CNN’s latest report about Russian meddling in the 2016 election does nothing to bolster the media narrative that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. The story — “Sources: Russia tried to use Trump advisers to infiltrate campaign” — in fact rather undermines the narrative because if Russia had to “infiltrate” the campaign by interacting with clueless Trump surrogates, how is that “collusion”?
According to CNN’s sources, “the FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign.” Page, of course, denies that he did anything wrong and says that he looks forward to the truth coming out.
These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
Page disputes the idea he has ever collected intelligence for the Russians, saying he helped the US intelligence community. “My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past.”
But the intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say.
Page is one of several Trump advisers US and European intelligence found to be in contact with Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the campaign, according to multiple US officials.
In 2013, Page had meetings with a Russian man who turned out to be a spy, according to federal prosecutors. Page denied knowing that the man, Victor Podobnyy, was secretly a Russian operative living in New York.
CNN’s sources said that Page “drew the attention of the FBI” when he traveled to Moscow in July of 2016 to give a speech at a prominent university that was critical of U.S. policy, “raising concerns” that he had been compromised by Russian intelligence.
The FBI must have been a very busy bureau indeed if its attention was drawn to every individual who was ever critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
How Page’s name became associated with the campaign is a reflection of how minimal the Trump operation was last year, as establishment national security figures avoided an association with the insurgent operation.
As Trump prepared to meet with The Washington Post editorial page in March 2016, the campaign was under pressure to name national security advisers. Staffers produced a list of names for Trump to refer to, according to a US official close to the campaign. Trump mentioned Page, in part because he had a Ph.D. listed next to his name, the official said.
Trump had never met Page. Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, helped gather the names that the candidate used.
Campaign officials say there’s no indication Page ever attended any national security meetings at Trump Tower. They insisted he played a junior role and was not an influential figure.
But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign.
“For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.”
When he returned to Moscow to give another speech in December 2016, Russian state-run media, including RT and Sputnik, widely covered and promoted his trip, CNN goes on to report.
The FBI and other US agencies have been combing through information obtained through that FISA as part of its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.
Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials.
But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, US officials say.
CNN is trying to break it to their audience as gently as they can: The Trump/Russia collusion narrative is unraveling.