In a March 2016 meeting with the Washington Post’s editorial board, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump named “Carter Page, PhD” as one of the foreign policy experts advising his campaign. At the time, Page was a little-known oil industry consultant. Flash-forward a year: He’s one of the people associated with the Trump campaign who is now under scrutiny for his possible ties to Russia.
Page has denied acting as a liaison between the Trump campaign and Moscow, and federal investigators have reportedly found no evidence of wrongdoing. But in at least two recent TV interviews, Page seemed to flip-flop on an earlier claim that he hadn’t met with any Russian officials during the 2016 race. The White House, meanwhile, has distanced itself from Page. “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign,” Sean Spicer, Trump’s incoming press secretary, said in January.
Here’s what you need to know about Carter Page.
1. He’s an energy expert and ex-investment banker who once lived in Moscow.
That’s according to Page’s biography on the website of Global Energy Capital LLC, a New York City-based investment firm that he founded. Page spent seven years as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch in London, Moscow and New York, according to the biography, and was “involved in over $25 billion of transactions in the energy and power sector.” The biography goes on to say that Page lived in the Russian capital for three years, where he opened a Merrill Lynch office and advised on “key transactions” for Russian energy companies, including the state-owned behemoth Gazprom. He moved back to New York in 2007, according to a profile of Page published in Bloombergin March 2016.
2. He’s a defender of Putin who advocates for friendlier U.S.-Russia relations.
This past June, Page alarmed a group of powerful Washington foreign policy experts with his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to an article published in the Washington Post in August. Page “hailed Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama,” the Post reported, citing three people who were present at the meeting. He also extolled the virtues of closer ties between the United States and Russia. (That’s a viewpoint similar to that of Trump, who said in a characteristic remark during a February 2017 press conference, “If we could get along with Russia, that's a positive thing.”)
Page has criticized recent U.S. policy toward Russia. In a column published in the journal Global Policy in February 2015, Page said the American position on Moscow had been “misguided and provocative,” faulting the U.S. for what he described as “biased philosophies and draconian tactics.” In remarks at Moscow’s New Economic School during a three-day trip to Russia in July 2016, Page reportedly denounced America's "often-hypocritical focus on democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change” when dealing with Russia, China, and Central Asia.
He has been especially critical of U.S. economic sanctions on Russia over its intervention in Ukraine. In a two-hour interview with Bloomberg, Page said his business has been hurt by the sanctions. “So many people who I know and have worked with have been so adversely affected by the sanctions policy,” Page told Bloomberg. “There’s a lot of excitement in terms of the possibilities for creating a better situation.”
3. He once compared Russia, Iran, and China to Adam Sandler’s character in The Waterboy.
Yes, you read that right. In that same February 2015 column in Global Policy, Page wrote that those three nations had “begun to take action against the forces of perceived injustice and harassment” - just like Bobby Boucher, the protagonist of The Waterboy, a 1998 comedy about an angry outcast who takes out his rage on the football field. “Russia, Iran, China and a range of emerging powers have suffered from the same kind of condescending mistreatment that football team bullies once delivered to Boucher and have begun to respond in kind,” Page wrote.
4. He had an ambiguous role on the Trump campaign - a role he and Trump’s team are now downplaying.
In the March 21, 2016, sit-down with the Washington Post, then-candidate Trump was asked to name the members of his foreign policy team. Trump offered a short list:
Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names… Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.
In the Bloomberg profile, published just a week later, Page would not say whether he had met or spoken with candidate Trump. He also would not say how they first got connected. In the August 2016 Washington Post article about Page’s praise of Putin, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks was quoted as saying Page was an “informal foreign policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” In September 2016, Jason Miller, the communications director for the Trump campaign, told The Hill that Page had “never been a part of our campaign. Period.”
In a Feb. 15, 2017, interview with PBS Newshour, Page seemed to downplay his work with the Trump campaign, describing himself as a “junior member” of Trump’s foreign policy team who “never actually briefed or was in any small meetings with” the future president. “I went to rallies with him, but never any direct meetings,” Page said.
6. He is one of the central figures in the firestorm over Trump’s possible links to the Russians.
Here's the big picture: The federal government is investigating possible connections between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, and U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russian government worked to undermine Hillary Clinton and help elect Trump.
In September, Yahoo News investigative correspondent Michael Isikoff, citing multiple sources, reported that U.S. intelligence officials were trying to determine whether Page “had opened up private communications with senior Russian officials” during his trip to Moscow in July. A source told Isikoff that those talks included discussions about the potential removal of economic sanctions if Trump became president. In a lengthy interview with the Washington Post days later, Page dismissed the allegations as “complete garbage” and announced he was taking a leave of absence from the Trump campaign. (Just this week, Politico reported that the Trump campaign had approved Page’s trip to Moscow.)
A day before Trump's inauguration, the New York Times reported that U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies were reviewing “intercepted communications and financial transactions” as part of a probe into possible ties between Russian officials and associates of Trump. The investigation was focused on at least three Trump advisers: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, veteran GOP operative Roger Stone, and Page. At the time of the report, the Times said, U.S. officials had found no evidence of wrongdoing. Page was quoted as saying, “I did nothing wrong, for the 5,000th time.”
7. He’s had some extremely tense TV interviews recently.
In his Feb. 15 interview with PBS Newshour, Page denied having any meetings with Russian officials in the last year. But less than a month later, Page appeared to reverse himself. In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes on March 2, Page admitted to having met with a Russian official - Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak - at last summer’s Republican convention in Cleveland. "I'm not going to deny that I talked with him,” Page told Hayes. “I will say that I never met him anywhere outside of Cleveland, let's just say that much.”
When asked by MSNBC’s Hayes to describe his role on the Trump campaign, Page replied: “It's the old first rule of Fight Club - don't talk about Fight Club.”
In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper the following day, Page seemed to minimize the importance of the meeting with Kislyak, even questioning the meaning of the word “meeting”:
Anderson, a great analogy is you and I were members of the same health club here in New York previously. And I remember walking by you even though we didn't know each other and I said, 'Hi, Anderson,' and you said hello and we, you know - a nice little exchange for half a second. Now, does that to you constitute a meeting?
Page went on to say that he had “never spoken with Ambassador Kislyak for more than 10 seconds.” The interview took place after it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke twice with Kislyak during the presidential campaign. Sessions had failed to disclose that fact during his confirmation hearing. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, resigned in February after it was found he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
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