Carter Page: ‘I was a pawn in the Democrat crusade to bring down Trump’

Not until lurid headlines damned Carter Page as a traitor to his country in September 2016, six weeks before the presidential election, did he realize someone was using him to play a dirty political trick.

Reporters had been hounding the energy investor with strangely detailed questions about his ties to Russia. Page told each of them that he was a former US Navy lieutenant, a graduate of Annapolis, an Eagle Scout — hardly a likely protagonist in some cloak-and-dagger drama.

But he had also served as a foreign policy adviser to Donald J. Trump. And secretly, within a collection of Democratic opposition-research memos soon to be known as the Steele Dossier, Page had been cast as the GOP candidate’s liaison to Vladimir Putin.

It was the launch of the collusion tale that nearly destroyed a presidency. And the little-known Page, now 49, had an unsought starring role.

Page told reporters the truth that fall — but it wasn’t the whole truth, he writes in “Abuse and Power: How an Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President” (Regnery), out Tuesday.

In fact, as he repeatedly informed FBI investigators all the way up to Director James Comey himself, Page was a longtime CIA informant, not only on Russian affairs but on China and the Middle East.

His status as a trusted US intelligence source extended beyond the CIA. Only months before, Page had helped the FBI itself make a case against an accused Russian spook.

That should have been enough to clear Page’s name. Instead, the FBI painted a target on his back.

This month, federal charges were filed against Kevin Clinesmith, an FBI lawyer involved in all three of the political investigations centered on the 2016 election: the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe, the Crossfire Hurricane inquiry into Trump’s campaign, and the Special Counsel office of Robert Mueller.

Attorney General Bill Barr has assigned US Attorney John Durham to get to the bottom of Crossfire Hurricane — and the case against Clinesmith could mean that answers are near.

In October 2016, the FBI obtained a Title I warrant against Page under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that set up a secret court to hear dangerous terrorism and national security cases.

A Title I warrant, the most intrusive type, gives investigators access to all of a target’s communications — along with those of the target’s contacts, and all of the contacts’ contacts.

That “two-hop” coverage opened not only Page’s electronic records to investigators, but Trump’s as well, while he was a candidate and throughout his first eight months in the White House. Not exactly “wires tapped in Trump Tower,” as the president alleged in an explosive March 2017 tweetstorm, but the digital-age equivalent.

And as Durham’s court filing showed, Clinesmith and his colleagues knew all along that Page was never a Russian spy.

In August 2016, documents show, the CIA told the Crossfire Hurricane team that Page had been a trusted informant for years. That explained all of the Russian contacts the FBI saw as suspicious — two months before agents filed the first warrant against Page.

The FBI illegally withheld that exculpatory evidence from the FISA court.

Later, in June 2017, Clinesmith — by then a member of Mueller’s staff — made the offense overt by altering a CIA document that confirmed Page’s status with the agency, Durham told the court. Clinesmith took a guilty plea on Aug. 19.

The US government snooped on Page for 11 months. He was never charged with any crime. But, he says, the death threats and the public hounding never ended. His life and business were ruined.

“The whole system of secret surveillance is broken,” Page writes in his book. The FBI’s abuse of his constitutionally guaranteed rights “is just one sign of a national security establishment that is divorced from the values and freedoms of the people it is charged with protecting.”

It’s an insidious overuse of federal power that, if not checked, puts all Americans’ civil liberties at risk, he writes.

Page, eager to set the record straight, testified before the special counsel’s Washington, DC, grand jury in November 2017. There he met Mueller attorneys Jeannie Rhee and L. Rush Atkinson, two of the “Angry Democrats” that President Trump later railed against on Twitter.

In this excerpt, Page gives us the first peek inside Mueller’s grand jury — where he began to grasp how high the deck was stacked against him …

The first time I ever met Jeannie Rhee, I saw her in the courthouse hallway outside my grand jury room. I politely introduced myself, “Hello, I’m Carter Page.” Rather than identify herself, she angrily scowled and pointed a finger toward my holding pen area. Like a cold prison warden she barked orders … I was starting to get the picture of how the day was likely to go down.

I had got a sense of her lieutenant Rush Atkinson’s place in the pecking order by watching him shadow Rhee. Given no advance warning of whom I was dealing with, I looked up stories about the Mueller team during one of my breaks that day. The reason for Rhee’s aggressive stance quickly became quite clear. As Business Insider reported, “Rhee represented Hillary Clinton in a 2015 lawsuit that sought access to her private e-mails. She also represented the Clinton Foundation in a 2015 racketeering lawsuit.”

Worse, the profile continued: “Rhee … has doled out more than $16,000 to Democrats since 2008, CNN reported. She maxed out her donations both in 2015 and 2016 to Clinton’s presidential campaign, giving a total of $5,400.”

