- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2017

Carter Page, the Trump campaign’s onetime volunteer adviser on Russia, views with amazement how much a Democratic opposition research dossier has been increasingly embraced by the liberal power structure in Washington.

He told The Washington Times that he is stunned because the dossier is “completely false” and “full of lies” about his supposed conduct vis-a-vis Russia last summer. The FBI, which obtained a copy of the dossier, has been investigating the conduct since July.

“The mistakes are so laughable and humorous they’re beyond words,” Mr. Page said of a dossier that has him meeting with Russians whom he insists he has never met. “It’s just so wild that it’s amazing.”

Not one of the sensational allegations in the Democrat-financed memos from former British spy Christopher Steele has been verified independently, at least publicly. Yet Democrats are citing the dossier as a reason to achieve their major political objective — an independent investigative commission on Trump-Russia.

Democrats say routinely on cable news channels that some of Mr. Steele’s findings have been confirmed, but they do not specify which ones.

Mr. Steele’s gossipy, thirdhand anecdotes contain a central allegation: There was an elaborate conspiracy between Trump campaign aides and the highest levels of the Kremlin to hack the Hillary Clinton campaign computers, release stolen emails and spread disinformation.

Mr. Page was smack dab in the middle, said chief accuser Mr. Steele and his Orbis Business Intelligence firm in London.

Mr. Page runs investment firm Global Energy Capital LLC in New York City. Before that, he was an investment banker for Merrill Lynch and spent three years in Moscow last decade making deals with Russian businesses. His knowledge of and communications with Russians is part of his livelihood.

He has been doing exactly what then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged American entrepreneurs to do in 2012 as she stood next to then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

“We are committed to broadening and deepening ties between our two economies,” she said in Moscow.

The Steele dossier, written as a series of memos during the summer and fall, hit the streets Jan. 10 via the news website Buzzfeed, whose editor publicly doubted its veracity. The memos contained sensational charges that Mr. Page colluded with Putin oligarchs. In The Times interview, Mr. Page specifically rebutted all of the accusations.

There are four main charges concerning Mr. Page:

Mr. Steele wrote that Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s summertime campaign manager, and Mr. Page formed an alliance to work with Russian intelligence to hack the Clinton campaign.

Mr. Page called this assertion “ridiculous.” Referring to himself as a “junior paid volunteer,” he said he has never met Mr. Manafort.

“Steele is saying I’m conspiring with Manafort. It’s so fictional,” he said.

Second, Mr. Steele wrote that during Mr. Page’s July trip to Moscow to give a speech at the New Economic School, he held a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, president of the state-owned Rosneft oil company and a close ally of President Putin.

Mr. Page said he delivered an unpaid speech at the university, a talk that was covered by the news media that day. Mr. Page said he has never met Mr. Sechin.

“No, I have never met him,” he said. “It’s totally false.”

Mr. Steele also wrote that Mr. Sechin offered Mr. Page a brokerage fee when Russia sold a 19 percent stake in Rosneft to outside investors. In exchange, the Trump adviser was to urge the candidate to end economic sanctions against Russia.

Mr. Page said no one ever made such an offer.

In his fourth charge against Mr. Page, Mr. Steele wrote that, while in Moscow, Mr. Page also met with a man named Igor Divyekin, a Russian official. He supposedly told Mr. Page that the Kremlin had compromising information on Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, as well as Mr. Trump.

Mr. Page said the first he ever heard of Mr. Divyekin was from the dossier.

He told The Times: “I had never heard of him. I asked a lot of people I knew in Moscow, all people from the university, some business friend people, ‘Have you ever heard of this guy?’

“I’m very careful that the things I say are accurate. If I’m going to say I did not meet him, I may have said hello to someone, right? So I wanted to be double, triple, quadruple sure that what I’m saying is accurate, right?

“Not only had I never heard of him, everyone I asked had never heard the guy’s name. He’s not a known person. He’s like someone in the bureaucracy who may have an important position but not someone who is publicly known and not someone I met with.”

