Russian Spies Thought Trump Adviser Carter Page Was an ‘Idiot’—But Still Tried to Recruit Him
A footnote left unredacted in the just-released memo ‘correcting the record’ on the Russia investigation shows why, as early as 2013, the FBI thought Page might be a Russian spy.
The bombshell is in the footnote.
Before the House Intelligence Committee could release its minority report defending the performance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department investigating ties between Trump campaign advisor Carter Page and the Russian intelligence services, large sections were blacked out, ostensibly for security reasons (PDF).
But the core argument still comes through clearly: the FBI had been watching Page as a potential Russian spy since 2013, long before Page was mentioned in the dossier of dirt on the Trump-Russia connection compiled by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele over the summer and fall of 2016.
Indeed, the FBI had managed to bug what the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) considered a secure office in New York, and had picked up detailed conversations about recruitment efforts, including those apparently focused on Page.
But to discover just how detailed, one must follow the footnotes.
At the bottom of page three in the Democratic memo, about half of the last paragraph is blacked out. It says Page, an energy consultant, had “an extensive record” doing something we are not allowed to read “prior to joining the Trump campaign.” It notes that he lived in Moscow from 2004 to 2007 and “pursued business deals with Russia’s state-owned energy company Gazprom.” And when “a Russian intelligence officer … targeted Page for recruitment, Page showed [something that’s blacked out].”
Page has not been charged with any crimes and has denied repeatedly to the FBI, to congressional investigators, and in public, that he was involved with the Russian intelligence services or in any respect responsible for alleged complicity between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It’s precisely because the Feds did not believe Page that they requested a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant in October 2016 and renewed it three times, through September 2017.
At the top of page four of the redacted Democratic memo we start to learn why. The first paragraph is in the clear:
“Page remained on the radar of Russian intelligence and the FBI,” the Democratic memo reads in boldface. “In 2013, prosecutors indicted three other Russian spies”—an interesting choice of words, seeming to imply Page was one as well. The memo says two of those spies had “targeted Page for recruitment. The FBI also interviewed Page multiple times about his Russian intelligence contacts, including in March 2016.” That was the same month Page became a Trump campaign advisor.
And at this point in the first paragraph of page four of the redacted Democratic memo, footnote 10 leads us to a reference that is partly blacked out. But the footnote cites in the clear the case of U.S. v. Evgeny Buryakov, a/k/a “Zhenya,” Igor Sporyshev, and Victor Podobnyy, U.S. Southern District of New York, January 23, 2015.
All three of those named were indicted as agents for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).
Buryakov was under “non-official cover” as a bank employee without diplomatic immunity. He had been leading a seeming placid existence in the bucolic Riverdale section of the Bronx with his wife and two children. He pleaded guilty in U.S. Federal Court in early 2016 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.
The other two spies were officially working for the Russian government in relatively benign capacities: Sporyshev as a trade representative and Podobnyy as an attaché at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations.
Unfortunately those two, Sporyshev and Podobnyy, were protected by diplomatic immunity and were allowed to leave the United States. They are the ones who would know precisely if, when and how Page may have been recruited successfully.
(One might wonder if senior Trump officials asked the head of the SVR, Sergei Naryshkin, about all this when he visited Washington in January this year, despite sanctions that specifically named him and were supposed to bar him from the country. But neither he nor the Trump officials who met him are talking.)
Although Page was not named in the January 2015 indictment of Buryakov, Sporyshev, and Podobnyy, the context in which the Democratic memo refers the reader to the Buryakov case leaves little doubt it’s intended to finger Page. The figure described in the official Justice Department complaint for that case (PDF) matches perfectly Page’s employment and what we have learned over the last two years about his self-important personality.
Indeed, the men trying to recruit him did not have much respect for him, even though they thought he could be useful, as the FBI learned from recordings made of conversations between the SVR agents in what they thought was their secure office in New York.
On page 12 of the FBI complaint in the Buryakov case we learn that “on or about April 8, 2013,” Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy (subsequently referred to by their initials) discussed Podobnyy’s efforts to recruit “a male working as a consultant in New York City (‘Male-1’) as an intelligence source.”
British journalist Luke Harding, in his book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, page 46, flatly identifies Male-1 as Page, but does not indicate how he makes that firm connection.
Other journalists have covered some of the same ground.
In April last year, Ali Watkins wrote in Buzzfeed that Page admitted he was the man in question: “Page confirmed to BuzzFeed News … that he is ‘Male-1’ in the court filing and said he had been in contact with Podobnyy, who was working at the time at Moscow’s U.N. office in New York City under diplomatic cover, although he was really an SVR agent. Pressed on details of his contact with Podobnyy, Page said their interactions did not include anything sensitive.”
“Over the past half year, I have had the privilege to serve as an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin in preparation for their Presidency of the G-20 Summit next month, where energy issues will be a prominent point on the agenda,” he wrote in a letter to an academic publisher.
But, if the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee were aware of these various articles, they do not mention. Or, perhaps, the mentions are just blacked out. This appears to be as close as we’ve come to government acknowledgement of the obvious connection.
In the 2015 FBI complaint, the relevant dialogue between the SVR operatives in 2013 is translated from the Russian as follows:
VP: [Male-1] wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language. He flies to Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project he could rise up. Maybe he can. I don’t know, but it’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money . . . .
IS: Without a doubt.
VP: He said that they have a new project right now, new energy boom
. . .
VP: He says that it is about to take off. I don’t say anything for now.
IS: Yeah, first we will spend a couple of borrowed million and then . . . .
VP: [Unintelligible] [laughs] it’s worth it. I like that he takes on everything. For now his enthusiasm works for me. I also promised him a lot: that I have connections in the Trade Representation, meaning you that you can push contracts [laughs]. I will feed him empty promises.
IS: Shit, then he will write me. Not even me, to our clean one.
VP: I didn’t say the Trade Representation . . . I did not even indicate that this is connected to a government agency. This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners. You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself. But not to upset you, I will take you to a restaurant and give you an expensive gift. You just need to sign for it. This is ideal working method.
The FBI agent who filed the formal complaint, Gregory Monaghan of the New York field office, explains that the last paragraph is about recruitment methods, which include “cheating, promising favors, and then discarding the intelligence source once the relevant information is obtained by the SVR.” The FBI does not comment on the last part, in which Podobnyy adds that he might give a source he’s kissing off an expensive gift, but get him to sign for it, which would give the SVR documentary proof that the source was on the take, opening him up to future blackmail.
Monaghan notes that he and another FBI agent interviewed Male-1, who by all indications is Carter Page, on June 13, 2013, and the subject said he had met Podbonyy at an energy symposium in New York City. During this initial meeting, the Russian gave the subject his business card and two email addresses. Over the following months the Russian spy and this “Male-1,” who’s evidently Page, “exchanged emails about the energy business and met in person on occasion,” with the American energy consultant providing his outlook on current and future developments in the energy industry, and providing documents about the energy business.
The Republican memo to which the Democrats were responding—drafted by a staffer for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and approved, with few redactions, by President Donald Trump over DOJ and FBI objections on Feb. 2 this year––tried to make the case that the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant to pursue Page was based almost entirely on the Steele dossier. That clearly is not the case.
But, based on the Democratic memo and the federal complaint in the Buryakov case, referred to in that footnote, which deals with events in April 2013, the wonder should not be that the FBI opened an investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign in late July 2016 and asked for a FISA warrant to conduct surveillance of Page in October 2016––but that it waited so damn long.