on be­half of” Rus­sia.

To main­tain sur­veil­lance, FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tors then had to con­vince a fed­eral judge that valu­able new ev­i­dence had re­sulted ev­ery 90 days. Key words: “new ev­i­dence.” The sur­veil­lance con­tin­ued for a full year, notes Asha Ran­gappa, a former FBI coun­teres­pi­onage agent.

Some­body else who lied to the FBI was Ge­orge Pa­padopou­los, an­other Trump cam­paign light­weight whose drunken boasts to an Aus­tralian diplo­mat about Rus­sian hack­ing of Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails jump-started the agency’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tion in July 2016. The Nunes memo’s un­wit­ting con­fir­ma­tion of this fact makes non­sense of all the rest.

Mean­while, Bri­tish dossier or no dossier — and it’s worth not­ing that the Nunes memo makes no at­tempt to prove its con­tents false, but merely at­tacks au­thor Christo­pher Steele’s pre­sumed mo­tives — it would have been gross dere­lic­tion of duty for U.S. in­tel­li­gence NOT to give Carter Page a long, hard look.

Arkansas Times colum­nist Gene Lyons is a Na­tional Mag­a­zine Award win­ner and co-au­thor of “The Hunt­ing of the Pres­i­dent” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at eu­gene­[email protected]­hoo.com.

Gene Lyons

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