I struggled to comprehend: One of the financial funders who contributed cash to the Democratic organizations which launched this whole domestic political-intelligence operation is also among the same people now effectively leading this official US government interrogation against me?

Such Democrat campaign donations were the same fuel that paid for the DNC-funded consultant Christopher Steele’s infamous Dodgy Dossier. The fact that such individuals had now found a way to perpetrate this vindictive harassment against their political adversaries in their official roles as US government prosecutors seemed to defy common sense and common decency.

I struggled to comprehend: One of the financial funders of … this whole domestic political intelligence operation … is leading this official US government interrogation against me?

As I put two and two together, I was almost in a state of shock. In just a few minutes, my break would end, and I would have to face Rhee again … I began to fully understand the frivolous game that I had been forced to play. Though I was hardly comforted, things were starting to make sense.

By comparison, Lawrence Rush Atkinson reportedly only gave a paltry $200 donation to the 2016 Clinton campaign. A token sum to be sure, but that was enough to reveal his loyalties. Clearly Rush had not yet graduated to the big leagues of political prosecutions.

I faced about twenty grand jurors — each of them studying my face as I spoke, looking for any sign of intimidation or deception. The relatively junior lawyer Rush Atkinson took up much of the grunt work in the interrogation. It immediately became clear who was driving the train. Atkinson would ask me a question, and Rhee would furiously write her next question on a yellow sticky note, her choice of communication medium, and slap it in front of Atkinson for him to verbalize. He would get something wrong in her eyes, and she would wrathfully scribble a correction and slap it down even harder.

I started to wonder: If there’s something she wants to know, why doesn’t she just go ahead and ask all of these foolish questions herself?

… I eventually figured out the likely reason for her methods. Similar to many courthouse forums, the Democrat prosecutors were sitting next to a court reporter who kept record of who said what throughout the day. Certainly it would be a bad look if some independent-minded attorney sitting somewhere in the Justice Department noted that the stenographer had transcribed records showing Jeannie Rhee was the one asking all the highly aggressive and blatantly political gotcha questions. She clearly intended to trip me up but didn’t want to be the one doing so on the official record.

Atkinson humbly complied with the yellow stickies and recited, as best he could, the questions that Rhee demanded. After going through an additional stack of stickies, the junior prosecutor meekly noted how prolific her requests were. As the day wore on and Jeannie grew increasingly irritable, she would slap the yellow stickies down even harder next to Rush’s photocopies of my personal documents.

The show-trial format of the day had all the trappings of a quiz-bowl-styled game show … the game cards for this contest consisted of big stacks of paper that the partisan special counsel team had printed out. For some reason, one of the quirks of the grand jury game prevented contestants such as me from bringing even one sheet of paper into the arena. I felt as if I were being asked to participate in a game of “What’s in my pocket?”

Though it was over two years ago, my memory of the day’s events is as vivid as ever. Rhee, working through Atkinson, impatiently demanded to know things like: In January 2016, you wrote an e-mail referring to someone without mentioning their name. Who exactly did you have in mind then?

As I tried explaining the details of what really happened, one of the grand jurors sitting right before me slightly nodded his head in agreement before I got rudely cut off by my questioners. At least one member of the jury wasn’t buying this political charade.

Mueller’s prosecutors left Page in limbo for 16 months following his grand jury appearance. They pursued cases against several Trump advisers, including Gen. Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone — none on charges of Russian collusion. For all that time, Page could never be sure he was in the clear.

On March 24, 2019, Attorney General Barr told Congress that Mueller had completed his work without uncovering evidence that any American had conspired with Russia to further Trump’s presidential chances. For Page, the threat of legal jeopardy had finally passed.

But, as Page writes in his book, he wanted more: vindication:

Not a single crime related to the campaign or related to Russia in any significant way was identified. All the partisan Democratic challengers who tried prosecuting this series of show trials started to limp back to their old jobs without anything material to show for their expensive efforts.

Though my time in the barrel was now over, I still didn’t feel that I had seen justice. In fact, Mueller’s testimony [to Congress in July 2019] only deepened the sense that so many Americans had been betrayed. I had eagerly supported Robert Mueller’s appointment, believing that his record of military service and his prior reputation would help clear my name. But by the time his investigation came to a close, with no evidence of any wrongdoing, the Mueller Report still let suspicions hang around President Trump, myself, and countless other innocent souls. Watching Mueller on television showed me how deep the decay ran in our justice system. The man I had thought would exonerate me was evidently not the person running the show. And after all this time, justice still hadn’t been served.

“Abuse and Power: How An Innocent American Was Framed in an Attempted Coup Against the President” by Carter Page is available Aug. 25, 2020, from Regnery Publishing, www.regnery. com. Copyright © 2020 by Carter Page

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