What Carter Page’s Testimony Revealed

 In U.S.

The old adage that a man who represents himself has a fool for a client has seldom been demonstrated quite so colorfully as in the transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on November 2.

Page, a former foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign,  does not have a lawyer. He agreed to testify on the condition that the transcript be made public, and while it’s hard to know what motivated him to make that deal—in fact, it’s often hard to figure out what motivates him—the result does not reflect kindly upon him.

If there is one major focus to the 243-page transcript, it is Page’s July 2016 trip to Russia, where he delivered a commencement speech at the New Economic School in Moscow. Page made the trip in a private capacity, rather than as a Trump campaign official, as he took pains to point out. One of the people in attendance was Arkadiy Dvorkovich, a deputy prime minister of Russia.

“The only brief interaction I had with any Russian government official is after this commencement program or after the—after my commencement speech on that Friday in July—I believe it was July 8th—I briefly said hello to Arkadiy Dvorkovich,” Page said.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, quizzed Page about that, noting that Page said last week on Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show that he had only spoken to “men on the street.” Did he not consider Dvorkovich an official, Schiff asked? Page replied that he had not met with him, only greeted him.

Schiff pointed out that in a memo to Trump campaign staffers after the trip, he had written, “In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems.” He also wrote an email to Trump campaign staffers Tera Dahl and J.D. Gordon, saying, “On a related front, I’ll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

Page acknowledged writing all this, but still claimed he had not spoken more than a few words to Dvorkovich, and had instead derived his insights from hearing speeches. Page was also fuzzy about an encounter with a man who works for the Russian oil giant Rosneft, whom he called an old friend, saying he could not recall who had contacted the other or whether they had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia.

Schiff summed the situation up cleanly: “Were you being honest in your communication with the campaign? Are you being honest in your testimony? Because it doesn’t seem possible for both to be true.”

Schiff wasn’t the only one baffled. Republican Trey Gowdy, who frequently sounds incredulous during his portions of the testimony, asked, “I didn’t think I’d ever be going through this with anyone, but we’ve got to, I guess. You seem to draw a distinction between a meeting, a greeting, a conversation, and you hearing a speech.”

It’s just one example of how Page comes across as hopelessly self-aggrandizing throughout the testimony. He brags about his connections and credentials, dropping references to Harvard, Cambridge, and New York universities, and even noting his Delta frequent-flyer status. Describing his several email accounts, Page mentioned receiving many emails from Gary Sick, a respected Middle East scholar at Columbia University. Reached by email, Sick told me he’d briefly met Page in the 1990s or early 2000s and had not had any contact since, and that the emails in question came from a listserv of some 2,000 people.

There develops a strange dichotomy, in which Page presents himself as an important and respected man in Russia, invited to give a commencement speech independent of his work for the Trump campaign, and yet also downplays his importance to the Trump team, calling himself a very junior staffer. (Gowdy, again: “Mr. Page, I wrote down: volunteer, unpaid, informal, unofficial. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell your role was with the Trump campaign.”)

Trump and his aides, as well as Page himself, have tried to argue that whatever Page did had no connection with the campaign—they were the rogue actions of a low-level figure. And while the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, from George Papadopoulos to Jeff Sessions to Jared Kushner to Michael Flynn to Paul Manafort, seem hard to comprehend as coincidences, it does seem plausible from Page’s marble-mouthed explanations that he was puffing up his role and importance and connections to Russian figures in order to enhance his status with the Trump campaign.

This possibility shades the revelation, delivered by Page to reporters after his testimony, that he had told now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions about his trip prior to making it.

Speaking to the committee, Page said he had a “standing invitation” to make the speech. Asked who invited him he said, “I was just invited,” though he later named Shlomo Weber, rector of the New Economic School, as his host. First, Page said that Gordon was aware of the trip, as well as a few other members of Trump’s campaign team.

Why had he told them, Gowdy wondered? “I wanted to be very careful, because there was starting to be some—there was starting to be some allegations about or concerns about Russia in general.” Then why go, Gowdy pressed. “Because I’m trying to live my life and it’s something—I’ve spoken at these universities for well over a decade.” A few moments later, Page said he’d told then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks, now the White House communications director.

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