Streetwise Professor

April 29, 2017

Carter Page Doesn’t Prove the Existence of a Trump-Putin Nexus: He Proves Its Non-Existence

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 2:48 pm

The linchpin of the supposed Trump-Russia connection is one Carter Page. Rather than demonstrating the existence of some deep, dark conspiracy, this fact demonstrates just how farcical the entire idea of such a conspiracy is.

Carter Page was a fringe figure on the make in Russia. He tried assiduously to cultivate business contacts there, with vague–if any–success. He also tried to forge political connections in the US, which apparently brought him to the attention of some Tea Party guy from Iowa named Sam Clovis. Clovis worked on the Trump campaign (and has since been rewarded with the august position of White House representative to the USDA). Clovis put Page’s name on a list of potential policy advisers, and when Trump was asked about his foreign policy advisers in March, 2016, Trump apparently pulled that name off the list.

Working from the other direction, as a guy trying to make connections in Russia, Page obviously came to the attention of the SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service. In 2013 he met with Russian diplomats & a businessman, who were subsequently identified as Russian agents. Page was lecturing about energy policy at NYU (in the kind of position that one sometimes obtains by advertising “will teach for food”) at the time, and claims he gave his Russian interlocutors some teaching notes. Page later gave a speech at the New Economics School in Moscow. After the election he met with Sechin.

And that’s about it.

In brief: Page came to Trump’s attention precisely because he had no advisors with connections to Russia, and was under continuous attack for the thinness of his foreign policy expertise and the absence of any eminent foreign policy advisers. Page’s connections were gossamer thin–he was a wannabe playa in Russia, not a real one. But he’s the best Trump could come up with on the spur of the moment. Similarly, if the SVR (or FSB or GRU) had strong connections with anyone actually close to Trump, they wouldn’t have needed Carter Page.

Thus, the fact that everything rests on Page shows just how tenuous the Trump-Russia connections were. Trump had nobody with real ties to Russia, so he reached out for a nobody who at least had some involvement there; The Russians had nobody, so they courted the same nobody (e.g., rewarding him with a meeting with Sechin in December). If there was a strong Trump-Russia nexus, Carter Page wouldn’t have warranted the time of day by either Trump or the Russians.

The lecture Page gave at the New Economics School is often raised to illustrate Page’s Russian connections. Pardon my French, but what a fucking joke, and one that illustrates that the people who opine on the Trump-Russia connection don’t know squat. The New School was originally, and remains to some degree, aligned with the liberal elements in Russia. It is hardly a siloviki front, and was established with the specific intent of becoming a western-style academic institution favorable to liberal, western ideas. Many of the faculty had degrees from western (mainly US and UK) universities. One of its initial supporters was George Soros, for crissakes.

One salient story says it all. The New School’s former rector, my friend Sergei Guriev, criticized the Russian government’s prosecution of Khodorkovsky, and the loss of freedom in Russia generally, and soon came under such pressure that he was forced to go into exile in France. If anything, a connection with the New School is likely to raise suspicions among the FSB et al, and hardly indicates influence among the Putinists.

Page’s academic connections also illustrate his irrelevance. The people around Putin aren’t known for their scholarly depth, or their commitment to rigorous academic research. Indeed, the deepest connection of them to academia is to get fraudulent academic credentials–including PhDs–to burnish their résumés. Serious academics exert very little real influence in Putin’s Russia.

But Carter Page was very, very useful–to the FBI. They used his connections with Trump and Russia, tentative as they were, (along with the ridiculous dossier, in which Page was mentioned) as a pretext to get a FISA warrant to put him under surveillance. This, in turn, potentially gave them some justification and legal authority to intercept other communications involving Trump people, presumably on the knee-bone-connected-to-the-thigh-bone theory: Page talked to X, X talked to Y, Y talked to Z who talked to Trump, so investigate X, Y, and Z and maybe Trump. Give the FBI a micrometer, they’ll take a million miles.

This also means that Page’s importance has to be hyped by leakers and those in politics and the media intent on creating Russiagate. But viewed more objectively, the fact that that the story apparently begins and ends with first-class nobody Carter Page shows that Trump had no real connections in Russia–especially with the siloviki or Putinists–and the Russians had no influential connections in the Trump camp.

