Hours after Democrats accused Carter Page of being a Russian asset at a 2017 hearing of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the former Trump campaign adviser received a chilling voicemail.
The caller screamed an expletive-laced tirade and threatened to beat him to death.
“If it was up to me, after we [expletive] tried you for treason, we’d take you out in the street and beat the [expletive] piss out of you with baseball bats, you [expletive] sucking mother [expletive],” the unknown caller said, according to a transcript Mr. Page filed in court documents in a separate case. “Next time you turn your back on your [expletive] country, you’ll [expletive] regret it.”
The call, one of several from the same Oklahoma number, is one of hundreds of death threats aimed at Mr. Page since special counsel Robert Mueller began investigating the 2016 presidential election nearly two years ago.
Mr. Mueller has found plenty of wrongdoing. He has filed more than 100 public charges against 34 individuals and three companies.
But he also has left a lot of collateral damage in his wake. People who have never been charged have endured endless harassment, crippling legal bills and collapsing businesses.
‘A life or death situation’
“It’s a life or death situation. I can’t walk out on the street because of the threats,” Mr. Page told The Washington Times.
Michael Caputo, a communications consultant who worked on the Trump campaign, said his nightmare began after the same March 2017 House hearing that Mr. Page singled out.
During that hearing, Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, referred to Mr. Caputo as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “image consultant.”
“That comment changed our lives forever,” he said. “The more this bogus investigation unfolded, the more my family suffers. When this is over — if it is ever over — where do I go to get my reputation back? There is no office of reputation restoration.”
He stopped counting after the threats to him topped 50.
The vileness has arrived through letters, phone calls and social media. One person vowed to burn his house to the ground while his children were inside. Another said, “When someone puts a bullet in your head, I will piss on your head. A Twitter user told him, “Me running into you and smashing your [expletive] head open is optimal, but you going broke will d[o].”
“I have three children, and my family lives in fear,” Mr. Caputo said. “All of this has happened to me, and I’m just a witness. I’m not a central player.”
Ms. Speier was not troubled.
“Welcome to the crowd. We get death threats all the time,” she told The Times. “Do you want me to show you the list of death threats I have?”
She said she stands by her claim that Mr. Caputo has connections to Mr. Putin and insisted that his company worked to improve the Russian leader’s image in the U.S.
Mr. Caputo said it’s not true. His public relations firm did business with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, but not Mr. Putin. He highlighted several op-ed pieces he has written that were critical of Mr. Putin.
“All she has to do is look at what I’ve written to know that I’m no ally of Putin, but she’s too lazy or too busy to do that,” he said.
Law enforcement involved
Fearing for his family’s safety, Mr. Caputo has installed a high-tech security system in his home and office, which includes shotguns installed in wall safes that can be accessed with the touch of a button. He said he also carries handguns with him and has reduced his travel by 90 percent.
He also has formed a quick-reaction force of friends who have promised to respond at a moment’s notice. Mr. Caputo said one text could deliver 50 people to his house in less than 10 minutes, if necessary.
Shane Krieger, the police chief in Mr. Caputo’s hometown, confirmed that local authorities have investigated threats directed at the former Trump adviser and said officers keep an eye on his house during overnight shifts.
Most of the threats have been untraceable, although officers did speak to a person who sent Mr. Caputo “vulgar and obscene” Facebook messages about his daughter, according to police reports reviewed by The Times. The suspect was deemed as not a serious threat and released with a warning.
Mr. Page said he has reported the Oklahoma calls to the FBI and handed over audio recordings. He said he is frustrated with the lack of response and expressed his dismay in a letter to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray that went unanswered.
“The FBI has blown it off, and they kept getting worse,” Mr. Page said of the calls, which persisted for about a year and a half.
Last week, Mr. Page sent a letter to Sen. James Lankford, a Republican who represents Oklahoma, the origin of some of the threatening calls, hoping he would pressure the FBI to act.
Other Trump campaign officials who have appeared before Mr. Mueller’s team say the special counsel is aware of the threats and takes them seriously, and is assisting witnesses in reporting intimidation efforts to the FBI.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mr. Mueller, declined to comment.
An FBI spokeswoman said the agency does not confirm or deny investigations.
Like Ms. Speier’s public comments, news accounts or other media appearances seem to spur some of the vitriol.
Mr. Page noticed that some of the threatening calls from the Oklahoma number coincided with articles or television appearances by Ali Watkins, a reporter who had a romantic relationship with James Wolfe, a former security director for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Prosecutors said Wolfe fed Ms. Watkins inside information about Mr. Page. Wolfe was never charged with leaking, but he did plead guilty to lying about his contacts with reporters.
Mr. Page said he believes Wolfe bears responsibility for some of the threats he faces, and he made that request of the judge overseeing Wolfe’s case. It was not mentioned as a factor in Wolfe’s sentencing.
Another former Trump campaign official, J.D. Gordon, confirmed to The Times that he has received threats and reported the four worst to the FBI cybercrimes unit. He said when he calls a ride-hailing service, he gives the address of a local train station or church to shield his home address.
Richard Pinedo was not part of the Trump orbit, but he also has faced blowback for his role in the Russia meddling saga. He was sentenced to six months in prison for selling fake identities to the 13 Russians indicted by Mr. Mueller for meddling in the 2016 election.
When he was arrested, he was harassed by people on the left accusing him of being a traitor, his attorney told the court. But when Pinedo pleaded guilty and cooperated with Mr. Mueller’s team, those on the right started attacking him.
Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, said the dueling reactions reflect the polarized political environment.
“Unfortunately, today in America if you are liberal or conservative, you are either loved or hated,” he said. “There is no in between because we’ve lost that respect for one another.”
He said authorities must evaluate the threats on a case-by-case basis.
“Someone who is going to kill you usually doesn’t tell you,” he said. “But if a death threat appears to know someone’s routine, where their kids go to school or what kind of car they drive, then they have my attention.”
The harassment is not limited to the witnesses.
Mr. Caputo said his public relations business’ largest client dropped him, citing harassment over its ties to him. He has lost 50 percent of revenue and had to lay off half his staff, close one office and consolidate his remaining employees into an office one-third the size of their previous location.
“My legal costs are over $200,000, but the lost opportunity costs are probably triple that,” he said.
Mr. Page said businesses he started have been “demolished” because the publicity surrounding his case has made it nearly impossible to attract clients. He declined to discuss his legal costs beyond describing them as a “large number.”
Jerome Corsi, who was questioned by Mr. Mueller’s team, said he has not experienced the harassment directed at others, aside from a few people on social media telling him that he is going to jail. But economically, he is feeling similar pain as others ensnared in the Russia investigation.
Mr. Corsi said he now has no monthly income and is embroiled in a legal battle with his former employer, InfoWars, over his termination last year. The taint of the Russia investigation has made him too toxic for any potential employer.
The client drain has even spread to relatives of people associated with the Russia investigation.
Pinedo said clients of his father’s boss demanded that he be fired because “he’s a traitor to this country.”