Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Sunday denied he was an intelligence agent for Russia, while lawmakers appeared on the morning political shows to urge President Trump to act tougher toward the Kremlin.
Page’s denial was his first public response to the release on Saturday of a wiretap application that said he engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. He said allegations he worked on the country’s behalf as an agent or an informal adviser were “ridiculous” and a “complete joke.”
“I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” Page said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The heavily redacted documents were released after a week of head-scratching developments following the president’s meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
The president at a joint news conference with the Russian leader said he had no reason to believe that Russia would have interfered in the 2016 election, contradicting the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community; he later said he misspoke. The White House also announced that it was extending an invitation for Putin to come to Washington this fall, even as intelligence officials and lawmakers said they still did not fully understand what happened at the Helsinki meeting.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a sometime Trump ally, pleaded with the president on CBS News to impose “new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions” on Russia before Putin visits Washington.
“Come up with a set of sanctions that would be a hammer over Russia’s head if they continue to interfere in the 2018 election,” Graham said on CBS’s Face the Nation.
“Just have sanctions that can fall on Russia like a hammer. Do you meet with this guy from a position of weakness … If you were really tough with Putin, he would not be doing what he is doing,” Graham said.
Graham and another lawmaker, House Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), said they still do not know what Trump and Putin said when they met privately in Helsinki last week.
“We have no idea what this president, our president, agreed to,” Schiff said on ABC’s This Week.
“Ostensibly there may have been agreements on Ukraine, on Syria, and who knows what else? … It is negligent with our national security for us not to know.”
Schiff said Trump is “acting like someone who is compromised by Russia.”
“It may very well be that he is compromised or it may very well be that he believes that he’s compromised, that the Russians have information on him,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the author of a bill that would impose severe sanctions on Russia if it was determined to have interfered in a U.S. election, said Trump should approach meetings with Putin without illusions about the Russian leader’s endgame.
“He’s interested in gaining advantage at our expense and to his benefit,” Rubio said on CNN.
The bill from Rubio and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) requires the director of national intelligence to declare whether a foreign government interfered in a federal election within a month of it taking place. If the foreign government is determined to be Russia, the bill mandates that the United States impose sanctions within 10 days.
The measure gained new co-sponsors last week after Trump seemed to question the consensus of the U.S. intelligence community that the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 presidential race.
At the news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Trump said he had no reason to believe that Russia “would” interfere in the election. He later said he meant that he had no reason to believe that Russia “wouldn’t” have interfered in the election.
“I don’t think it was one of the best moments in the administration,” Rubio said, adding that he appreciated Trump’s later attempt to walk back his remark.
Rubio, a member of the Intelligence Committee, disagreed with Trump’s conclusion that the Page wiretap was intended as a means of conducting surveillance on the Republican’s presidential campaign.
“I don’t think it’s part of any broader plot,” he said.
Page “went around the world bragging about his connections to Russia” even before the campaign, which meant he was already “on their screen” at the FBI, Rubio said. “… I don’t believe that them looking into Carter Page means they were spying on the campaign.”
Page accused law enforcement officials of fabricating information to strengthen their bid to monitor his communications.
He said claims that he spoke with Russian nationals about incriminating information about Hillary Clinton were “totally false” and denied he ever discussed lifting Western sanctions with Igor Sachin, a high-ranking Russian official.
“It’s really spin,” Page said. “I sat in on some meetings. To call me an adviser is way over the top. … This is really nothing.”
The wiretap application documents identified Page by name and said he had been the target of Russian government recruitment. They were made public after media organizations sued for their release.
“I might have participated in a few meetings that a lot of people, including people from the Obama administration, were sitting in on,” Page said.
“I’ve never been anywhere near what’s being described here. … There was nothing in terms of nefarious behavior,” he said.
Trump on Sunday argued the documents support his view that the Justice Department was conducting illegal surveillance on his campaign.
“Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon (surveillance) for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC. … An illegal Scam!” Trump tweeted.