Carter Page’s testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the transcript of which was released Monday night, was like trying to read a magic eye painting. It is the sort of thing a lawyer — or, really, any person concerned with your welfare — would tell you not to say to a congressional committee. Yet, here we are. For anyone who doesn’t want to curl up with 243 pages of testimony and footnoted letters, here is pretty much how the thing went, severely condensed.
Carter Page: Hello. I am a doctor and a scholar, and I am here about the world premiere of the dodgy dossier that inexplicably made all kinds of charges against me, an innocent man who has never met anyone directly in my life! I have been illegally wiretapped by the FBI, CIA and other U.S. propaganda agencies, and my life has been ruined. I must be continually on the move, like a shark. I have done nothing wrong, but I will answer none of the questions put to me, because I have been studying the law. I am, as I said, a scholar. Here is a letter. I know it looks like a scrawl in red crayon, but trust me — it is a letter about the CIA’s illegal dossier.
Thomas Rooney: Okay. Who are you? Did you work for the Trump campaign?
Page: The Washington Post says I did.
Rooney: Were you on the foreign policy committee?
Page: I may have been. It was very informal. I was a volunteer who had nothing to do with the campaign.
Rooney: Did you ever meet Mr. Trump?
Page: No. Never. I’ve met him in my heart. Never in my life, except on the television. And at rallies. I think he is beautiful and has a lot to teach all of us.
Trey Gowdy: So, you were a volunteer, unpaid, informal, unofficial. What was your role, exactly?
Page: Sometimes I would stand outside the glass window of the Trump campaign and look in admiringly, but I never ventured to set foot inside. I was not involved in any way, except I did sign a non-disclosure agreement, it will turn out, and met repeatedly with Sam Clovis. Honestly, no one wants me to be involved, ever. All my emails to them were unwelcome and went unreturned. I never went to Trump Tower, except for the fly-swatter incident. Whenever I showed up at Trump Tower, they would shoo me away with a big fly-swatter. One or two times or maybe eight. Ninety times. I never spoke directly to Donald Trump.
Gowdy: Why do you keep saying “directly”? How else would you speak to a person?
Page: Listen, Trey, we can speak as one lawyer to another. I am an expert in the law after taking a mail-order course in what I believe is known as the Law of the Sea, and I know a man must choose his words wisely.
Page: I never lie. Not unlike Daniel Patrick Moyni —
Gowdy: Have you ever had any interactions with the Russian government —
Page: I’ve never at any point in my life spoken to another human being. Also let me point out that there is a great difference between meeting with someone and meeting them, as in, a greeting, per se. I for instance have never had a meeting with anyone, because they have always been trying to make a tactful exit, but I have greeted many people in passing, sometimes running along the sidewalk for blocks shouting their name.
Gowdy: Did you interact with anyone from the Trump campaign?
Page: I may have run past the office shouting vague pleasantries at one point, but it is a blur.
Adam Schiff: Why did you travel to Moscow in 2016?
Page: Listen, I am a scholar. I have written a 500-page thesis, and I make speeches often —
Schiff: On what?
Page: I do not recall.
Schiff: What was your speech about?
Page: Honestly, I cannot say. I did not speak directly with it.
Schiff: Wait, I’m confused. Are you pleading the Fifth, or aren’t you?
Page: Listen, the CIA has already got everything, so —
Schiff: Is that a yes or no?
Page: I don’t have the resources of the CIA.
Schiff: So tell me about when you went to Russia.
Page: I did not go to Russia on behalf of the campaign, and I sent them several emails to make that clear.
Schiff: Why would you go to Russian given the things people were already starting to say about the campaign and Russia?
Page: Listen, you have to live your life. I went to a gathering of scholars at the New Economic School, and everyone I met there was a scholar, although it would be fairer to say that I greeted them than that I met them. I don’t remember who any of them were. Some were lifelong friends.
Schiff: What is a scholar? You keep describing yourself as a scholar, but I am not sure that word means what you think it means.
Page: I would define scholar very loosely to include the Russian deputy prime minister, several senior officers of Russian energy companies, and also myself, but really I only spoke to the man on the street.
Schiff: The man on the street.
Page: The television, mostly, and I went to some speeches. And I did greet that man in passing who I would later discover to my horror was the deputy prime minister. For three seconds, tops. But mostly the television.
Schiff: Just to be perfectly clear, when you sent an email to the Trump campaign, saying “I’ll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the presidential administration here,” what you meant was that you wanted to tell them about some feelings you had from watching the television in Russia.
