U.S. intelligence probing ties between Russia and former Trump adviser

Michael Isikoff at Yahoo News reports that U.S. intelligence officials are looking into possible contacts between a businessman who was once cited as a Trump adviser and Russia:

The activities of Trump adviser Carter Page, who has extensive business interests in Russia, have been discussed with senior members of Congress during recent briefings about suspected efforts by Moscow to influence the presidential election, the sources said. After one of those briefings, Senate minority leader Harry Reid wrote FBI Director James Comey, citing reports of meetings between a Trump adviser (a reference to Page) and “high ranking sanctioned individuals” in Moscow over the summer as evidence of “significant and disturbing ties” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that needed to be investigated by the bureau.

Harry Reid’s involvement in promoting this story certainly suggests it is being milked for political advantage. However, Isikoff reports intelligence agents have reason to think Carter Page met with a couple of Russian figures including the person responsible for collecting intel (for Russia) about the U.S. election:

U.S. intelligence agencies have also received reports that Page met with another top Putin aide while in Moscow — Igor Diveykin. A former Russian security official, Diveykin now serves as deputy chief for internal policy and is believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election, the Western intelligence source said.

That seems potentially damning for Carter Page who one unnamed government source describes as “a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did.”

The suggestion being made in the story is that Page may have opened up a back channel to Russia on behalf of Trump. Trump did mention Page in an interview with the Washington Post in March, listing him as part of his foreign policy team along with several other people. However the campaign seems to have downplayed his role since:

Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks last month called him an “informal foreign adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.” Asked this week by Yahoo News, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller said Page “has no role” and added: “We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present.” Miller did not respond when asked why Trump had previously described Page as one of his advisers.

So there is definitely some connection there and the fact that the campaign seems eager to distance itself might be suspicious or it might just be a recognition that Michael Isikoff is telling them Page is being investigated and the Trump campaign wants no part of it.

What’s missing is any firm conclusion that Page was meeting with these Russian officials (including one who was sanctioned by the U.S.) at Trump’s behest or that any messages were being exchanged. Isikoff makes the case that it could have happened and it’s certainly news that the intelligence community is looking into Page’s meetings with people close to Putin, but that’s not proof anything improper happened.

Also, it can’t be ignored that emphasizing Trump’s connections to Russia has become part of the Clinton campaign, meaning there are plenty of partisan operatives (including Harry Reid) looking to capitalize on this, even if it doesn’t seem very conclusive at this point.