Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page on Sunday denied he was an intelligence agent for Russia, after the release of usually secret documents showed federal investigators believed he was engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia.
Page’s denial, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” was his first public response to the release on Saturday of secret applications for federal wiretaps on him.
The documents — still heavily redacted — showed that federal investigators were looking into Page’s possible connections with Russia as early as 2013, long before Trump named him as an adviser to his presidential campaign in March 2016.
On Sunday, Page said that it was “ridiculous” and a “complete joke” to believe he had been an agent of the Russian government.
“I’ve never been an agent of a foreign power by any stretch of the imagination,” Page said on CNN. That echoed President Trump’s own statements on the documents — issued via Twitter from Trump’s golf club in New Jersey — that the wiretap on Page was part of politically motivated spying on Trump’s presidential campaign.
Page himself ducked questions about what, exactly, his connections to Russia had been.
When CNN’s Jake Tapper noted that Page had once called himself an “informal advisor” to the Kremlin, Page responded: “You know, informal, having some conversations with people. I mean, this is really nothing.”
“I’ve never been anywhere near what’s being described here” in the released documents, Page said. “There was nothing in terms of nefarious behavior.”
Also Sunday, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) urged Trump to take a harder line against Russian President Vladimir Putin, a few days after Trump seemed deferential to Putin after a summit meeting in Helsinki.
On CBS, Graham — a sometime Trump ally — seemed to be speaking directly to Trump, telling him to impose “new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions” on Russia before Putin visits Washington.
Graham noted that Trump had changed his position about whether Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election: “He’s changed his mind four times this week.”
“The president gets this confused. If you suggest that Russians meddled in 2016, he goes to the idea that, ‘Well, I didn’t collude with them,’ ” Graham said.
Speaking directly to Trump again, he urged the president not to treat questions about Russian interference only as an attack on his own legitimacy. “Mr. President, they meddled in the election,” Graham said. “It could be us next. It could be some other power,” meaning that Republicans might be hurt, instead of helped.
The heavily redacted documents were released after a week of head-scratching developments related to Trump’s posture toward Russia.
Rubio, the author of a bill that would impose severe sanctions on Russia if it were 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 new documents about the wiretap on Page seemed to be at the top of the president’s mind. In Twitter messages, Trump repeated an attack used by some of his allies in the House: that, in seeking the wiretaps, the FBI had relied too much upon a “dossier” compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele — and paid for by Trump’s Democratic opponents.
Steele also shared his findings with the FBI because he was concerned that Trump may have been compromised by Russia.
“As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of ‘Justice’ and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!” Trump said.
In a follow-up tweet, Trump added: “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. Ask her how that worked out — she did better with Crazy Bernie. Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”
In his appearance on CBS, Graham was asked if the surveillance of Page was justified. “No, not at all, in my view. If the dossier’s the reason you issued the warrant, it was a bunch of garbage,” Graham said.
One of Trump’s top defenders in the House, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), also attacked the FBI’s application to wiretap Page in an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
Goodlatte blasted the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act application as having been based on “a very flawed document, the so-called Steele dossier, that has never been verified.”
Goodlatte said he has viewed the documents without most of the redactions and that it is “critically important” for the public to be able to do the same. “We do want to see how this investigation was launched and how it contrasts with the shocking way in which they handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation,” he told host Maria Bartiromo.
The released documents don’t show the full set of evidence and sources the FBI relied upon in seeking a judge’s permission to wiretap Page. Whole sections in the application — detailing the FBI’s justification for believing Page was a Russian agent — are blacked out.
But the documents make clear that Steele was one source for the FBI. In using Steele’s material, the FBI also disclosed to judges that his work was on behalf of a client who was possibly looking for politically damaging information about Trump.
Before the release, Republicans had accused the bureau of failing to notify the court of the dossier’s political origins.
The application identifies Page by name and says that he engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia and had been the target of Russian government recruitment. The application describes Russia as having interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
On Sunday, Rubio, a member of the Senate 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,” Rubio 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.”
Six days after Trump’s meeting with Putin, Graham and Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, 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 News’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.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentifed the CNN program on which Carter Page was interviewed. It is “State of the Union,” not “State of the Nation.”
Felicia Sonmez and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.