Page: Again, this is why my emails were always so unwelcome.
Schiff: And the chat with the senior member of the administration —
Page: Was just me running into this poor man Arkady for maybe 10 seconds, tops, during which sanctions may or may not have come up, in passing, as anyone would talk about tax reform, in this town, my fellow colleagues, but it definitely was only 10 seconds. In fact, maybe it was five.
Schiff: The email sounded very official.
Page: I was in the Navy, and I tend to default to Navy format.
Gowdy: Did you tell anyone on the Trump campaign you were going to Russia?
Page: Definitely not.
Page: Not directly.
Gowdy: Not directly?
Page: Well, except for the email, and Jeff Sessions.
Gowdy: Excuse me.
Page: We were at a lunch, it was my first time meeting him, ever, and after the meal, just in passing, I said, it is great that I got to meet you for a first and only time, Jeff Sessions, because I am about to go to Russia for something that has nothing to do with the Trump campaign.
Gowdy: Why would you say that?
Page: It just, sort of, you know, in passing — it slipped out.
Gowdy: Why would you say that to Jeff Sessions then, and why would you say that to any human being, ever?
Page: Just a normal interaction, like you have. Anyway, I am pleading the Fifth on the grounds that the CIA already has access to everything that it could possibly want because it has been wiretapping me.
Gowdy: Did you discuss sanctions?
Page: Maybe in passing, as anyone here might discuss tax reform.
Gowdy: Did you ever have any conversations that weren’t in passing?
Page: Not that I can recall. I move very quickly like a shark, and I stop for no man. To the best of my knowledge, I have never had a conversation with anyone because to me a conversation is when you really say something deep that makes the other person think, and I haven’t done that. No. I take it back. Never. Except – well, you know.
Gowdy: Know what?
Page: Once I think I had a deep conversation with a good friend who now works for a state-owned oil company.
Schiff: What? Was it about the sale of Rosneft?
Page: Look, I can’t definitively say it wasn’t.
Page: It is possible that while we were watching soccer, just a moment after Ronaldo had made a goal, he looked over at me and said something on that exact subject, but — I do not remember anything, least of all the reflection on his face from the television as he told me this information, or the shouting all around us because of the goal at the time.
Jackie Speier: How did you get involved with the campaign?
Page: The thing you have to understand is that Corey Lewandowski is a very busy and important man, and he may not even have noticed I was involved. Trump Tower was quite full of people that day, and he was yelling into three different phones, and I am almost certain he did not even see me, but yes, we met, if you can call that a meeting.
Speier: So you met Corey Lewandowski. Who else?
Page: No one else. Well, not no one.
Page: Sam Clovis, but, again, we never met. Except for the times when we met. Once in a hotel, we had breakfast. That was it, though.
Speier: Does your company have any U.S. clients?
Page: We may not.
Speier: “We?” By “we,” what exactly do you mean?
Page: Oh, I mean me. We have no employees. It’s just me, really. It is like being a lawyer, which you, my distinguished colleagues, naturally understand.
Mike Conaway: We are going to rush out to vote, and also to get out of this room, where nothing makes any sense, but do you have anything further to say?
Page: Thank you, yes. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the WMDs in Iraq, the state-run propaganda network that is the Broadcasting Board of Governors, and I did not go to Brussels.
Schiff: You went to Brussels?
Page: No, I didn’t go to Budapest. I think. Oh, wait, no, I’m sorry, you have just reminded me, I definitely went to Budapest.
Page: To do business with the ambassador, whose name I forget and they wanted me to do something unclear, and I thought, you only live once — how do I want to spend this Labor Day weekend? And then I was like, LABOR DAY WEEKEND IN BUDAPEST. But what I really want to tell you about is Madeleine Albright.
Schiff: Wait, I’m sorry, you went to Budapest on Labor Day weekend to talk business with the Hungarian ambassador, whom you’d met at the Republican convention — this was because you were involved with the Trump campaign?
Page: I doubt it. I think it was because of my personality, and because I am a scholar.
Schiff: Is there anything else you did that you are just remembering now?
Page: Listen, I’ve signed hundreds of NDAs, so… no. But this is all ancient history. It’s so remote in time that I scarcely can understand the runes that would describe it.
Conaway: Thank you. This has been very confusing for everyone.
Page: I am glad we could clear my name. If you want suggestions for how we can become more like RT and Sputnik, I am here. Whatever else you may say about me, I am a big fan of Russia.