That the supporters of Russiagate have not given up, but that they are running out of material to keep the scandal going, is confirmed by yet another article based on anonymous leaks published by CNN.
The article begins with a portentous paragraph
The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.
(bold italics added)
Sharp-eyed observers of the Russiagate scandal will note that the words “trying to infiltrate” represent a significant retreat from previous claims made during the Russiagate scandal. These alleged an active campaign of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
The classic formulation of that claim appeared in the Trump Dossier, which the BBC has admitted is the ‘frame-narrative’ used by the amateur sleuths (including Representative Schiff) who are driving the Russiagate investigation. Here is how the BBC describes that claim
In the report (ie. the Trump Dossier – AM), Steele spoke of an “established operational liaison between the TRUMP team and the Kremlin… an intelligence exchange had been running between them for at least 8 years.”
Members of the Obama administration believe, based on analysis they saw from the intelligence community, that the information exchange claimed by Steele continued into the election.
“This is a three-headed operation,” said one former official, setting out the case, based on the intelligence: Firstly, hackers steal damaging emails from senior Democrats. Secondly, the stories based on this hacked information appear on Twitter and Facebook, posted by thousands of automated “bots”, then on Russia’s English-language outlets, RT and Sputnik, then right-wing US “news” sites such as Infowars and Breitbart, then Fox and the mainstream media. Thirdly, Russia downloads the online voter rolls.
The voter rolls are said to fit into this because of “microtargeting”. Using email, Facebook and Twitter, political advertising can be tailored very precisely: individual messaging for individual voters.
“You are stealing the stuff and pushing it back into the US body politic,” said the former official, “you know where to target that stuff when you’re pushing it back.”
This would take co-operation with the Trump campaign, it is claimed.
Of course if the Russians were “trying to infiltrate” the Trump campaign, then there cannot have been an “established operational liaison between the TRUMP team and the Kremlin… an intelligence exchange……running between them for at least 8 years” as the Trump Dossier claims. Why infiltrate what one is already actively colluding with, and has been colluding with for 8 years?
Putting that aside, the claims about attempted Russian infiltration of the Trump campaign centre on an individual called Carter Page, a US businessman with a background in banking and the oil industry who has long established business connections with Russia, where he was based for a time as a Vice-President of Merrill Lynch focusing on Russia’s energy sector.
Carter Page is a supporter of a rapprochement between the US and Russia, and has long established contacts in Russia, mainly of a business nature. These extend to various Russian officials, one of whom the US intelligence community has identified as a spy. However US officials admit that Carter Page may not have realised this man was a spy (see below).
Carter Page was also for a time connected to the Trump campaign, though as will become clear his actual connection to the campaign was tenuous at best.
Even on the strength of the information provided in the CNN article the whole chain of inference constructed around Carter Page to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia on close scrutiny however instantly collapses.
Firstly the article admits that there is no evidence that Carter Page had any knowledge that any of the Russians he was meeting with were spies, or that he did anything illegal or treasonous during his meetings with them, or even that he colluded with them on behalf of the Trump campaign in any way
These officials made clear they don’t know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
Secondly, it seems that Carter Page had no real role in the Trump campaign and had only a minimal connection to it, making it impossible for him to have been the point-man between the Trump campaign and the Russians, much less someone who could have carried out collusion with the Russians on the Trump campaign’s behalf.
The CNN article shows what a marginal figure in the Trump campaign Carter Page actually was, and the bizarre way he became attached to it, and deserves to be quoted on this point at length
How Page’s name became associated with the campaign is a reflection of how minimal the Trump operation was last year, as establishment national security figures avoided an association with the insurgent operation. As Trump prepared to meet with The Washington Post editorial page in March 2016, the campaign was under pressure to name national security advisers. Staffers produced a list of names for Trump to refer to, according to a US official close to the campaign. Trump mentioned Page, in part because he had a Ph.D. listed next to his name, the official said. Trump had never met Page. Sam Clovis, co-chairman of the campaign, helped gather the names that the candidate used. Campaign officials say there’s no indication Page ever attended any national security meetings at Trump Tower. They insisted he played a junior role and was not an influential figure. But in a letter Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign. “For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year.” A US official with close ties to the campaign says Page’s claim he spent time on the fifth floor is meaningless since the campaign no longer used that floor starting in early July. The official also says the places he listed as visiting are public spaces visited by millions of people a year.
Page was one of five people named as foreign policy advisors by Donald Trump in March 2016, and was also attributed by Trump as having a PhD. It is unknown at this time whether Trump was mistaken as to Page’s credentials or if Page falsified them in applying for an advisory position with the Trump team. There is no evidence, as confirmed by Trump campaign staffers, that Page had ever met or briefed Trump.
…..a spokesman for the school told CNN that Page’s ties to Trump helped secure the invitation. “The organizing committee for the commencement last year thought that he was a colorful and interesting character,” said Denis Klimentov, a spokesman for the New Economic School. “It was partially supported by the fact that The Washington Post, the newspaper, back in the spring of 2016, cited Carter as one of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy advisors.”
“It’s quite possible that Trump’s advisor is a pragmatist and a realist. This is probably not an ordinary visit. He has probably received some instructions from the President-elect. I don’t think that meetings at the highest level will take place, but (the possibility) cannot be excluded.”
The FBI and other US agencies have been combing through information obtained through that FISA as part of its ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia. Intelligence analysts and FBI investigators who analyzed various strands of intelligence from human sources to electronic and financial records have found signs of possible collusion between the campaign and Russian officials. But there is not enough evidence to show that crimes were committed, US officials say.Part of the problem for investigators has been that they lost their opportunity to conduct the investigation in secret after several leaks last year revealed FBI was looking at people close to the Trump campaign. After those reports, people that the US was monitoring changed their behavior, which made it more difficult for US officials to monitor them.