Back in January, “Baghdad Sean” Spicer claimed that former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Cater Page “is an individual whom the President-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.”
Per usual, this was false. “In an interview with The Washington Post editorial board in March, Trump named “Carter Page, Ph.D.,” as one of the people he was considering for his foreign policy team.” Trump news conference: CNN’s Reality Check team vets the claims:
Carter Page founded an investment company, Global Energy Capital, and has worked as an investment banker in London and Moscow.
Page has denied the allegations that he met with sanctioned Russian officials, telling The Washington Post, “All of these accusations are just complete garbage.”
That was, until last week in an interview with MSNBC host Chris Hayes. Carter Page: ‘I don’t deny’ meeting with Russian ambassador.
And now this complete reversal from “Baghdad Sean” Spicer’s false denial in January: Trump campaign approved adviser’s trip to Moscow:
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.
A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it, Gordon, a retired naval officer, told POLITICO.
Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said. The adviser spoke on the condition of anonymity because he has not been authorized to discuss internal campaign matters.
The trip is now a focus of congressional and FBI investigations into Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election.
Lewandowski told POLITICO he did not recall the email exchange with Page, but he did not deny that it occurred.
* * *
[A] former campaign official said campaign officials did not discuss Page’s planned trip before he left for Moscow.
“No one discussed the trip within the campaign and certainly not with candidate Trump directly,” said the former campaign official.
The official pointed to a July statement from Hicks that declared that Page was in Moscow in a private capacity and was not representing the campaign. That statement came in response to media reports from Moscow about Page’s presence there.
Both Lewandowski and the White House official cast Page as a minor character on the periphery of the campaign, who was a foreign policy adviser in name only.
“I’ve never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life,” Lewandowski said.
Gordon and Page had no comment on whether the Trump campaign officially sanctioned the trip, which has drawn the attention of investigators from the FBI and congressional committees investigating possible Trump campaign ties with Russian officials before the election.
And while Page has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with his Moscow visit, it is now drawing increased scrutiny as a result of new disclosures about his contact two weeks later with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Just days after Kislyak talked to Page, Gordon and a third campaign official, WikiLeaks disseminated thousands of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s servers — a hack that U.S. intelligence later attributed to the Russian government.
No connection between any of those three events has been alleged publicly or confirmed.
* * *
Page’s trip to Moscow has been the subject of intense speculation for months, but many of the details remain cloudy.
A longtime oil and energy industry consultant, Page had already spent considerable time in Russia before making the trip, most recently as founder and managing partner of the Global Energy Capital investment and consulting firm, which specializes in Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business.
The firm’s website says Page has been involved in more than $25 billion of transactions in the energy and power sector and that he spent three years in Moscow, where he was an adviser on key transactions for Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom and other energy-related companies.
Page has insisted that he was in Moscow to give a commencement address at the New Economic School there based on his scholarly research, and that his visit was “outside of my informal, unpaid role” on the Trump campaign. He also said he had divested any stake in Gazprom and that he had “not met this year  with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals.”
But last September, top congressional lawmakers were briefed on suspected efforts by Russia to meddle in the election. Soon after, then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked FBI Director James Comey to investigate meetings between a Trump official, later identified as Page, and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow that he believed were evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and Moscow.
Trump campaign officials took steps to distance themselves from Page, who had been publicly identified as an adviser as recently as Aug. 24. He announced Sept. 26 that he was taking a leave of absence from the campaign, saying the accusations were untrue but causing too much of a “distraction.”
But even after Russia was linked to the hacking effort against Democrats, the Trump campaign did not seek to question Page about his trip, the campaign adviser said.
Asked what Page did while in Moscow, the adviser said, “I have no idea. I didn’t want to know.”
* * *
In recent days, Page’s contact with Russians resurfaced with news reports that he, Gordon and senior Trump campaign adviser Sen. Jeff Sessions all engaged in discussions with Kislyak at an event on the sidelines of the GOP convention.
Page has declined to comment on what they discussed, saying it was private, while Gordon characterized the conversations as harmless efforts to improve U.S.-Russia ties.