This is a self-inflicted wound for Trump, and an inevitable consequence of his untraditional, helter-skelter, and extemporized insurgent campaign. A more traditional and organized campaign wouldn’t have had to pull a nobody’s name off a list prepared by a nobody. This created a vulnerability that his enemies are flogging for all they are worth.

That said, it is also very telling that the FBI seized on this sad sack to justify an investigation. It is pretty clear that they were desperate to a pretext to investigate the Trump campaign, quite likely due to political pressure emanating from the Obama administration, and as a way of compensating for the damage that the email investigation (and Comey’s to-ing and fro-ing about it) was doing to the Clinton campaign. The centrality of Page in this investigation also reveals that the FBI has nothing substantive, and never really did. But it soldiered on nonetheless. Appalling, but again, the FBI seized on an opportunity that Trump gave them.

So as with most of the Acela Corridor conventional wisdom, the obsession with Carter Page inverts reality. Rather than indicating the existence of a deep connection between Putin and Trump, Carter Page shows that such connections were completely non-existent.

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  1. >>”aligned with the liberal elements in Russia”

    That’s in the fairy tale world where there are liberal elements in Russia allowed to align anything beyond three glasses of vodka on a table.

    >>my friend Sergei Guriev, criticized the Russian government’s prosecution of Khodorkovsky

    Oh, the guy, who “had nothing against Putin”, but who just could not allow that he himself be thrown in jail. A “classical liberal” in the Russian sense of the word indeed. Not even certain now if there is enough economic talent remaining in Russia to ensure maximum efficiency of a new GULAG after his departure.

    Comment by Ivan — April 30, 2017 @ 12:51 am

  2. All a sideshow. Flynn long gone, Bannon sidelined if not on his way out. Status quo prevails. President surrounded by sound, reliable people: Mattis, Tillerson, Cohn. The loonies banished . Deep State triumphs. Trump can bellow and bluster all he wants. Who cares? He’s only the President after all. The responsible adults carry on running the country.
    Besides, Trump likes to be on the campaign trail, doesn’t he? Perfect role for him (when he’s not golfing).

    Comment by Simple Simon — April 30, 2017 @ 2:33 am

  3. Another theory might be that the non-random Russian agents around Trump, like Manafort and Flynn, were careful enough not to leave evidence of criminal wrongdoing, whereas the random Page was not. So the FBI has to work with whatever it has: tax evasion allegedly was not Al Capone’s biggest crime, either.

    Comment by Ivan — April 30, 2017 @ 3:27 am

  4. Odd that Trump should find it hard to recruit people who know about Russia. There are economists at Harvard who know a good deal about Russia, including how to loot the joint. No doubt they’ll work for money, irrespective of political party.

    Comment by dearieme — April 30, 2017 @ 5:12 am

  5. […] 8. Carter Page and mindless Dem Establishment thoughtworms […]

    Pingback by Monday Assorted Links | Against Jebel al-Lawz — May 1, 2017 @ 12:05 am

  6. @dearieme
    No disrespect intended and there were Americans involved that received some relatively small benefits but the real looting was done by holders of Russian passports and some of those also held Israeli passports. The Harvard academics did provide a framework for the looting to occur but the actual execution was conducted by Russian passport holders. The Russians often claimed it was carpetbaggers but actually that was only a perfect popular cover for their activities.

    A privatization paper from Harvard Press in 1993-

    Comment by pahoben — May 3, 2017 @ 11:50 am

  7. @pahoben
    Though you are correct about the relative scale of frauds committed by Russian oligarchs vice Harvard professors, you are too categorical in arguing the Harvard academic did not “actually execute” the fraud, if this Inside Higher Ed article is correct. Purportedly,his investment fund manager wife hid the investments in her father’s name. Nothing was proven in court, but please note the $26 million payment by Harvard to USG to cover the matter.

    Comment by Mudak — May 3, 2017 @ 5:41 pm

  8. @Mudak
    Thanks and I knew nothing about this and I take your point. Still it looks as though open market stock transactions were the basis of this so considerably different than the often violent and unbridled strategies the Oligarchs adopted. I still take your point about too categorical. To think that Harvard academics could manipulate the kind of people that became oligarchs is clearly off the mark. I would say more a case of the oligarchs manipulating Harvard academics to their own ends.

    Comment by pahoben — May 4, 2017 @ 2:28 am

  9. Actually, Flynn is the linchpin and Carter Page is a dork. No one thinks he’s important

    Comment by Willis Warren — May 11, 2017 @ 9:14 am

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