Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page appeared on CNN Saturday morning to respond to CNN’s exclusive report that Russia tried to use Trump’s advisers to infiltrate the campaign. Page was largely dismissive of CNN host Michael Smerconish’s concerns that Russia may have helped elect President Donald Trump, calling reports that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election possibly a “political stunt.” He went on to make it abundantly clear that his greatest concern about the election year was the Obama administration’s potentially illegal surveillance of him and the Trump campaign.
“What I care most about are these steps that were taken to infringe upon my privacy illegally,” the indignant Page said. “That has really been my main concern.”
“It strikes me that you are dismissive of this entire investigation and the prospect of Russians having hacked or attempted to hack the DNC server and played a role in our election,” Smerconish scolded. “You graduated from the Navy Academy, you’ve worn the uniform of your country. Doesn’t this bother you? Don’t you want to get to the bottom of it?”
But Page didn’t budge from his position, saying, “Michael, to be honest with you, what bothers me the most is the severe dishonesty and now potentially with the FISA Court action — false evidence, which is obstruction of justice by definition.”
Page was referring to the “dodgy dossier,” which the FBI used as part of its justification to obtain a FISA warrant. The dossier is a collection of opposition research gathered by British intelligence operative Christopher Steele, who was working for Trump’s political opponents.
“That, to me, is my biggest concern,” said Page. “If there was any meddling in the election — all of the false narrative that has been out there is really the ultimate in meddling.”
Smerconish tried again to get Page on the record condemning Russia’s alleged attempt to interfere in the election, but Page was having none of it.
“You talk about propaganda and also meddling in the election,” he said. “In each of those cases, there was significant steps that have hurt the Trump campaign last year, and have continued to be a cloud over the new administration and really have had serious national security implications.”
“It used to be that political dissent stopped at our borders,” Smerconish argued. “I would think that Carter Page would want it known — I mean I know you have strong feelings about how you’ve been cast as ‘public enemy number one’ and there are things you want people to know. I would think first and foremost, you would want them to know that you’re a patriot, you’re an ‘America first’ guy, and let the parties and the candidates be damned. And if it turns out that the Russians interfered in our election, that would bother you. That’s a lay-up. Why not take that overture?”
“If that were the case … and there was indisputable evidence that that was the case, then I would be totally behind it,” Page answered. “But there are certain questions I have, frankly speaking, just reading that report [the Steele dossier] two weeks before inauguration day, I might add, that makes me wonder whether this was really just a political stunt.”
He added, “I don’t have a final answer on that, but again, I think the bigger meddling in the election was what was done against me and potentially others.”
U.S. officials have been clear that they don’t know whether Page, who has called himself a junior member of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisory team, was aware that the Russians might have tried to use him to gain access surreptitiously to the Trump campaign.
Because of how Russian spy services operate, however, it is possible that Page unknowingly communicated with Russian agents.
Page disputes the idea that 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,” he said in a statement CNN reported Friday, which the FBI and CIA declined to comment on.
The intelligence suggests, however, that 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.
Smerconish asked, “Are you aware of attempts by Russians to use you to infiltrate the Trump campaign?”
“The beauty of that report — and that really is breaking news and I was so excited to read it — Russia tried to use Trump advisers to infiltrate the campaign,” Page replied, pointing out the semi-exculpatory nature of the report.
“Now, remember the headlines for many, many months — the Trump campaign ‘colluded’ or there was nefarious things going on,” Page continued. “Now they’re really reeling things back, and someone is saying out there the word “tried,” right? I’ve certainly seen a lot of tries … over the past year — trying to put in false narratives over many, many months. There certainly were many tries, and I think the dodgy dossier is the ultimate … try and swing and a miss thus far, but we’ll see what happens.”
When asked if he had considered the idea if he had unwittingly been used by the Russians, Carter turned the question around on the media.
“Michael, the only unwitting element that I’m most concerned about is the unwitting media and the unwitting members of Congress that really took on this dodgy dossier and actually read it into the congressional record, and potentially members of the government last year that were using this as part of a domestic political intelligence operation.”
There certainly were a lot of unwitting actions that were done last year, so let’s see how things come out as we get more evidence.
He went on to say that he was “deeply appreciative” of the people who (illegally) leaked information about the FISA warrant. “That leak is a felony,” he pointed out.
There was “no possibility of probable cause” to justify the warrant, Carter said, adding that he was very excited about his privacy act lawsuit that will be moving forward because it will bring out real facts about the case.
“Nothing I was ever asked to do, no information I was ever asked for was anything beyond what you could see on CNN … ” Carter told Smerconish. “Nothing I ever talked about with any Russian official extends beyond that publicly available immaterial information.”