Could it be a quid pro quo deal to lift sanctions on Russia reported by Business Insider back in January? Memos: CEO of Russia’s state oil company offered Trump adviser, allies a cut of huge deal if sanctions were lifted:
A dossier with unverified claims about President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia contained allegations that Igor Sechin, the CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered former Trump ally Carter Page and his associates the brokerage of a 19% stake in the company in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions on Russia.
The dossier says the offer was made in July, when Page was in Moscow giving a speech at the Higher Economic School. The claim was sourced to “a trusted compatriot and close associate” of Sechin, according to the dossier’s author, former British spy Christopher Steele.
“Sechin’s associate said that the Rosneft president was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft,” the dossier said. “In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted.”
Four months before the intelligence community briefed Trump, then-President Barack Obama, then-Vice President Joe Biden, and the nation’s top lawmakers on the dossier’s claims — most of which have not been independently verified but are being investigated by US intelligence agencies — a US intelligence source told Yahoo’s Michael Isikoff that Sechin met with Page during Page’s three-day trip to Moscow. Sechin, the source told Yahoo, raised the issue of the US lifting sanctions on Russia under Trump.
Page was an early foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He took a “leave of absence” in September after news broke of his July trip to Moscow, and the campaign later denied that he had ever worked with it.
Page, for his part, was “noncommittal” in his response to Sechin’s requests that the US lift the sanctions, the dossier said. But he signaled that doing so would be Trump’s intention if he won the election, and he expressed interest in Sechin’s offer, according to the document.
* * *
Page is also believed to have met with senior Kremlin internal affairs official Igor Diveykin while he was in Moscow last July, according to Isikoff’s intelligence sources. The dossier separately claimed that Diveykin — whom US officials believe was responsible for the intelligence collected by Russia about the US election — met with Page and hinted that the Kremlin possessed compromising information about Trump.
It is unclear whether Isikoff’s reporting is related to the dossier, which has been circulating among top intelligence officials, lawmakers, and journalists since mid-2016.
After mid-October, the dossier said, Sechin predicted that it would no longer be possible for Trump to win the presidency, so he “put feelers out to other business and political contacts” to purchase a stake in Rosneft.
Rosneft then scrambled to find a foreign investor, holding talks with more than 30 potential buyers from Europe, the US, Asia, and the Middle East. The company signed a deal on December 7 to sell 19.5% of shares, or roughly $11 billion, to the multinational commodity trader Glencore Plc and Qatar’s state-owned wealth fund. Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund is Glencore’s largest shareholder.
The “11th hour deal” was “so last minute,” Reuters reported, “that it appeared it would not close in time to meet the government’s deadline for booking money in the budget from the sale.”
As an aside, the New York Times reported that Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and then incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn, met with the Russian ambassador in December. Kushner and Flynn Met With Russian Envoy in December, White House Says. “[T]he disclosure of the meeting at Trump Tower adds to the emerging picture of how the relationship between Mr. Trump’s incoming team and Moscow was evolving to include some of the president-elect’s most trusted advisers.” “The meeting in December came at a crucial time, just as the Obama White House was preparing to sanction Russia and publicly make its case that Moscow had interfered with the 2016 election.” Was the Rosneft deal discussed?
The purchase amounted to the biggest foreign investment in Russia since US sanctions took effect in 2014. It showed that “there are some forces in the world that are ready to help Russia to circumvent the [West’s] sanction regime,” said Lilia Shevtsova, an associate fellow in the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House.
“In Russia we have a marriage between power and business, and that is why all important economic deals need approval and the endorsement of the authorities,” Shevtsova said. “This was a very serious commercial deal that hardly could have succeeded without the direct involvement of the Kremlin.”
The privatization deal was funded by Gazprombank, whose parent company is the state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Page holds investments in Gazprom, though he claimed in a letter to FBI Director James Comey in September that he sold his stake in the company “at a loss.” His website says he served as an adviser “on key transactions” for the state-owned energy giant before setting up his energy investment fund, Global Energy Capital, in 2008 with former Gazprom executive Sergei Yatsenko.
