Hey, did you hear that Trump had a Russian spy on his staff? That’s the impression you might get looking at this ABC News headline and the leading paragraphs. Carter Page was brought on as a foreign policy adviser for the Trump team during the 2016 campaign, but before that he was apparently “targeted” by Russian spies as “an intelligence source” with the suggestion that he might profit from the relationship.
Trump campaign advisor Carter Page targeted by Russian spies
Two years before joining the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser, New York business consultant Carter Page was targeted for recruitment as an intelligence source by Russian spies promising favors for business opportunities in Russia, according to a sealed FBI complaint.
Page confirmed to ABC News that he is the individual identified as “Male-1” in a 2015 court document submitted in a case involving the Russian spies.
Page told ABC News he cooperated in the case, and felt the Feds “unmasked” him by describing him in January 2015 in a manner that would be known to energy insiders.
Living in the era of hot takes and rapidly flying rumors, you can easily imagine people reading only that much of it, tweeting out the headline and yet another Trump – Russia narrative is launched. Unfortunately, those who bothered to read a few paragraphs further down in the article later learn that the amount of culpability on Page’s part was zilch, even in the opinion of the FBI. It all revolved around contacts that Page had with Evgeny Buryakov, an undercover operative of the Russian SVR intelligence agency, and Victor Podobnyy, a recruiter. (Emphasis added)
Page was never accused during the Buryakov case of having been successfully recruited or of spying. FBI agents say in the court record that they interviewed “Male-1” in June 2013. During the interview, Page described how he and the man identified as a Russian recruiter, Victor Podobnyy, met periodically and exchanged emails about the energy industry, but nothing in the court document suggests that Page shared any sensitive information with Podobnyy. Rather, it appears they spoke in much the way business executives seeking opportunities do – with Page touting his work ties to the Russian energy firm Gazprom. The Russians were heard laughing, saying Page had no idea they were government agents.
So what was uncovered regarding Page was that he is an energy industry guy who has always looked to expand American oil interests, including efforts to make deals with Russia, all of Europe and pretty much the entire world. The actual spies in question were heard “laughing” about the fact that Page had no idea they were working for the Russian government. And the only “documents” ominously alluded to earlier in the article were, in the view of the FBI, nothing but his own views on the “outlook on the current and future of the energy industry.” (The same sort of thing he was providing to everyone in the industry.)
Sounds to me as if this was a productive and successful investigation by the FBI. They eventually nailed Buryakov and Podobnyy (among others) resulting in the former being arrested and the latter fleeing the United States and returning to Russia. You might think that would be the real story here, but the entire thing is being framed around the fact that a Trump adviser was a person who the spies tried and failed to recruit.
But check in on social media later today. I can assure you that the story will be retold as, “Trump has another Russian spy working for him!” Welcome to 2017.