Carter Page cont.
In March 2016 candidate Trump met with the Washington Post's editorial board. At this point it seemed likely that Trump would clinch the Republican nomination. Foreign affairs came up. Who were the candidate's foreign policy advisers? Trump read five names. The second was "Carter Page, PhD." Given Trump's obvious lack of experience of world affairs, this was a pivotal job.Yeah, nothing at all the FBI might find suspicious about a Trump foreign policy advisor now under a different light of scrutiny due to the exposure of a Russian counteritelligence operation to disrupt the US presidential election, right?
One former Eurasia Group colleague said he was stunned when he discovered Page had mysteriously become one of Trump's foreign policy advisers. "I nearly dropped my coffee," he told me. The colleague added: "We had wanted people who could engage in critical analysis of what's going on. This is a guy who has no critical insight into the situation. He wasn't a smart person."
Page's real qualification for the role, it appeared, had little to do with his restless CV. What appeared to recommend him to Trump was his boundless enthusiasm for Putin and his corresponding loathing of Obama and Clinton. Page's view of the world was not unlike the Kremlin's. Boiled down: the United States' attempts to spread democracy had brought chaos and disaster.
In July 2016 Page went back to Russia, in a trip approved by the Trump campaign. There was keen interest. Page was someone who might give sharper definition to the candidate's views on future US"Russian relations. Moscow sources suggest that certain people in the Russian government arranged Page's visit. "We were told: Can you bring this guy over?'" one source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
One of Russia's top private universities, the New Economics School, invited Page to give a public lecture. This was no ordinary event but the prestigious commencement address to its class of graduating students. The venue was Moscow's World Trade Center.
Shaun Walker, the Guardian's Russia correspondent, had attended an event given by Page the previous evening. He described Page's PowerPoint presentation as "really weird." "It looked as if it had been done for a Kazakhstan gas conference," Walker said. "He was talking about the United States' attempts to spread democracy, and how disgraceful they were."
Page was Trump's leading Russia expert. And yet in the question-and-answer session it emerged that Page couldn't really understand or speak Russian. Those seeking answers on Trump's view of sanctions were disappointed. "I'm not here at all talking about my work outside of my academic endeavor," Page said. At the end, Walker said, Page was "spirited off."
Clearly, Page was reluctant to give any clues about a Trump administration's Russia policy or how Trump might succeed in strengthening ties where Obama and George W. Bush had both failed.
So what was he doing in Moscow?
The real purpose of Page's trip was clandestine. He had come to meet with the Kremlin. And in particular with Igor Sechin. Sechin was a former spy and, more importantly, someone who commanded Putin's absolute confidence. He was in effect Russia's second most powerful official, its de facto deputy leader.
In 2014 Page had written a sycophantic piece that lauded Sechin for his "great accomplishments." In a blog for Global Policy, Page wrote that Sechin had done more to advance U..S.-Russian relations than anybody in decades. Sechin was a wronged Russian statesman, in Page's view, unfairly punished and sanctioned by the Obama White House.
This was the backdrop to Page's Moscow trip.