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Carter Page’s bizarre testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, explained

The former Trump campaign adviser testified for more than six hours on the Russia scandal. It was weird.

Artyom Korotayev\TASS via Getty
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

One of the oddest subplots of the whole Trump-Russia saga has long been the tale of Carter Page.

Page was plucked seemingly out of nowhere to become a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser — Trump listed him among five people on his team in a March 2016 interview — and it soon emerged that he had a host of Russian business ties and conspicuously pro-Russian and pro-Putin views.

Then things got even weirder when Page traveled to Moscow that July and gave a speech in which he reportedly criticized US policy toward Russia. That trip drew scrutiny from the FBI, and Page has been a leading figure in the investigations about potential Trump campaign collusion with Russia ever since.

Yet rather than lawyering up and responding with caution, Page has been talking nonstop about the scandal in the press, always proclaiming his total innocence — including during more than six hours of sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last Thursday, which he attended without a lawyer.

The transcript of that testimony, with only minor redactions, has now been released. (Page demanded a speedy public release of the transcript as a condition of his appearance.) It is quite a read. Page frequently filibusters, goes on tangents, and works himself into a state of high dudgeon.

But when he’s asked to explain how what he’s saying now fits with the actual emails he wrote at the time, things get awkward.

Page is very inconsistent about how many Russian officials he met during his trip to Moscow

Much of the questioning focused on Page’s trip to Moscow in early July, while he was a Trump campaign adviser — because his description of that trip in emails sent at the time looks very different from his description of it now.

Page testified that on the trip, he had no meetings or serious discussions with anyone high up in the Russian government. He said that he had just one brief interaction with one Russian government official (Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich), but that it lasted “well less than 10 seconds.”

But in a memo and an email sent to Trump campaign staffers at the time, Page painted a very different of his picture of his trip. He wrote that he’d had a “private conversation” with Dvorkovich, and that he had received “insights and outreach” from several other Russian politicians.

  • Page wrote in a memo to the Trump campaign that “In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems.” (This suggests a much more substantive and lengthier interaction between Page and Dvorkovich.)
  • And on July 8, Page wrote to two Trump campaign staffers from his trip, “I’ll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.” (This suggests Page had several other Russian political contacts while he was there.)

Pressed on these inconsistencies, Page struggled to explain them. He insisted again that his interaction with Dvorkovich was just a few seconds long, and that it was very “general.”

Most strangely of all, though, he said that when he described receiving “incredible insights and outreach” from several top Russian politicians during his trip, he in fact was only describing speeches he’d attended and articles he’d read.

As an attempted explanation, he tried to compare this to how he’s gotten “insights” simply from watching Donald Trump’s speeches. “I’ve never met Donald J. Trump in my life, I’ve learned a lot from him, and I got great insights from that, from listening and studying the information that he — that he’s provided in public forums,” Page said.

He added, “Outreach is available, and incredible insights were provided. I’m — I wrote a 500-page dissertation on related themes.” (It is unclear what this means.)

Then later in the session, Page was asked again which members of the Duma (the Russian legislative assembly) he’d met with during his trip. “Just in passing, a few people when we were shaking hands,” he said.

Now, there is a relatively innocent potential explanation here: that Page, in reporting back to the Trump campaign last year, was wildly exaggerating his own connections and what he had achieved in Russia, to make himself appear more important and influential. Yet he doesn’t seem to want to say that outright.

The less innocent explanation, of course, is that he’s trying to cover something up.

Page says he traveled to Moscow on his own, but some emails raise questions about this

Then there’s the question of why Page went to Russia in the first place, and whether the Trump campaign had a role in planning the trip.

Page testified that he took the trip purely as a private citizen and not in his role as a Trump adviser, saying, “I made it perfectly clear that I’m not representing him or the campaign.” (Asked why he went despite knowing the campaign was being scrutinized on the Russia matter, he at one point responded that he was “trying to live my life.”)

But in the memo Page sent to Trump officials describing his trip and reporting back on it, he called himself “Campaign Adviser Page.”

He also sent some curious emails to Trump aides beforehand that aren’t explicitly about the trip but seem to allude to some secretive thing he’s planning at the campaign’s behest:

For instance, in a May 16, 2016, email to Trump campaign foreign policy advisers J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares, Page wrote (with bolding added for emphasis):

As discussed, my strategy in order to keep in sync with the media relations guidelines of the campaign has been to make my key messages as low-key and apolitical as possible. But after seeing the principal’s tweet a few hours in response to the cocky “in politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue” quote by the same speaker at Rutgers yesterday, I got another idea. If he’d like to take my place and raise the temperature a little bit, of course I’d be more than happy to yield this honor to him.

“The principal” here is Trump, and “this honor” Page wants Trump to “take my place” in, he admitted in testimony, is ... a trip to Russia:

It is certainly curious that Page is emailing Trump advisers in guarded, roundabout language about an upcoming trip to Russia that is part of a “strategy” discussed with others on the campaign.

Eight days later, on May 24, 2016, Page sent another secretive-sounding email to Gordon:

FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room where you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third-World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge. Rather than saying too much, I’ll just refer to the seven points on my list which I sent last night.

So — does Page just have a heightened sense of self-importance and a weakness for cloak-and-dagger language? Or was the Trump campaign much more involved in planning for Page’s Russia trip than anyone’s admitting right now? (Gordon has insisted that he tried to discourage Page from making the trip, but some reports indicate that Page went around him and got approval to make the trip in his capacity as a private citizen from then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.)

In an email, Page praised Trump aides for their “excellent work” on the Ukraine plank of the Republican Party’s platform

Shortly before last year’s Republican convention, a controversy erupted over whether Trump aides had tried to block an amendment to the GOP platform that would call for arming Ukraine.

Asked about this during his testimony, Page was initially clear that he did not talk with anyone on the campaign about the platform. But then he hedged, saying, “I may have been on email chains.”

Page then repeatedly said he “can’t recall” communicating his opinion on the Ukraine platform issue to anyone at the Trump campaign.

And yet he did just that. On July 14, Page emailed Gordon and other Trump foreign policy advisers: “As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work.”

Asked about this discrepancy, Page gave a non-answer: “It’s just expressing what I feel. Right?”

Page was outraged that the Steele dossier said he met the CEO of a Russian oil company ... but admits meeting another official from that company

Throughout his testimony, Page repeatedly denounced the Steele dossier — the uncorroborated opposition research document on Trump-Russia ties that Hillary Clinton’s campaign lawyer paid for. Repeatedly calling it the “dodgy” dossier, Page asserted that “every word in that about me is completely false.” (“That’s a big statement, Dr. Page,” Rep. Trey Gowdy responded.)

In particular, the dossier claimed that Page met with two particular Russians during his trip, but Page insisted that he’s never met either.

One of those was Igor Sechin, the CEO of the Rosneft oil company, which is majority owned by the Russian government. According to the dossier, Sechin and Page had a secret meeting on Moscow on either July 7 or July 8, at which Sechin offered Trump associates a large stake in his company and Page said Trump would lift US sanctions on Rosneft if elected.

Page contemptuously denied all of this, straightforwardly asserting that he’s never met Sechin in a way that sounded more or less believable.

But then, under questioning, Page admitted that during that trip, he met with one of Sechin’s subordinates — Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, with whom he had a preexisting relationship.

Page went on to admit that they may have discussed sanctions in “general” terms, and that they might have discussed the planned sale of a large stake in Rosneft because it was “in the news.”

The specific allegations in the Steele dossier about Page remain unconfirmed. Still, there seems to have been a bit more to Page’s denial here than we might have thought at first glance.