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FBI Interest In Trump Aide Carter Page Predated Campaign

Pressed by Schiff over hours of closed-door testimony, the transcript of which was released a week later, Page revealed that he met with members of Russia’s presidential administration while in Moscow, as well as with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft. Page said that he “possibly” spoke to Baranov before traveling to Moscow, and acknowledged that Baranov “may have briefly mentioned” a potential Rosneft sale during their conversation. Asked whether he had brought up the issue of sanctions, Page was similarly evasive: “Not directly,” he replied. And after initially denying it, Page said he “may have” greeted the overseas professor, Joseph Mifsud, who told another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, about the Kremlin’s dossier of incriminating Clinton emails.

If the fluidity of Page’s recollections over the last 20 months aren’t enough to make Republicans think twice about hanging their hats on his innocence, his run-in with two Russian spies three years before he joined the campaign should. According to the Justice Department, Page met with, emailed with, and “provided documents to” one of the spies, Victor Podobnyy, who was posing as a diplomat in New York City while acting as an agent of Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, known as the SVR. Page gave Podobnyy information “about the energy business” from January to June of 2013, according to the DOJ’s criminal complaint, and Podobnyy appeared to acknowledge in intercepted conversations that he was using Page as a “useful idiot” for intelligence-gathering purposes. Page evidently wasn’t the wiser: In August 2013, he wrote a letter to a book editor claiming he had been serving as “an informal adviser to the staff of the Kremlin” on “energy issues.”

Page told the FBI he didn’t know the Russians were spies. But the bureau was evidently not convinced—while descriptions of Page’s interactions with the spies remain redacted, the FISA application did discuss the efforts by Podobnyy and two other Russian intelligence operatives to recruit “New York City residents” as assets in 2013, when Page was first interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agents. The FBI interviewed Page again in March 2016—just before he joined the Trump campaign, and months before the FBI officially began its probe of possible collusion between the campaign and Russia.

Page, for his part, says he has not been in touch with House Republicans throughout their fight to declassify the warrant application. But he has, over the last few weeks, sent me some eerily well-timed text messages. “You’ll see,” Page wrote me on August 31, after tweeting that “the Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel” in 2016. “Read between the lines and give things a few more weeks with further exposure of the full facts.”

Ten days later, Axios reported that Trump was considering declassifying Russia probe documents. “Every week more and more truth comes out,” Page told me that day. “Who knows what good news this week might bring!”

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