Former Trump campaign advisor and Russophile Carter Page may seem goofy, delusional, and unimportant, but he is right smack-dab in the middle of the Trump-Russia saga, and the FBI would not have been concerned about him for years if he was just a harmless boob.
Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse February 9, 2018
By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @bfry1981) February 9th, 2018; a version of this article was also published by War Is Boring; this is based in part on research from a series of previous articles published from July, 2016 to July, 2017, the latest being Think You Know How Deep Trump-Russia Goes? Think Again: This Chart/Info Will Blow Your Mind, with over 62,000 (now over 77,000) views and growing!
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Carter Page after dropping off requested documents to the House Intelligence Committee (photo from @jeremyherb)
AMMAN—When it comes to the strange odyssey of Carter Page, it is important to take a look at his background in relation to Russia and the further backstory to his backstory.
Back in the mid-2000s, future Trump campaign Chairman Paul Manafort set up shop in Ukraine to do some consulting work, bringing his protégé Richard “Rick” Gates to assist, both of whom have now been criminally charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team.
On one level, the duo ran the politics for disgraced Ukrainian pro-Putin politician Viktor Yanukovych—prevented from crookedly taking power in late 2004/early 2005 by the Orange Revolution, who won Ukraine’s presidency in 2010 in large part because of Manafort’s efforts and the scheme detailed below, and was driven out of power in 2014 by Ukraine’s (Euro)Maidan Revolution—and his Party of Regions, working with various Viktor Yanukovych and Putin allies.
On another level they all worked with Putin-linked mobsters and oligarchs in one of the most elaborate and complex money laundering schemes in history, and perhaps the one with the most far-reaching consequences, as detailed earlier by me in Newsweek.
This plot involved massive natural gas deals between Russia and Ukraine, and their main intermediary, RosUkrEnergo (RUE), was half controlled by Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned gas giant and most of the rest was controlled by Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who is a Putin, Yanukovych, and Russian mafia ally who is wanted by U.S. federal authorities for possibly separate, possibly related criminal activity.
The basic gist of the scheme goes like this: Gazprom would generally sell gas to Firtash through RUE at a significantly lowered price, and then Firtash would mark up the prices when selling to Ukraine; the profits to the tune of billions were then allegedly laundered by the Russian mafia and used to bribe and control Ukrainian politicians to bend them to Putin’s will and increasingly make Ukraine’s political system subservient to Russian interests.
Ukrainian politicians not in Putin’s pocket resisted this arrangement, leading to a major dispute over the gas deals in January, 2006, with Russia shutting off Ukraine’s gas in the dead of winter. A new deal even more favorable to Putin & co. was reached that would make RUE the exclusive, direct supplier of all Russian and Central Asian gas imports, one that would, along with Gazprom, sell to a new joint venture between RUE and Naftogaz called UkrGazEnergo that would sell all gas going to Ukraine’s industrial customers while RUE would sell to Naftogaz to sell to Ukraine’s residential and municipal customers. This only dramatically increased the corrupt markup opportunities involving Ukraine’s gas, further cheating and angering Ukrainians.
Another part of the deal—which the author of this very article was the first, and apparently only analyst, to point out in the context of this larger scheme—involved the major Russian state-owned power company RAO UES: RAO UES would pay for and import Ukrainian-generated electricity to sell in Russia and Ukraine would provide this power from the gas Ukraine was paying RUE for that had been bought by UkrGazEnergo to sell within Ukraine. Specifically, Ukraine would deliver the electricity to RAO UES in return for the gas needed to generate it, with RUE or another Firtash company apparently buying the gas from UkrGazEnergo. The gas would then be sent to Ukrainian power plants, which would then generate the electricity that would go to RAO UES, which would then sell that electricity in Russia. Obviously, this scheme would give Firtash additional points at which he could mark up prices and generate a profit, and it is telling that gas already being transited by Russia’s Gazprom pipelines into Ukraine through RUE—itself half-owned by Gazprom—was being used, after it was paid for by Ukraine for a high price, to generate electricity that would be used in Russia.
This confusing arrangement makes no logistical or logical sense, as it would be easier for Russia to just bring gas from Gazprom to RAO through Russia, but when viewed through the prism of allegedly generating illicit funds used to dominate Ukraine politically, then it makes perfect sense.
