- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Rep. Adam B. Schiff, who is leading House Democrats’ inquisition into Trump-Russia collusion, has not given up on proving that his party’s financed, Kremlin-sourced dossier is true.

The Californian pressed his case again this month during a long closed hearing with former Trump campaign volunteer Carter Page to try to revive what had become dormant charges of criminal conduct.

Mr. Schiff, who on Wednesday labeled President Trump “the worst president in modern history,” previously said that one of his main objectives for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigation is to find which dossier parts are true.

In the investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election last year, Mr. Schiff and his Democratic colleagues since January have been more than willing to cite the dossier’s paid unidentified Kremlin sources to attack the Trump administration.

Dossier writer Christopher Steele has singled out four Trump campaign figures by name. He is a former British spy hired by Fusion GPS with money from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign. He in turn handed out the money to unidentified Kremlin figures to collect dirt on Mr. Trump.

The four accused in the dossier are Mr. Trump; his attorney, Michael Cohen; onetime campaign manger Paul Manafort; and Mr. Page.

Mr. Page, an Annapolis graduate and former Navy officer, was an unpaid campaign adviser who has done business in Russia, and with Russians, for two decades on energy investments.

He now admits he brought down the roof on Mr. Trump by delivering a publicized speech at Moscow’s New Economic School in July during the campaign. He visited Moscow a month after the Democratic National Committee charged that Russian intelligence had illegally hacked into its computers and pilfered emails.

After the news, Fusion hired Mr. Steele to prove that the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin joined forces to conduct the illegal election interference.

Mr. Steele’s Kremlin spy and government sources took Mr. Page’s well-publicized Moscow visit and turned it into one of the great conspiracy theories of modern presidential politics.

First charge: The two Igors

Mr. Steele said Mr. Page met secretly with Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and leader of the giant oil firm Rosneft, to plot the end of U.S. sanctions against Russia. He also met secretly with Kremlin figure Igor Diveykin, the dossier said.

Mr. Page said he has never met either man and had never heard of Mr. Diveykin until the dossier charges were leaked to the press via briefings arranged by Fusion GPS and co-founder Glenn Simpson.

Mr. Schiff, the intelligence committee’s ranking Democrat, is trying to prove that Mr. Page did meet the two or, at minimum, that he engaged in illegal activity with other Russians in Moscow. He kept at the hunt at the Nov. 2 hearing, according to a transcript released Nov. 6.

Mr. Steele’s name was mentioned in testimony 14 times — thrice by Mr. Schiff. The word “dossier” was uttered 51 times, twice by Mr. Schiff and three times by another Democrat. Most references were made by Mr. Page as he tried to drive home his point that the dossier is fiction. He said it has ruined his New York investment business and he now lives on investment income.

Mr. Page said he has been friends with an investor relations executive, Andrey Baranov, since his days working in Moscow over a decade ago. He said the two met in a bar to watch a soccer match with other American and Russian banker-investors. Mr. Baranov now works at Rosneft, Mr. Sechin’s firm.

“The old friend who you were reconnecting with also works for someone that Mr. Steele alleged that you had met with, Mr. Sechin, correct?” Mr. Schiff asked.

At another point, the congressman asked, “Mr. Steele alleged in the dossier that you had a meeting with someone from the presidential administration, correct?”

“Yeah, which is even more ridiculous,” Mr. Page replied.

Mr. Schiff was referring to Mr. Diveykin, who then was on Mr. Putin’s staff as an intelligence analyst. The dossier says Mr. Diveykin wanted to provide dirt on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Mr. Page has said he never heard of the Kremlin figure.

At no time during the hearing did Mr. Schiff provide evidence, outside the dossier, that Mr. Page met secretly with either Mr. Sechin or Mr. Diveykin.

Second charge: The big deal

A second dossier charge against Mr. Page is that he was offered a brokerage fee on the pending sale of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft.

Mr. Steele wrote in October 2016 that during that same July speaking engagement in Moscow, Mr. Sechin offered Mr. Page the fee in exchange for working in Washington to remove U.S.-imposed sanctions on Rosneft.

Again, Mr. Page said no such meeting happened.

“At either meeting, did you discuss a potential sale of a percentage of Rosneft?” Mr. Schiff asked Mr. Page about his get-togethers with longtime associate Baranov.

Mr. Page said the sale did come up as a topic when he visited Moscow in December. Rosneft’s partial sale was completed and announced that month, making it big news at the time.

“There was a deal that was in the works for some time, which I had nothing to do with ever,” Mr. Page said.

“Dr. Page, this is my specific question,” Mr. Schiff said. “Did you or did you not discuss with Mr. Baranov in July a potential sale of a significant percentage of Rosneft?”

“I have no definitive recollection of that. And certainly what never came, certainly, was my involvement in any — that type of a transition. … It’s inconceivable,” Mr. Page answered.

At a March hearing with then-FBI Director James B. Comey as a witness, Mr. Schiff praised Mr. Steele and quoted the dossier’s charges of criminal conduct by Trump people.

Mr. Schiff specifically cited Mr. Steele for knowing in October, the date of that dossier memo, the precise share of the Rosneft stake: 19 percent.

