The recently-released Inspector General’s report reviewing FBI and DOJ conduct during the Russia investigation focused largely on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was the subject of four FISA warrants, allowing the government to surveil Page and his communications.
To be sure, the report provides plenty of evidence of serious miscalculations by the FBI. For one, FBI agents did not include evidence to the FISA court that Carter Page was once a CIA operational contact. They also omitted the fact that Carter Page denied ever meeting Paul Manafort to an FBI informant in 2016. There were “significant errors in the three renewal applications, based upon information known to the FBI after the first application and before one or more of the renewals,” the IG concluded.
The biggest injustice to Carter Page, however, is that these FISA warrants were ever revealed. The Washington Post first reported on details of the Page FISA’s in Spring of 2017, when they were still in effect. Former Senate Intelligence staffer Jim Wolfe (who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters) was alleged to have leaked the FISA, though the government was never able to establish this to be fact, and Wolfe’s lawyers noted recently that he did not plead guilty to any leaking of classified materials: “Mr. Wolfe did not plead guilty to, and does not admit, having shared any information from a Classified Document—even unclassified information—in March or April 2017, as had been alleged originally in Count 2 of the Indictment, and we believe that the government would not be able to prove any such sharing of information by even a preponderance of the evidence.”
Despite the severe missteps by the FBI and DOJ, Page is not an innocent victim, nor a martyr.
The evidence shows that, while the FBI determined that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Page was acting as a foreign agent of Russia, Page’s actions and words are not innocent and in fact might warrant further investigation.
Page has been presented as a “CIA source” by mainstream media, though that title completely fails to describe Page’s relationship with the spy agency. First, the term “source” is incorrect. IG Horowitz and the CIA both used the term “operational contact” to describe what Page did for the Agency. At first glance, “source” and “operational contact” might seem similar, but in spy terms they are not in the same universe.
According to the former Russia station chief at the CIA John Sipher, the term “operational contact” means nothing more than Page passing information he heard from the Russians to the CIA.
“Bottom line is we talk to a lot of Americans but we do not consider them sources or agents as we do with foreign, controlled contracts,” Sipher said. “With foreigners we can test and investigate them, task them, pay them, etc. With Americans we are always willing to listen but we do not recruit them. CIA officers do not get bureaucratic or promotion credit for dealing with Americans.”
Futhermore, Sipher explained that it is expressly prohibited for the CIA to direct or guide operational contacts in the US. In fact, the CIA doesn’t even task any non-personnel to complete any tasks.
“We can’t do tasking with Americans,” he said.
Carter Page’s connections:
Despite the FBI lacking enough evidence to prove that Page was acting on behalf of the Russian government beyond a reasonable doubt, the Bureau certainly had plenty of data points.
In at least three meetings with an FBI source who is believed to be Cambridge professor and longtime GOP operative Stefan Halper, Page made a series of damning statements about his travels to Russia and his access to Russian cash.
First, Page indicated to Halper just two months after his first 2016 trip to Moscow that he had an “open checkbook” from Russia to fund a think-tank or research institute. The goal of the think-tank was to push back against anti-Russian sentiment in the United States. The Office of General Counsel Chief for the Department of Justice told the Inspector General that this proposed partnership between Page and the Russians was particularly troubling. The OGC Chief “viewed this as a suggestion ‘that the Russians would pay for [Page] to operate a think tank in the United States … basically as a propaganda machine.'”
The concept of an “open checkbook” from the Russians is put into better context by examining Page’s business. In June 2015, just months before he began informally advising Trump, Page’s Global Energy Capital company pledged $350,000,000 to a little-known family run energy business based in Nevada. That is not a typo. Three hundred and fifty million dollars.
After I reported on that alleged business deal, the energy investment company, RD Heritage Group, scrubbed their website of any mention of Page’s Global Energy Capital, though the group have since updated their website to once again claim that “Global Energy Capital’s offer to fund RD Heritage [was] for $350MM. This written offer occurred on June 13, 2015.
In December, Page was back in Moscow. This time, he spent a week in the Russian capital and met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich after first meeting him briefly during the July trip. Page’s other activities during the week have yet to be explained publicly.
According to the Mueller report, Paul Manafort’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed to be tied to Russian intelligence, wrote an email stating that Page was acting on behalf of the Trump team: “In a December 8, 2016 email intended for Manafort, Kilimnik wrote, ‘Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine.’
Mueller also wrote that at a private dinner with a rector for the school at which Page spoke, Deputy Prime Minister Dvorkovich “asked Page if he could facilitate connecting Dvorkovich with individuals involved in the transition to begin a discussion of future cooperation.”
According to the Inspector General’s report, Page then made the following statements to Stefan Halper in a December 15 interview, monitored by the FBI:
- “He [Page] had been invited to Christmas parties at Gazprom and Rosneft, but declined those invitations because of recent media reports suggesting that Page was being investigated by the FBI.”
- “Russian media organizations RT and Sputnik ‘may … warrant a Nobel Peace Prize” for ‘providing this transparency and helping to facilitate a pure democracy.'”
- “Very high-level people [in Russia] were quite supportive” of his think-tank idea.
In January, Halper again met with Page, wherein Page made the following statements:
- Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich was “on board” with the think-tank idea and wanted to “get started.”
- He (Page) could raise a million dollars from the Russians for the think-tank.
Finally, in March 2017, FBI agents interviewed Page a whopping five times, where even more concerning statements were made about Page’s connections to Russia. According to FBI Agents, as recounted by the Inspector General, Page told investigators that he traveled to Singapore for for Gazprom Investor Day where he met with a Vice President of Gazprombank, a Russian state-owned entity. Page also told investigators that “in mid-October 2016, while crossing a street in New York City, his cell phone fell out of his pocket and was smashed by a car, resulting in a loss of encrypted communications.”
While the IG report revealed serious wrongdoing on behalf of the FBI in the process behind Carter Page’s FISA requests, the report also brought to light many new details surrounding Page’s numerous connections to Russian elite. His statements to Stefan Halper, for example, indicate that Page was confident he could receive Russian funding.
The report says that the FBI’s New York Field Office sought Page’s banking and financial records along with those of his company Global Energy Capital. It’s unclear if agents found records relating to RD Heritage Group.