'The false narratives that have been out there is the ultimate meddling,' Page said
Officials have been clear that they don't know whether Page was aware that Russians might have tried to use him to infiltrate the Trump campaign
A former adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign referred to reports that Russia tried to influence the US election as possibly “a political stunt” on Saturday in remarks largely dismissive of questions about the issue.
CNN is exclusively reporting that the FBI gathered intelligence last summer suggesting that Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials.
“There are certain questions I have, frankly speaking, just reading that report … that makes me wonder whether this was really just a political stunt,” Carter Page told CNN’s Michael Smerconish. “We’ve seen that looking back at the history of political intelligence operations going back many decades.”
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.
Page is one of several Trump advisers that US and European intelligence found to be in contact with Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the campaign, according to multiple US officials. The scope and frequency of those contacts raised the interest of US intelligence agencies.
As CNN first reported, Page gave a speech critical of US policy toward Russia in July 2016 at a prominent Moscow university, which drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns he had been compromised by Russian intelligence, according to US officials. They also feared that Russian operatives maintained contact with him both in the United States and Russia, US officials say.
Page has repeatedly denied any impropriety, which he emphasized again Saturday.
“If there was any meddling in the election, all of the false narratives that has been out there is the ultimate meddling,” he told Smerconish.
The CNN host continued the line of questioning on Russia and the election: “Unless you tell me, ‘Hell yes! That would be bothersome,’ which I think is the simple answer, I’m going to assume that Carter Page, frankly, doesn’t care if there was a black hand in the election of Donald Trump,” he said.
“I care about the negative hands that were all over this thing,” Page replied. “And you talk about propaganda and also meddling in the election – 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 for the new administration and really put our nation at risk.”
Smerconish asked, “Are you aware of attempts by Russia 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. “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.”
Page was referring to a leaked dossier of unverified information, including allegations of Russian ties to the Trump campaign, compiled by a former British intelligence official for Trump’s political opponents.
“Nothing I was ever asked to do, no information I was ever asked for was anything beyond what you could see on CNN … ” he added after Smerconish repeated the question. “Nothing I’ve talked about with any Russian official extends beyond that publicly available immaterial information.”
The FBI used the dossier as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.
In some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks, FBI Director James Comey has cited the dossier as one of the sources of information the bureau has used to bolster its investigation, according to US officials briefed on the probe.
Trump mentioned Page as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign in an interview with The Washington Post in March 2016. Under pressure to name some national security advisers, campaign staffers produced a list of names for Trump to refer to, according to a US official close to the campaign. Trump mentioned Page, in part because he had a Ph.D. listed next to his name, the official said.
Trump had never met Page. Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, helped gather the names that the candidate used.
Campaign officials say there’s no indication Page ever attended any national security meetings at Trump Tower. They insisted he played a junior role and was not an influential figure.
But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign.
“For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.”
A US official with close ties to the campaign says Page’s claim he spent time on the fifth floor is meaningless since the campaign no longer used that floor starting in early July. The official also says the places Page listed as visiting are public spaces visited by millions of people a year.
The FBI had Page on its radar for at least four years, according to court documents and US officials.