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It all started with Carter Page. The biggest scandal in the history of American politics originated with carefully cultivated public suspicions about whether Page, a Naval Academy graduate and campaign volunteer, was a conduit between Team Trump and the Kremlin.
In spring 2016, Page emerged as the first alleged culprit in the nascent Trump-Russia collusion plotline. Bogus allegations about him were included in the infamous Steele dossier; he was the subject of relentless media coverage and public harassment; the FBI enlisted an informant to gather information on him in secret; and his own government accused him of being a Russian agent as it wiretapped him for a year under false pretenses.
Now it appears Attorney General William Barr finally will get to the bottom of why Page first became the target of Trump foes on the Right, then ultimately, of the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Obama Administration. This comes two years to the day since the Washington Post first published illegally leaked details about the FISA warrant on Page, which was obtained by James Comey’s FBI in October 2016.
Barr is poised to hold Page’s antagonists accountable. “The office of the inspector general has a pending investigation into the FISA process in the Russia investigation,” Barr told the House Appropriations committee on Tuesday.
When asked specifically whether the Justice Department also was investigating who illegally disclosed the existence of Page’s FISA warrant, Barr indicated he would await the criminal referrals expected to come this week from Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) regarding the same matter.
Further, Barr has acknowledged that he believes the Trump campaign was spied on in 2016. “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. Yes, I think spying did occur,” Barr told the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. Page was one of a handful of Trump associates also pursued by an FBI informant during the campaign.
Page’s nightmare began in March 2016 when the Washington Free Beacon, a conservative website, posted a lengthy hit piece on the then-unknown global energy financier serving as an unpaid advisor for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Reporter Lachlan Markay, now with left-leaning Daily Beast, outlined a number of Page’s allegedly alarming foreign policy views, which included citing a year-old article in an obscure journal where Page criticized the Obama Administration’s approach to Russia.
The purpose of Markay’s article was to plant the early seeds of the Trump-Russia election collusion plotline: “Trump has brushed off concerns about Russia as a threat, even praising the country’s strongman president Vladimir Putin and defending him against allegations of political violence,” Markay wrote.
Markay failed to disclose that the Washington Free Beacon had hired Fusion GPS in late 2015 to dig up dirt on Donald Trump. (Nellie Ohr, the wife of top Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, also was working for Fusion at the time on the same project.)
Markay’s editors did not reveal that information until nearly 18 months later as congressional Republicans closed in on the origins of the so-called Steele dossier, which had been produced by Fusion GPS and paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee. The editors, one of whom is the son-in-law of Trump foe Bill Kristol, denied in a statement any knowledge of the dossier or its provenance.
A series of negative articles about Page followed in both the legacy news media and in other conservative outlets opposed to Trump. “With Page providing Trump’s Russia policy, it is not surprising that the Donald has also attracted the support of other prominent Putinites,” wrote Robert Zubrin in an April 2016 article for National Review titled, “Trump: The Kremlin’s candidate.”
In late July 2016, as the Democrats and Clinton campaign juiced the Russian collusion plotline to distract from an uprising of disgruntled Bernie Sanders supporters during their convention, Kristol authored a brief piece in the Weekly Standard with the headline, “Putin’s Party.” He ticked off a list of dossier-sourced talking points and included the names of Carter Page, Lt. General Michael Flynn, and Paul Manafort.
“These indications provide sufficient grounds for Trump’s links to Putin to be further investigated,” Kristol bleated.
One week later, the Obama FBI opened a counterintelligence probe into all three associates, along with campaign aide George Papadopoulos.
And so began Carter Page’s trip to Hell-on-Earth. He started receiving harassing phone calls from news reporters with questions that clearly were planted by Steele and Fusion GPS chief Glenn Simpson. A September 2016 Yahoo News article, directly sourced by Steele and Simpson, confirmed that U.S. intelligence officials were looking into Page’s ties with senior Russian officials. Page said the article resulted in “distrust, scorn, ridicule, hatred, contempt and death threats” against him.
Michael Isikoff’s story, in addition to the Steele dossier, were cited extensively in an application signed by former FBI Director James Comey and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in October 2016 that asked the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for permission to wiretap Page. In the application, which relied on unsubstantiated political propaganda in the Steele dossier, Comey and Yates referred to Page as “an agent of a foreign power.” The FISA warrant was renewed three times.
The Washington Post on April 11, 2017 revealed the existence of that FISA order. The story appeared a few weeks after Comey publicly confirmed for the first time in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that his agency not only had opened up a counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign, but had withheld that information from top congressional leaders for eight months—violating congressional protocol—because of the “sensitivity of the matter.” (Comey also did not inform Trump about the investigation during their numerous meetings and conversations before and after Inauguration Day.)
The April 2017 article relied on law enforcement officials who “spoke about the court order on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of a counterintelligence probe.” But there is another reason why they wanted to remain anonymous: Discussing the existence of a FISA order is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
“An unauthorized disclosure of FISA is an extraordinarily unusual event so be assured we’re going to take it very seriously,” Comey told the House Intelligence Committee in 2017.
But he didn’t. And neither did his successor, Andrew McCabe, who himself was caught lying to federal investigators about leaking nonpublic information to the press. Current FBI Director Christopher Wray also has been mum about who illegally leaked the FISA order to the Post.
The delay might have been in deference to the Mueller investigation. But that investigation is now over. Robert Mueller concluded there was no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians to sway the 2016 election. Page has not been charged with a crime despite being accused essentially of being a traitor to his country. Isikoff recently admitted that the dossier was baloney. Yet the collusion conspiracists still refuse to acknowledge the truth.
“The biggest thing I’ve been surprised about is how stubborn many Democrats and their supporters in the media have remained in terms of coming to grips with reality,” Page told me. “They’re still not there yet.”
Fortunately for Page and the rest of the country not in a mental and emotional straightjacket, Barr will proceed regardless of their intransigence. For those of us who have been concerned that the bad actors behind this scandal, especially the Obama officials who targeted Page, never will face justice, this week offered some encouragement that such will not be the final outcome.
But don’t expect any apologies from the perpetrators. Page, for his part, isn’t even interested in one.
“I don’t care about apologies,” he told me. “This is about fixing our country. President Trump is the one who deserves the apology.”
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Photo Credit: Artyom Korotayev\TASS via Getty Images