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Descent into absurdity: FBI looks to Walter Mitty figure to prove collusion between Trump and Russia

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.
This account points up an important aspect of Carter Page’s personality, which has been the source of much confusion and trouble.  This is his habit of self-aggrandisement.  He seems to have fooled Trump into appointing him a foreign policy adviser on the strength of his having a Ph.D, when he doesn’t have a Ph.D.  This is how Carter Page’s Wikipedia entry explains this
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.[19] 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.[3]
In addition, as the extract from the CNN article I have quoted shows, instead of frankly admitting that he had only a minimal role in the Trump campaign – saving everyone a great deal of trouble – Carter Page persists in pretending otherwise, and passes off visits to public spaces within Trump Tower as ‘proof’ of this.
This makes it impossible to take Carter Page seriously, and makes it difficult to see how he deserves the attention he is getting.  Moreover Carter Page’s proclivity for self-aggrandisement makes the whole thesis the Russians used him to “try to infiltrate” the Trump campaign – much less that they succeeded in doing so – look immediately fanciful.
 In truth Carter Page comes across as a something of a busy body who briefly managed to fool the Russians last year into thinking he was closer to Trump than he really was.  On the strength of this he was able to wangle an invitation to give a talk to Moscow’s New Economic School at a time last summer when the Russians would have been anxious to know what candidate Trump’s policies towards Russia actually were.  The article provides information from a source in the New Economic School showing how this happened
…..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.”
 (bold italics added)
Carter Page followed this up with a second invitation in December, after Trump had won the election, when the Russians would have been even more anxious to find out what now President-elect Trump’s policies towards Russia were, and when they would have been especially anxious to hear what someone who they clearly still thought was one of the President-elect’s key foreign policy advisers would say.
That this is what the Russians still thought Carter Page was at the time of his second visit is shown by this comment of Leonid Reshetnikov, the Director of Russia’s Institute of Strategic Studies, quoted by CNN in the article
“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.”
 In reality Carter Page had no ‘instructions’ from President-elect Trump, it seems he and Trump had never even met, and – needless to say – no “meetings at the highest level” took place.  Once the new administration was formed it quickly became clear Carter Page had no role in it and was not close to Trump at all and did not speak for the new President.  At that point the misapprehension the Russians had about him would have ended, and they lost interest in him.
 There is not a scintilla of evidence in any of this of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  On the contrary the fact the Russians mistook a Walter Mitty figure like Carter Page for an important adviser of Trump’s shows how poorly informed about Trump they actually were.  That does not speak of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  On the contrary if anything it shows that no such collusion was taking place.
That the FBI is now giving so much attention to Carter Page, at precisely the point the Russians have lost interest in him, is a sure sign the Russiagate investigation is running into the sand.  Further confirmation of this is provided at the end of the CNN article
 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.
 (bold italics added)
 In all the ocean of words which have been written about the Russiagate scandal, these must be the most comically self-serving.  The same people who have spent months leaking information about the Russiagate investigation in order to destabilise the Trump administration are now complaining that their own leaks are causing the investigation to fail.
 No words could sum up better the complete absurdity of this whole affair.

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