This is where Carter Page enters the picture: he moved to Moscow in 2004 to set up Merrill Lynch’s office there, working there until 2007. During this period—in which the deals were scouted, negotiated, sealed, and put well into practice—he claims to have advised both Gazprom and RAO on major deals, and, despite his warped, very pro-Russian worldview (he thinks Bill Browder’s Magnitsky Acts championing human rights and punishing Russia and others for human right violations are like “the blacklists of the McCarthy era”), he is clearly steeped in knowledge of the energy sector and regional geopolitics, possessing both a master’s degree and a PhD from highly prestigious universities. The apparently informal meet-and-greet, wine-and-dine roles he often played offered him perfect opportunities to soak up gossip from drunk gas executives celebrating their blatant corruption, and, as later revelations have made abundantly clear, Page was only too eager to engage in conversations and information trading when it came to such deals. Even if Page was hardly a major player, it is hard to accept that he did not know what was going on, at least to some degree, with the whole Eurasian gas scheme detailed above, as he was advising not just one but two major entities involved on opposite ends of the corrupt process and during the crucial time of the run-up to that process’s inclusion of RAO into Gazprom-intensive scheme. Thus, it is extremely likely he had some inkling of the improper nature of the RAO-Gazprom dealings and how they helped to undermine U.S. interests in the region in pushing Ukraine away from the U.S. It seems this did not bother him, just as Russia’s current moves to undermine the U.S. seem not to bother him, as repeated television interviews have made crustal clear.
For those arguing against Page’s importance—that he was just small fry—it should not be forgotten that George Papadapolous was also junior in his position with the Trump campaign but that this fact has not kept him from being in the center of the firestorm, with Papadapolous playing a key role in linking the Trump presidential campaign to Russia and sparking the longstanding FBI’s Trump-Russia probe now led by Mueller. Papadapolous has already plead guilty to charges levied by Mueller of lying to the FBI and has become a cooperating person of interest in Mueller’s probe.
After his stint in Russia, Page founded an investment firm, Global Energy Capital LLC, in 2008 with Sergey Yatsenko, Gazprom’s ex Deputy Head of its Finance and Economics Department (who was among a number of Russians and Russian officials with whom Page met during and after the time he was attached to Trump’s campaign). By 2013, Page was calling himself “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.”
Page’s pro-Kremlin views even helped spur a three-man Russian spy ring to try to recruit him in 2013, a ring that was busted and charged by none other than Preet Bharara, later fired by Trump. The one member of the ring not protected by diplomatic immunity was convicted and sent to prison, while the man with whom Page interacted, Victor Podobnyy, avoided prosecution because of his diplomatic cover. At the time, Podobnyy posed as a Russian UN diplomat while acting as an undercover Russian intelligence operative, reaching out to Page and discussing Gazprom with him.
More recently, it was found out Carter Page was under one FISA-warrant FBI surveillance investigation beginning in 2014 and a second one that was renewed three times starting in October 2016 (meaning this second one was approved by Chief Justice John Roberts-approved federal judges four times as former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa pointed out) as a result of concerns arising from his Russian contacts and activities.
Eventually, Page was one of a handful of foreign policy advisors Trump was able to name in 2016, hired by Trump’s campaign even after advising two major Russian companies involved in the Ukraine gas scam. Trump’s campaign was the most pro-Russian campaign of any major party nominee since the end of WWII, and the only changes that it insisted be made to the 2016 Republican Party Platform were to weaken statements of support for Ukraine in relation to its conflict with Russia.
Page is also mentioned in the fairly standard-type (and surprisingly bipartisan) paid opposition research effort that culminated in what is known as the Steele dossier, compiled by ex-intelligence official Christopher Steele.
Despite its aforementioned banal origins, the dossier—along with Page’s being the subject of a thrice-renewed FISA warrant—has become the subject of massive politicization and blatant distortion that is part of an assault by the Trump Administration and much of the Republican Party on the very concept of the rule of law and is currently foreshadowing a constitutional crisis.
These efforts are centering on accusations that the FBI and Department of Justice conspired against Trump and abused their power in seeking surveillance on Page, accusations mentioned in a memo declassified by and allowed to be released by President Trump himself against the wishes of the FBI. This memo was authored by the office of Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and a strong Trump ally who chairs the House Intelligence Committee.
Nunes became the subject of House Ethics Committee investigation for his disgraceful conduct trying to protect Trump by engaging in deliberately misleading behavior and was forced to (only somewhat) recuse himself from the Intelligence Committee’s Trump-Russia investigation. The House Ethics investigation was eventually dropped because it could not gain access to the intelligence necessary to render proper judgment. The intelligence and court documents that the Nunes memo—which has earned a measure of bipartisan condemnation—discusses have not been made public, the assertions it makes have been contradicted by multiple sources, and Nunes has also admitted that he has not even read the relevant FISA court documents.
The Democrats on the Committee have disputed the memo and drawn attention to the fact that their memo, in a party-line vote, was not authorized to be released, only Nunes’s Republican-approved one having been voted to be released by the Committee in another party-line vote. So that it could be released publicly, it was then declassified by Trump himself, who is using the parts of the memo that are as of yet unverified to speciously claim vindication.
© 2018 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome
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