But as The Washington Times later pointed out, that number was released publicly by the Russian government in July, three months earlier.

Reuters reported July 15, 2016: “The Russian government has announced the criteria for purchasing private shares of state-owned oil company Rosneft, the Vedomosti business daily reported Friday.

“The government is selling 19.5 percent of Rosneft’s total shares, and hopes to make at least 700 billion rubles ($11 billion). This is part of Russia’s largest privatization scheme since the 1990s, with the Russian government reluctantly selling assets during a deep economic recession.”

The sale’s completion was announced in December, so it would not be unusual for Mr. Page, an energy investor, to be discussing something in the news with Rosneft’s Mr. Baranov that same month.

Mr. Schiff presented no proof, outside of the dossier, that Mr. Page discussed a brokerage fee or met with Mr. Sechin.

Third charge: The secret plan

A third serious criminal charge contained in the dossier is that Mr. Page and onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort organized the entire Russian election interference operation with Moscow.

Mr. Page testified that he had never met or spoken with Mr. Manafort. He said he sent him a single email, which was not returned, about a pending New York Times story.

The Democratic questioning on Mr. Manafort was mostly left to Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat.

Mr. Swalwell has created a website that he says shows an unusually high number of Russian contacts with Trump associates.

Trump people respond that, over a 40-year career in global land development, it would not be unusual for his contacts to know Russians or, for that matter, business people from other countries. They call Mr. Swalwell’s chart “guilt by association.”

“Dr. Page, during the course of the campaign, did you ever meet Paul Manafort?” Mr. Swalwell asked.

“Never,” Mr. Page answered.

“Have you ever spoken to Paul Manafort?”

Mr. Page: “I have never spoken to Paul Manafort.”

At the March hearing with the FBI’s Mr. Comey, Mr. Swalwell floated the idea that Mr. Trump was compromised while visiting Moscow. In the dossier, Mr. Steele says Mr. Trump and prostitutes engaged in salacious behavior at the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Mr. Trump says the charge is false.

“I want to talk about the Kremlin playbook, and there are a number of ways that a foreign adversary can seek to influence a person. Do you agree with that?” Mr. Swalwell said.

Mr. Comey: Yes.

Mr. Swalwell: Financial?

Mr. Comey: Yes, that can be one.

Mr. Swalwell: Romance, you said, is another.

Mr. Comey: Yes.

One of Mr. Steele’s more sensational charges is that Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, traveled to Prague in August 2016. The purpose, said the dossier, was to meet with Putin agents and organize a grand cover-up of Russian election interference.

Mr. Cohen has shown associates his passport, which shows no Czech Republic visits. He has produced an itinerary that showed he was visiting his son in California at the time.

But Mr. Schiff continues to hunt for improper Cohen ties to Eastern Europe. He asked Mr. Page if, during a visit to Budapest in September 2016, he met with spies. He also asked whether the Hungarian ambassador to the U.S. discussed Mr. Cohen.

“Did Michael Cohen’s name ever come up?” Mr. Schiff asked.

Mr. Page said, “I don’t think so.”

Liberal bloggers have woven a web of conspiracies around any Trump-connected person who has ever visited Hungary, which is friendly toward Mr. Putin.

Defending the dossier

A few days before Mr. Page’s Nov. 2 testimony, Mr. Schiff was interviewed on CNN by Chris Cuomo. He again put in a strong defense for dossier writer Mr. Steele and his Russian sources.

Mr. Schiff has opposed efforts by intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes, California Republican, to determine the dossier’s paymaster. Mr. Nunes signed a subpoena for bank records. In court, the Democrats’ general counsel acknowledged that the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign provided the money to Fusion GPS, which paid Mr. Steele, who paid his Kremlin sources.

Mr. Schiff said to Mr. Cuomo:

“Interestingly, Christopher Steele, this well-respected British former MI6 officer, may have recognized and known that the Russians were intervening on behalf of one of the U.S. presidential candidates before our own intelligence agencies. And I also want to underscore something that Jim Clapper [Mr. Obama’s former intelligence chief] just said a moment ago, and that is when the intelligence community concluded that the Russians had intervened in our election and compiled that unclassified assessment, they were not relying on the dossier to do that. So I think this is a bit of an effort to discredit Christopher Steele, discredit the dossier, ignore how much of it has been corroborated already and ignore the fact that the intelligence community is operating from a broad array of sources as a way of basically calling this all a hoax. And it just doesn’t add up to me.”

A Washington Times analysis of Mr. Steele’s 35-page document shows that he accuses seven people or groups of election collusion crimes.

They are: Mr. Trump, Mr. Manafort, Mr. Page, Mr. Cohen, entrepreneur Aleksej Gubarev, Russian embassy economics chief Mikhail Kalugin and owners of Moscow’s Alfa Bank.

To date, there has not been official public confirmation of any of Mr. Steele’s core accusations against those people.

In a London court filing, Mr. Steele says he warned Washington reporters that they should confirm his accusations and not quote his dossier. He acknowledged that computer hacking charges he made against Mr. Gubarev were not verified.

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

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