If anyone has reason to call the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into the Trump campaign a “witch hunt,” it’s Carter Page. The Department of Justice got a FISA court to issue a surveillance warrant and to renew it three more times, apparently arguing that Page met the threshold as a suspected spy about to do significant damage to national security. Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded the investigation by finding that no American colluded with Russia and without mentioning Page in a single indictment, Page tells Sharyl Attkisson on her independent Full Measure platform that the allegation that he was a spy is “so outrageous, preposterous,” and that he’s never met Donald Trump to this day:
Sharyl: A portrait of you was created by some in the media. Russian spy, hapless guy exaggerating his role with the campaign, not too bright. I mean there were a lot of narratives that went out there. How is it to deal with what happened to you over the course of those two years?
Page: My focus has always, my biggest concern throughout this has been the damage that it’s done to the country. And so I always sort of laughed it off and I think in some ways that was a negative cycle in a way. Because sometimes if I’m laughing at these people they almost want to come after you even harder to really bring you down. But I was always more concerned about the damage that it was doing to the Trump administration and other people.
Even now, when the result of the Mueller probe makes it clear that Page didn’t play the role suggested by the existence of the FISA warrant, Page isn’t exactly enjoying a broad vindication. Attkisson shows how the media slyly suggests that a lack of any indictment indicates that he’s too valuable as a resource to out him in a prosecution:
Reporter: If the FBI had reason to believe Carter page was acting as an agent of Russia why isn’t he facing any charges?
Reporter: You might also want to have someone who is a suspected criminal roaming free because if they’re under surveillance you’re picking up a lot of valuable information.
Uh, sure … except for the fact that Page has been all over the news for the last two years. What kind of espionage would Page have been conducting at this late stage while under intense media scrutiny? That’s about as ignorant a take as can be imagined at this stage of the Russiagate hysteria, and the lack of any pushback against this “analysis” by the newsreaders is perhaps even more enlightening than airing that nonsensical take in the first place.
If Page doesn’t face any charges or even a single reference in any indictments brought by the DoJ or Mueller, it’s because there’s nothing to charge. And Mueller might have known this for a very long time, because Mueller decided eighteen months ago that there was nothing valuable coming from the Page surveillance. Andrew McCarthy pointed out the timing last week and asked why Mueller didn’t make the no-collusion conclusion clear when he obviously reached it. Mueller backed the fourth renewal in June 2017, just a few weeks after his appointment, but a funny thing happened on the way to the FISA court after that:
By August 2017, Mueller had removed the lead investigator, Agent Peter Strzok over the rabidly anti-Trump texts he’d exchanged with Lisa Page, a top FBI lawyer who served as McCabe’s counsel. Page herself had resigned in May. Meanwhile, the FBI reassigned its top counsel, James Baker (who later resigned); and the bureau’s inspection division referred McCabe to the Justice Department’s inspector general for leaking investigative information and then lying about it (and McCabe was later fired and referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution).
This means that by autumn 2017 when it would have been time to go back to the court and reaffirm the dossier’s allegations of a Trump-Russia espionage conspiracy, the major FBI officials involved in placing those unverified allegations before the court had been sidelined. Clearly up to speed after four months of running the investigation, Mueller decided not to renew these allegations.
Once the fourth warrant lapsed in September, investigators made no new claims of a Trump-Russia conspiracy to the court. The collusion case was the Clinton campaign’s Steele dossier, and by autumn 2017, the investigators now in charge of the Trump-Russia investigation were unwilling to stand behind it.
In order to get the FISA warrants, the Justice Department and the FBI had had to allege that there was probable cause to believe former Trump adviser Carter Page was an agent of Russia. Under FISA law, that requires alleging that he was knowingly involved in clandestine activity on behalf of Russia, and that this clandestine activity involved probable violations of American criminal law – offenses such as espionage. Yet, despite the fact that this representation was made four times in sworn “verified” applications, Mueller never charged Page with a crime – not espionage, not false statements, nothing.
When Special Counsel Mueller closed his investigation last week, he almost certainly knew for about a year and a half that there was no collusion case. Indeed, the indictments that he did bring appeared to preclude the possibility that the Trump campaign conspired with the Kremlin.
As Page says, the whole thing was “preposterous.” He is now suing the DoJ and the FBI over the surveillance they conducted, which might lead to some very interesting information as to how those warrant applications got approved in the first place. We might also find out why Mueller cleared out the FBI officials behind the warrant and what role Mueller thought their bias played in getting it. And it won’t be a day too soon when those questions get answered.