Intel committee ‘facts’

The Steele paper, financed by Democrats via the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, has been denounced as inaccurate by some in the news media, by former Obama administration intelligence officials and by the Trump team.

James R. Clapper, former director of national intelligence, said his agency could not verify any of Mr. Steele’s sources.

Former Deputy CIA Director Michael J. Morell, a Clinton adviser, said he learned that Mr. Steele did not talk to sources directly but with paid intermediaries.

“On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke but there is no fire, at all,” Mr. Morell said at an event sponsored by security analysis website The Cipher Brief. “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.”

In his most sensational allegation, Mr. Steele wrote that Mr. Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, met in Prague with Russian intelligence officials.

Mr. Cohen has presented evidence that he was in Southern California at the time. He said he has never been to Prague and showed the campaign his passport to prove it.

In other words, a critical meeting evincing a Trump conspiracy could not have happened, casting doubt on Mr. Steele’s investigative methods and other claims of secret get-togethers.

What’s more, Russian tech CEO Aleksej Gubard is suing Mr. Steele for charging that his firm was involved in Russian-sponsored hacking into Democrats’ emails.

Yet Mr. Page watched with amazement on March 20 as Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence read portions of the Steele dossier into the record as certified facts.

They were led by Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s ranking Democrat. At the committee’s first public hearing in its probe into Russian interference in the Nov. 8 election, Mr. Schiff read Mr. Steele’s version of Mr. Page’s visit to Moscow. He offered no independent verification.

Mr. Schiff gave Mr. Steele credit for knowing the precise share — 19 percent — that oil company Rosneft planned to sell, when in fact the Russian government had announced that percentage months before Mr. Steele wrote the memo. It was public knowledge.

At the March 20 hearing, FBI Director James B. Comey announced that he had been authorized by the Justice Department to disclose that the bureau was investigating any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The Washington Post reported this month that the Obama Justice Department obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court warrant to surveil Mr. Page as a foreign agent, beginning in July.

This was about the same time the FBI obtained the Steele dossier.

Questions for the FBI

The question some Republicans are asking is: Did the Steele dossier prompt the Obama administration to open the investigation into candidate Trump? And did the administration cite information in the dossier as evidence to obtain the warrant?

The intrigue grows deeper. The Post reported Feb. 28 that the FBI reached a financial agreement with Mr. Steele to continue investigating Mr. Trump.

If true, the agreement created the odd marriage of a partisan Democrat-paid investigator being hired by the FBI to investigate the future president a few weeks before the election. The deal never went through because the dossier and Mr. Steele’s name had become public, The Post reported.

The timeline (the dossier went public in January) would mean that the FBI wanted Mr. Steele to investigate President-elect Trump and ultimately President Trump.

The Washington Times asked the FBI to confirm or deny that it had made such a deal. The public affairs office declined.

The New York Times reported that Fusion GPS and Mr. Steele spread the dossier to journalists and to the FBI.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, has begun pressing the FBI for answers on what role the dossier played as the bureau made decisions to investigate and surveil Trump aides.

“The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for president in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI’s independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration’s use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends,” Mr. Grassley said in a March 6 letter to Mr. Comey, the bureau’s director.

He demanded a reply by March 20 and asked for documentation of agents’ interviews with Mr. Steele. A subsequent Grassley letter said the FBI had missed the March 20 deadline.

A key Grassley question: “Has the FBI relied on or otherwise referenced the memos or any information in the memos in seeking a FISA warrant, other search warrant or any other judicial process?”

He also asked: “Has the FBI verified or corroborated any of the allegations made in the memos? Were any allegations or other information from the memo included in any documents created by the FBI, or which the FBI helped to create, without having been independently verified or corroborated by the FBI beforehand? If so, why?”

Mr. Grassley on March 24 targeted Democratic Party-linked Fusion GPS, run by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn R. Simpson.

