Carter Page wanted Trump to take 2016 trip to Russia

Carter Page wanted Trump to take 2016 trip to Russia
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The House Intelligence Committee on Monday night released more than 200 pages of transcripts from its marathon interview of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, sprawling testimony that contained new details about the closely-scrutinized foreign policy aide’s relationship to Moscow.

The at-times tense interview — which took place behind closed doors last week — also highlighted an increasingly public partisan rift on the committee.

Page, who throughout sought to characterize himself as a scholar whose name has been unjustly defamed, told lawmakers that he suggested to his fellow foreign policy advisers that Trump could make a trip to Russia during the campaign.

“The idea there was — bearing in mind Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? Obama shares summer reading list ‘Three Californias’ plan would give Dems more seats MORE's speech as a candidate in Germany 2008. That was what I was envisioning,” Page said.

In an email to J.D. Gordon, who was then running the campaign's foreign policy advisory team, and Walid Phares, another foreign policy adviser on the campaign, Page suggested that then-candidate Trump could take a trip that he had scheduled to Moscow in his place.

"I got another idea," Page wrote, according to an email read out by the committee's top Democrat, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House faces growing outcry over migrant family policies Schiff: ‘Deeply disturbing’ that FBI gave Nunes confidential info on Clinton's emails Schiff: White House using migrant kids’ grief and tears to build border wall MORE (Calif.). "If [Trump would] 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.”

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He said he could not recall if either Phares or Gordon replied to his suggestion, but believed that they “probably” did not.

Page eventually took the trip himself, in July of 2016. During that visit, Page told lawmakers, he exchanged “pleasantries” with a senior Russian government official.

That exchange lasted no longer than five or 10 seconds, Page said. It took place at a speech he gave as part of commencement proceedings at a Russian university, which Page says paid for his travel costs.

CNN has previously reported that the FBI grew concerned after the trip that he may have been compromised by Russian operatives.

In December, the same Russian official — Arkadiy Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister — “stopped by” a dinner Page said he attended with academics from the university.

Page told investigators that the July trip was “unrelated” to the campaign.

But he nevertheless informed other campaign officials that he would be traveling to Russia. Page told investigators that he “mentioned it a few times” to Gordon.

Page testified that shortly before he left for Moscow, he also mentioned the trip “in passing” to then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsLaura Bush blasts Trump migrant policy as 'cruel' and 'immoral' Merkley leads Dem lawmakers to border amid migrant policy outcry DHS secretary defends Trump administration's migrant policies MORE (R-Ala.), who was chairman of the foreign policy advisory panel. In “no way, shape or form” did he try to convey to Sessions that he hoped to be helpful in Trump’s efforts to improve relations with Russia, Page said.

He also “sent a note” to campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks and then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

“I wanted to be very careful because there was starting to be some allegations about or concerns about Russia in general,” Page told investigators.

Page has long been of keen interest to lawmakers probing Russian interference in the election, thanks to the 2016 Moscow trip and his appearance in an unconfirmed dossier of opposition research alleging connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

In his testimony, he denied any wrongdoing connected to Russia. He focused primarily on the allegations contained in the dossier — which he repeatedly referred to as “the dodgy dossier” — and his claim that he was the subject of illegal government surveillance.

He also told lawmakers that he was “not convinced” that Russia tried to intervene in the U.S. election to help boost Trump’s chances.

“In all of my trips over the past year and a half to Russia — or my two trips to Russia in the past year and a half — I’ve never seen any evidence of that type of inference,” he said.

Trump aides have described the role that Page played in the campaign as minimal.

He was one of a handful of individuals who were apparently hastily added to the campaign at a time when Trump needed to show that he had a list of foreign policy advisers. Trump named him during a meeting with The Washington Post’s editorial board in 2016 — along with George Papadopoulos, the young aide who recently pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Russia.

The unusual arrangement of the House Intelligence interview — a closed-door session with a transcript made public after the fact — was at Page’s request.

Throughout his testimony, Page characterized himself as “cautious” and “careful.” In several instances, he pleaded his Fifth Amendment rights to avoid turning over certain documents. He insisted that nothing in the documents is incriminating, but argued that “an aggressive prosecutor” might find inconsistencies between his own records and the records he believes the government has gathered.

The Washington Post reported in April that the FBI obtained a warrant last year to monitor Page’s communications as part of the investigation into Russian interference.

Page, who has not retained a lawyer, often gave meandering, erratic responses that prompted lawmakers to attempt to steer him back.

“Dr. Page, if you would try to focus on the question I'm asking,” Schiff urged at one point.

The lengthy interview was punctuated, too, by heated exchanges between Schiff and several committee Republicans. Rep. Mike ConawayKenneth (Mike) Michael ConawayHillicon Valley: Deal reached on ZTE, but lawmakers look to block it | New encryption bill | Dems push Ryan for net neutrality vote | Google vows it won't use AI for weapons Lawmakers scrutinize Google, Twitter's relationship with Chinese phone makers Farmland is being consumed by expanding urban areas MORE (R-Texas), who is leading the investigation, accused Schiff of saying “in a kind of off-handed, derogatory way that we had not informed you that he had originally pled the Fifth.”

“I just wanted to correct the record, Adam, to say that we did on a relatively timely basis.”

In another contentious moment, Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and Schiff wrangled over whether Page should provide his phone number in a written format or verbally — which Rooney believed would become part of the public record.

“I just don’t understand why it has to be made public for the world to consume,” Rooney said. “He can write it down and give it to you. I don’t know why it has to be issued into the report.”

“I don’t know why you’re arguing,” Schiff said. “We support redacting this from the public record, but I do think that the witness ought to be under oath as to what phones he’s using.”

Read the full transcript of Page's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee here.

— Olivia Beavers, Joe Uchill and Morgan Chalfant contributed.