The enigmatic case of Carter Page

The enigmatic case of Carter Page
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Going in, the FBI’s very best evidence in the whole Trump-Russia collusion theory was, supposedly, against a U.S. citizen they wiretapped over and over again — month after month — under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
 
But businessman Carter Page has yet to be charged with a crime.
 
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The implications are potentially dire.
 
 
Is Page an active Russian spy, being allowed to run loose and undermine our civilization for reasons unknown?
 
Or was the FBI’s judgment so poor that its top agents targeted an innocent man, violating his civil rights in the most intrusive way, stubbornly refusing to back off when the evidence wasn’t there?
 
Or were the FBI agents so incompetent — and Page so clever — that he spied right under their noses, but they were unable to find a shred of evidence while monitoring his communications and movements day in and day out?
 
Or was the FBI improperly using Page as their best shot at a secret window into a political campaign and a president they opposed?
 
Whatever Page’s relationship with the FBI, it’s complicated.
 
Page has said he thinks he ticked off the bureau back in 2013. The FBI interviewed him regarding his ongoing contacts in Russia, where he’d lived and worked as an energy investor and adviser. Page reportedly had the audacity to tell the FBI agents that their time would be better spent investigating the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing, a probe that the FBI’s Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeCBS in talks for miniseries based on Comey book EXCLUSIVE: Trump says exposing ‘corrupt’ FBI probe could be ‘crowning achievement’ of presidency Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe lands book deal MORE was helping to lead.
 
It’s a touchy issue: It turns out Russia had alerted the FBI in advance to one of the future bombers, a radical Muslim born in Kyrgyzstan named Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The FBI interviewed Tsarnaev but mistakenly concluded there was no reason to be suspicious. Tsarnaev and his brother were left to carry out the bombing that killed three and injured or maimed several hundred.
 
The FBI wasn’t happy when it became public that the Russians had warned them — to no avail.

Anyway, Page has said his verbal jab at the FBI over the Boston Marathon bombing ignited a retaliatory campaign against him. (The bureau moved to wiretap Page just a few months after McCabe was promoted to FBI deputy director in 2016.)

Page had other FBI ties. It’s been reported that Page actually assisted the FBI in a case of Russian corporate espionage several years ago. The Russian spy was Evgeny Buryakov who pleaded guilty in March 2016. The same month, Page became a Trump adviser and the FBI interviewed him again.

So if the FBI’s theory is correct, Page reportedly assisted in catching a Russian spy and then, right after the ink was dry on the case, was so bold as to become a Russian spy himself, even as the FBI was interviewing him. Pretty audacious — but anything is possible.

The theory became public and gained traction when Yahoo News published an article about Page’s Moscow ties, as if it all was suspicious: He’d travelled to Russia, held business meetings, met with Russian officials, represented Russia’s government. None of the revelations were necessarily against the law or different than the activities of thousands of Americans. But the leaks to the press shrouded Page in a cloud of innuendo and suspicion.

Amid the controversy, Page left the Trump campaign in September 2016 and penned a letter to then-FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyFBI memos detail ‘partisan axes,’ secret conflicts behind the Russia election meddling assessment New grounds for impeachment? House Dem says Trump deserves it for making society worse Sessions gets unexpected support - from a Democrat who wants to impeach Trump MORE objecting to being the target of a “witch hunt.” According to internal emails, that only emboldened anti-Trump FBI agents who planned to request a secret wiretap against Page just four weeks before election day.

On Oct. 21, 2016, the wiretap was approved based on “evidence” including the Yahoo news article and parts of an anti-Trump “dossier.” The dossier turned out to be unverified political opposition research compiled by a foreign ex-spy whose sources were supposedly Russian, and the dossier was funded by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. But none of that was publicly known at the time. 

The FBI seemed extremely sensitive to the bad optics earlier this year when it was forced to reveal it had wiretapped someone in an active presidential campaign. A narrative was promptly dispatched to address that. It was widely claimed that the FBI took no interest in wiretapping Page until he’d left the Trump campaign, therefore the motivations couldn’t have been political.

However, that claim proved false.

The FBI actually first applied to wiretap Page in July 2016 while he was very much active in the Trump campaign. In fact, according to a report in The Guardian, in the summer of 2016 the FBI actually attempted to obtain a secret court order to “monitor four members of the Trump team.” But the court rejected the applications and asked the FBI to narrow its focus.

Once the Page wiretap was finally approved in October 2016, with help from the “dossier,” that wasn’t the end. The FBI went back to the court to extend the surveillance. In January 2017. In April 2017, under President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE. And in July 2017. In all, four wiretaps were approved by three different judges, and signed by FBI Director Comey, Deputy Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesTime for sunshine on Trump-Russia investigation New Yorker disinvites Bannon from festival following backlash White House confirms Brennan's security clearance has been revoked MORE, Acting Attorney General Dana Boente, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Jay RosensteinVote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Trump lawyer: NBC interview with Comey firing comments was edited Trump attack on Sessions may point to his departure MORE and FBI Deputy Director McCabe.

For nearly a year, the FBI watched Page and his communications. This would have included phone calls, email, text messages, verbal meetings, social media, internet activity, photos, personal travel, financial activities. Everything he said or wrote to colleagues, friends and family.

Page is either the slickest foreign spy to ever walk the planet, or he’s not a spy at all.

Or maybe special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE has found new evidence that eluded the FBI and we will soon learn of it.

If not, would someone owe him an apology?

Sharyl Attkisson (@SharylAttkisson) is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times bestsellers “The Smear” and “Stonewalled,” and host of Sinclair’s Sunday TV program, “Full Measure.”