“When political opposition research becomes the basis for law enforcement or intelligence efforts, it raises substantial questions about the independence of law enforcement and intelligence from politics,” Mr. Grassley wrote to Mr. Simpson.

On April 7, Fusion’s attorneys of the Washington firm Cunningham, Levy, Muse LLP wrote to Mr. Grassley saying the company would not answer the chairman’s questions.

‘Under surveillance’

“The March 24 letter calls for information and documents protected by the First Amendment rights, attorney-client privilege, attorney work product, and contractual rights (e.g., confidentiality agreements) of Fusion GPS and/or its clients,” the letter said. “Thus, so as to preserve those privileges and rights, we will not otherwise be responding to the questions enumerated within the March 24 letter.”

Mr. Page told The Washington Times that he, too, would like to know what role the unproven dossier played in the Obama administration persuading a judge to approve a wiretap on him.

“When you lie to a court, the FISA court is a court, that is a crime,” he said.

The Steele dossier appears to have made its way into intelligence briefings to members of Congress and then into news stories, though the Steele memos were not identified as the source.

In September, months before Buzzfeed published the raw Steele memos, a story appeared in Yahoo News. It cited intelligence sources as saying they were investigating whether Mr. Page secretly met in Moscow with Igor Sechin and Igor Divyekin — the two names found in the Steele dossier.

Again, Mr. Page told The Times that he had never met with those two Russians.

Mr. Page said that story spelled the end to his volunteer work for Mr. Trump. Campaign representatives said he was not part of the Trump team.

Before the Yahoo story, then-Sen. Harry Reid wrote a letter to Mr. Comey in August. He did not name Mr. Page but referred to a “Trump adviser” who was accused of meeting with “high-ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow.” The charge appears to come right out of the Steele investigation which had been turned over to the FBI.

Mr. Page was an ideal suspect for liberals to accuse of Moscow collusion, given his pro-Moscow stances, his opposition to economic sanctions and his investments in Gazprom, the Russian natural gas firm.

Mr. Reid said it was a conflict of interest for a Trump surrogate and investor in Russia to be promoting an end to sanctions.

Mr. Page said the focus of his investments since founding Global Energy in 2008 has been the Middle East, Africa, Asia and North America.

Mr. Page served as a Navy officer from 1993 to 1998, achieving the rank of lieutenant. He received the Joint Service Commendation Medal as a U.N. military observer in the Western Sahara. He received the Navy Achievement Medal for his work with the USS America aircraft carrier battle group in the Adriatic Sea during the Bosnia conflict.

After Mr. Schiff read portions of the Steele dossier at the March 20 intelligence committee hearing, Mr. Page sent a letter to him and committee Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican.

“I would eagerly welcome the chance to speak with the committee to help finally set the record straight following the false evidence, illegal activities as well as other lies distributed by certain politically motivated suspects in coordination with the Obama administration, which defamed me and other Americans,” he wrote.

Directly responding to Mr. Schiff’s reliance on the unproven dossier, Mr. Page wrote: “Amongst many other complete lies, this excerpt from the highly inaccurate dossier concocted by the political consultant Mr. Steele remained one of the primary false allegations against me throughout much of last year.

“Extensive recent reporting by The New York Times and other news organizations has been built on a foundation of many falsehoods with potential support from members of the Obama administration,” he wrote.

In a separate letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month, Mr. Page described his business routine: He works from an office building attached to the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, dines at the Trump Grille, meets associates in the Trump Tower Starbucks and has attended campaign events there.

Thus, he charged, the FBI surveillance of him by the Obama administration amounted to surveilling the Trump campaign.

“So if prior media reports may be believed that surveillance was indeed undertaken against me and other Trump supporters, it should be essentially deemed as a proven fact that the American people’s concerns that Trump Tower was under surveillance last year is entirely correct,” he said, a reference to President Trump’s assertion that his office was “wiretapped” by the Obama administration.

Asked about the status of the FBI investigation, Mr. Page told The Washington Times, “I’m quite optimistic in the direction this is heading.”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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