Washington (AFP) - A former Donald Trump advisor at the eye of a firestorm over alleged ties to Russia by the billionaire businessman's presidential campaign on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing.
Former aide Carter Page, an oil industry consultant, spoke out amid reports that the FBI investigated him last year for ties to Russian intelligence.
Page, speaking on CNN as the White House scrambled to distance itself from him, insisted that allegations of impropriety during the 2016 US presidential race were "false evidence against me."
He told the TV station that he had "no comment" about the FBI probe.
The Washington Post reported that federal investigators obtained a rare warrant from the top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page's communications -- the first concrete confirmation of government surveillance of Trump's team.
During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump sometimes referred to Page as one of his foreign policy advisors.
It has now emerged that federal prosecutors and an intelligence court judge at least suspected the former Moscow-based banker was also working for or with the Russians.
The White House rushed to downplay Page's ties to Trump and the campaign.
One current official told AFP that Page never met Trump, did not have a campaign pass and was only mentioned as an advisor because the billionaire candidate was under pressure to show he had a policy brain trust.
The official admitted that Page could have written policy memos for the campaign, but his name was only on a list of supposed advisors because of a recommendation from Sam Clovis, an Iowa conservative now working in Trump's Department of Agriculture.
The FBI declined to comment on the Post report.
The bureau is investigating Russian interference in the US election, an operation US intelligence later concluded was designed to help Trump win the presidency over Hillary Clinton.
The FBI began its probe, which also is examining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, in July.
- 'I wasn't' an agent -
Trump has repeatedly called the Russian interference story "fake news" while alleging, without offering evidence, that the previous administration of president Barack Obama spied on him and his campaign.
In March 2016, Trump named Page as one of his small team of foreign policy advisors, and Page attended the Republican convention in July, where he and others met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
But months later Page was disavowed by the campaign, apparently in part because of the attention drawn by his trips to Moscow, which he said involved private business.
His name surfaced in a dossier of reports on links between the Trump operation and Russia that was complied by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Page told the Post he had "nothing to hide."
"This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance," Page said.
On Wednesday, when CNN pressed him directly about whether he was acting as an agent for a foreign government, Page responded: "Of course I wasn't."
He acknowledged that he met a Russian in New York, and while he did not know the man was an agent at the time, it was later revealed that he was.
"I never gave him any information which is material or classified or in any way improper," Page said.
He added that he met for coffee with the man and discussed material from some of his lectures and some public research reports, "and that was the end of it."
Page also said he spoke to no Russian officials when he was there last summer.
Meanwhile CNN reported Tuesday that recent intelligence reports brought to light by Republican congressman Devin Nunes did not show, as Nunes had alleged, that the Obama administration combed intelligence intercepts to find information about Trump and his team.
Both Republican and Democratic sources said the reports showed Obama national security advisor Susan Rice had handled the intelligence in "normal and appropriate" ways, according to CNN.
Nunes was forced to step aside as chair of the House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Russian election interference due to his mishandling of those reports.