There is no evidence (yet) that Carter played any role in the Rosneft deal. But he was back in Moscow on December 8 — one day after the deal was signed — to “meet with some of the top managers” of Rosneft, he told [TASS] reporters at the time. Page denied meeting with Sechin, Rosneft’s CEO, during that trip but said it would have been “a great honor” if he had.
The Rosneft deal, Page added, was “a good example of how American private companies are unfortunately limited to a great degree due to the influence of sanctions.” He said the US and Russia had entered “a new era” of relations but that it was still “too early” to discuss whether Trump would be easing or lifting sanctions on Moscow.
Page’s extensive business ties to state-owned Russian companies were investigated by a counterintelligence task force set up last year by the CIA. The investigation, which is reportedly ongoing, has examined whether Russia was funneling money into Trump’s presidential campaign — and, if it was, who was serving as the liaison between the Trump team and the Kremlin.
The dossier claims that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort asked Page to be the liaison. That claim has not been verified. Manafort served as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from 2004 to 2012 and emerged as a central figure in both the dossier and the intelligence community’s early inquiries into Trump’s ties to Russia.
Martin Longman at the Political Animal blog provided more details, Mnuchin Needs to Explain the 19.5% Sale of Rosneft:
The [Rosneft] deal, if not its details, was in the works for quite some time and possibly public enough for a very well informed and clever intelligence officer to “fit the facts” to make it look retroactively damaging. The actual deal is extraordinarily convoluted and has caused head scratching in Russia.
It involves ostensible investment by Swiss giant Glencore and something called the Qatar QIA fund, with financing by Russian banks and an Italian bank. There was a bond sale of Rosneft to raise money which was then reinvested as loans issued by Russian banks to the foreign investors. A series of shell companies were created and somehow the actual ownership seems to have shifted to a company in Singapore (use Google Translate for Russian).
Running down what actually happened here is a job for investigators at the Treasury Department or perhaps the Central Intelligence Agency, but it was done at least in part to raise funds that could be transferred into the Russian treasury to cover operating expenses, as Putin explained in his annual year-end press conference:
The ink’s still drying on the $11 billion sale of 19.5 percent of state-controlled Rosneft PJSC to Glencore Plc and Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund…
…The first such agreement in 15 years will bring at least 1 trillion rubles ($16 billion) to Russia’s treasury, according to VTB Capital and Morgan Stanley estimates. Putin played a key role in the process, talking to global leaders and Russia’s oil executives, according to Energy Minister Alexander Novak and the Kremlin.
At a minimum, the deal concerned the U.S. because it appeared to violate the sanctions imposed on Russia. Immediately after the deal was announced, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said:
“The thing I can confirm for you is that the experts at the Treasury that are responsible for constructing and enforcing the sanctions regime will carefully look at a transaction like this,” Earnest told reporters. “They’ll look at the terms of the deal and evaluate what impact sanctions would have on it.”
What’s most intriguing is that the former British intelligence officer who wrote the intelligence reports that have now been leaked had reported a 19% stake as the offer made to Trump through his emissary Carter Page. Either that number was floated somewhere in the press or that’s a remarkable coincidence or the intelligence was good and the promise was kept.
Obviously, the Treasury Department is looking at this deal very carefully, but the power at Treasury is about to come under Trump’s control. Trump’s Treasury nominee, the secretive hedge fund manager and former Goldman Sachs executive Steve Mnuchin, will need to be grilled on these topics during his confirmation hearings. They need to ask Rex Tillerson about this, too.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. Questions about Trump emissary Carter Page, the Rosneft deal, the 19% commission, who actually owns a stake in Rosneft, and was it a quid pro quo for the lifting of sanctions on Russia if Trump is elected by Russian interference in the U.S. election are open questions that need to be explored and answered.
Christopher Steele, the former MI6 British agent who prepared the explosive dossier on the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia, emerged from hiding on Tuesday to say he is returning to work. Video: Ex-Spy Who Wrote Trump Dossier Speaks. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says he is willing to go to London to take the testimony of Steele if necessary, if the House Intelligence Committee cannot get Steele to testify before the committee in Washington.