Friday, April 14, 2017

Trump Cannot Turn the Page

So let's get this straight. The CIA and the FBI weren't conspiring to surveil Donald Trump and his campaign advisors.

European intelligence agencies - British, Dutch, Estonian and Polish in particular - twigged to a spate of meetings between Trump campaign aides and Russian spy types in the course of regular surveillance of their Russian counterparts. It got to the point where they began feeding their intelligence to Washington.

The Brits amassed so much sensitive intelligence on Trump & Company that they didn't go through the usual channels. Instead the director of Britain's MI6 flew to Washington to deliver their information by hand to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Director to director, by hand. The director of the CIA then went to the House and the Senate intelligence committees and briefed them about at least some part of what the Brits had conveyed. Whatever Brennan told the senators and representatives, the election proceeded uninterrupted.

Several members of Team Trump in addition to the Trump family have been identified as deeply tied to all things Putin - Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, among them.

Now attention is on former Merrill Lynch flunkie, Carter Page.  Relatively unknown until Trump introduced him as a senior campaign advisor, Page has spent decades pushing a pro-Kremlin line. Even Russian spies, however, thought him something of an idiot.

Carter Page, who was reportedly being monitored by the FBI last summer because of suspicions about his ties to Russia, was hired in 1998 by the Eurasia Group, a major US consulting firm that advises banks and multinational corporations, but left the firm shortly thereafter.

The account of Page’s abrupt departure from the Eurasia Group suggests that concerns about Page and questions about his links to Russia were known in some professional circles for nearly two decades and long before Page joined Trump’s successful presidential campaign.

The former Merrill Lynch banker, who was relatively unknown in politics before he was touted as being a foreign policy adviser in the Trump campaign, has steadfastly declined to comment on how he got involved in the Republican campaign. He told ABC News on Thursday that he would not disclose the name of the person who recruited him into the campaign because it would fuel conspiracy theories and have their “lives disrupted”.

Ian Bremmer, the influential president of the Eurasia Group, on Thursday used Twitter to call Page the “most wackadoodle” alumni of the firm in history.

Talking Points Memo has a neat summary of how Page keeps giving the media contradictory or inconsistent accounts of his dealings with the Russians.

While just what Carter Page did for whom and when remains an enigma, at least to the public, Foreign Policy notes that an American citizen doesn't get hit with a FISA warrant unless the court is persuaded by evidence adduced that you could be an agent of a foreign power.

If the Post report is correct, U.S. officials convinced a FISA court judge during the presidential campaign that there is probable cause that Page was “knowingly” working as an agent of a foreign government while advising Trump.

Page has denounced any surveillance directed against him as politically motivated, even while Washington has in recent months been thick with rumors about who among Trump’s inner circle may have been targeted for surveillance under FISA. Thinly sourced reports have claimed that the government sought and received FISA orders targeting Russian banks who may have been laundering money — which could have ensnared U.S. citizens.

Now Vanity Fair is wading into the Carter Page scandal, asking why Page keeps shooting himself in the foot:

Page, who his own would-be spy recruiter concluded was “an idiot,” decided to go on television Wednesday to clear up the matter. Instead, he made it far worse—at least for himself.

When asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper during an interview if he ever “conveyed to anyone in Russia” that “President Trump might have been more willing to get rid of the sanctions,” Page—a vocal critic of the sanctions imposed on Russia after its annexation of Crimea—responded that he “never had any direct conversations such as that.” When pressed by the CNN host as to what he meant by “direct conversations,” Page denied having discussed the sanctions. “Well, I’m just saying no—that was never—I’ve never said, no,” he replied.

With that, Page then went on to say that he might have touched on the sanctions issue, he doesn't remember.

Meanwhile, Esquire's Charles Pierce concludes the Page/FISA leak "feels like a warning shot."

...unless you're living fulltime in Alex Jonestown, the fact that the FBI got this warrant, and then got it extended, means that there was something very hinky about Page's relationship with the blinis-and-bullets crowd in Moscow.

But more significant to me, anyway, is the fact that all of this leaked—the warrant and the specific individual against whom it was filed. This just doesn't happen. This can't be anything but a warning shot from the intelligence community.

Carter Page seems to be the biggest nobody everybody is zeroed in on. He may not be very bright but he might be an excellent window.

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