Why can’t Donald Trump’s former adviser, Carter Page, get his answers straight on his contacts with Russian officials?
As Carter Page began his media tour on Thursday, it seemed his efforts to clear his name were being overrun by events in real-time. “I’m public enemy number one,” Page said as he sat down for interviews with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on Thursday and CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Friday. If he was that before the interviews, the heat turned up after them.
44-year-old Page, you’ll remember, is the former adviser to the Trump campaign with a penchant for Moscow’s foreign strategic interests. Page also has the dubious honor of being repeatedly named in the dossier of alleged compromising intelligence on Donald Trump, collated by former British spy, Christopher Steele.
“The dodgy dossier,” Page called Christopher Steele’s findings in his interviews. The dossier does indeed contain some spectacular claims, but Steele’s record has been endorsed by the FBI and some, but definitely not all, of its details have been verified.
As he sat across Chris Hayes and Anderson Cooper for his live interviews, Page’s shifting eyes and erratic head movements belied the forced smile he wore throughout. Page is clearly a man under enormous pressure. To be fair, it’s not been an easy time for him. He’s suspected of having met Russian officials on behalf of the Trump campaign, even, it’s alleged, discussing what would be a massive bribe – if true – in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. But all of that has been strenuously denied by the Trump administration and Page and remains unproven.
If Page was trying to build up his credibility with the interviews, the events of the day conspired against him. As he sat down for his national interviews, the headlines were about one thing. Five new names had been added to the list of Trump officials who had met Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Page was among them.
Just two week prior, Page was interviewed on PBS by Judy Woodruff. Woodruff repeatedly pressed Page, who was appearing via satellite, about any alleged meetings with Russian officials.
WOODRUFF: “Did you have any meetings — I’ll ask again — did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?”
PAGE: “I had no meetings, no meetings. I might have said hello to a few people, you know, as they’re walking by me at my graduation — the graduation speech I gave in July. But no meetings.”
Then on Thursday, as he was preparing for his interview on MSNBC, fellow Trump adviser J.D. Gordon revealed he and Page met Ambassador Sergey Kislyak last July in Cleveland. Host Chris Hayes began his interview at at 8:20 PM and it was clear Page’s blanket denial had worn thin.
Hayes: “Did you meet with the Ambassador?”
Page: “I’m not going to deny that I talked to him.”
If you’re keeping count, that now makes three former or current Trump advisers who have admitted to lying, or forgetting, their meetings with the Russian ambassador. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and now Page. For whatever reason, there’s a pattern among Trump operators of denials about meetings with Russian officials, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be suspicious at all, but when denied so strenuously, begin to smell fishy.
By Friday on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, Page was trying to change the “meeting” into a brief ten-second hello.
COOPER: “So, did you speak to the Russian ambassador for more than ten seconds?”
PAGE: “Never more than — again, I don’t want to talk specifics but I can assure, I’ve never spoken with Ambassador Kislyak more than 10 seconds. Yes. That’s a safe statement.”
If that’s true, the participants of the meeting must possess a remarkable ability to discuss complex issues in the time the rest of us say hello and make small talk. As fellow Trump adviser Gordon recalls the meeting, it was a conversation about toning down the RNC plank supporting the Ukrainian troops with “advanced defensive weapons” and then candidate Donald Trump’s intention to improve relations with the Kremlin.
The most explosive claim in the “Steele Dossier” about Page is that he attended a meeting with a long-time ally of Vladimir Putin, Igor Sechin and a senior Russian intelligence official, Sergei Ivanov on July 7 or 8 last year. In that meeting, a source allegedly revealed to Steele, Trump was offered a 19% stake in Russia’s massive oil company, Rosneft, in exchange for a softening of sanctions. While this meeting has never been independently verified and its existence denied, Page offered Chris Hayes a shifting description of whether it occurred.
HAYES: “Did you meet with either of those individuals?”
PAGE: “Not, No, never.”
HAYES: “You never met with either of them?”
PAGE: “Not one-on-one, no. I may have been at a meeting with them at a conference so I want to be careful. But I never shook either of their hands, for sure.”
There’s so much slip-room in that statement that Page’s denial strains credulity. For someone deeply ingrained in Russia’s foreign and energy sector, it’s hard to imagine Page wouldn’t recall meeting a man of Igor Sechin’s stature – even briefly at a conference.
But the most interesting part of both interviews, is when Page offers up an explanation for that controversial part of the “Steele Dossier”. Was 19% of Russian state-run oil, Rosneft, offered in exchange of a softening of sanctions against Russia? Curiously, it’s Page who brings up the the topic during his MSNBC interview.
PAGE: “Who actually bought Rosneft?”
HAYES: “Well, we don’t know?”
PAGE: “It’s public record. It’s Glencore and who is the founder of Glencore? Marc Rich. So if you want to ask someone about Marc Rich, the Clintons are better people to ask.”
True, Marc Rich founded Glencore and also true, President Bill Clinton pardoned his friend, Rich, for tax evasion related to shady oil deals with Iran, in 2001. It’s also true that 19.5% of Rosneft was sold a month after Donald J. Trump was elected president. It’s not completely true however, that Glencore was the buyer of the Rosneft stake
Here’s all that’s known about the purchase of the Rosneft stake. (It’s worth diving into because I have a feeling you’ll hear “the Clintons did it” a lot should this deal continue to receive scrutiny.)
On Dec 8, one month after Trump was elected President, Russia sold 19.5% of Rosneft to a shell company equally and jointly owned by Glencore and Qatar Investments. Contrary to Page’s assertion the deal is public record, the holding company is registered in the Cayman Islands which doesn’t require the public disclosure of a company’s owners or directors. How the deal was funded is also the subject of increased scrutiny. Notably, Glencore only paid $318 Mn in cash for its $5.4 Bn stake in Rosneft. The rest was put up by unknown European and Russian banks. So contrary to Page’s claims, the recipient of the Rosneft stake remains unknown and may never be found out.
As I sat mulling Page’s interviews, one question kept coming up. Why did Page decide to go public? If he sought to clear his name through his two live interviews on CNN and MSNBC, it was a failed endeavor. More likely, he was adding to the public defense of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. By the end of the weekend, this also included President Trump’s assertion that his phones were wire-tapped by former President Barack Obama.
According to the Washington Post, president Donald J. Trump is mad. Angry that his phones may have been wire-tapped and fuming that Russia keeps dogging his young Presidency. There seems to be only one solution. Come clean on all of it, no matter how damning. Continuing this obfuscation through a series of revelations and denials will not make this go away and the cover up opens up the possibility of perjury. It may not be how the president wants to spend his electoral capital, but it may be the only way to turn the page, now.